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How to Name Your Business: 8 Steps to Choosing a Business Name

So you’re ready to launch your new business, but you’re stuck what you feel like should be the freaking simplest part of this whole deal.

I mean at this point you’ve already overcome so many hurdles in your second career as your own business-woman, and you pretty much feel like you can conquer anything.

So why in the world does it feel so difficult to come up with and commit to a name for your business?

Sound familiar?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone!

Naming your new business is one of the most difficult steps of the brand building process. We tend to get wrapped up in the emotions we’re feeling about launching a new business – and honestly, who wouldn’t?!

Most of us are creating something we’re uber passionate about, and there are A LOT of emotions that come along with taking such a momentous step toward creating the life we’ve dreamed of.

Plus, if you’re anything like me, you started naming things at a very young age: like my baby doll Samantha who was more like my mini-me than my doll, and my kindergarten teacher thought someone had died, and called my parents to make sure everything is okay, when I couldn’t stop crying after Samantha had to get “surgery” to reattach her leg (true story).

You likely also tried to nickname yourself (I tired out Yaya for some time in middle school) and your best friends, or your cars. My best friend Marissa became Mrissa over the years, and another friend of mine nicknamed her trusty car Vibrina (don’t ask).

If you’re a pet person you definitely took naming your dog seriously – Duckie is named after the littlest dinosaur in The Land Before Time – and if you’re not a pet person I know you’ve got names for those plants you love so much.

But getting caught up in the emotions of naming your business *might* be doomed to fail.

Here’s why: When we are naming our stuffy or our pets, we are naming them for ourselves. When we name our business, we are naming it for our audience.

Remember, everything we do for our brand is about our ideal clients, not us.

Many business owners will approach the task of naming their business with a sentimentality point of view, and it’s is easy to do. As entrepreneurs we are emotionally attached to our business. We should be. We need to be! But if we name our business with only ourselves in mind, we miss out on the opportunity to include our audience in this part of our brand. 

So what should we do instead?

Your business name should connect with  your audience and what they need. When we include our pet’s names, our favorite flower or color or a memory in our business name, we miss out on that connection piece. It’s meaningful to us, but what does it mean to them? Probably nothing. 

The main goal your business name should achieve is memorability. You need your business name to be easily remembered. It should be easy to pronounce and spell. It should be easy to recognize and repeat. If there is a chance it could sound confusing, take it off the list of possible names! 

The second goal of a brand name is that it must be strategic. A good brand name solidifies the image of the brand. Once you have the seed planted, the name now needs to grow the position you want to own in the minds of your audience. 

Sounds like a big task! And it is. Naming your business takes time. And you should be patient with the process. Once you name a business, it’s your name. And it’s not so easy to go back and change it. 

Picking the wrong name could not only fail to connect with your audience, but it could also lead to legal challenges if you don’t do your research. 

Here are 8 steps to choosing the right business name.

1. Know your audience. 

Just like every element of brand strategy, your brand name is for your audience. Avoid getting sentimental or emotional when choosing a name. Knowing who your audience is and what they need is a critical step in choosing the right business name. This is often your first opportunity to connect with them. 

2. Know your position. 

How does your brand appeal to your audience? How does it stand out from the competition? You need to know the position you want to own in the mind of your audience. Your brand name is part of getting them there.

3. Start a keyword brain dump. 

Your business name should tell your audience what you are about. Start by sitting down for 20-60 minutes and doing a keyword brain dump. Write down all the keywords related to your brand and industry that you can think of. 

Then ask yourself the following questions and keep writing down keywords and phrases that relate to your brand. Write down all the words that come to mind. Nothing is off limits!  

What do you want to be known for? 
What does your business stand for? 
What products or services does your business sell? 
What benefits do they provide? 
Who do you serve? 
How are you different? 
What do you excel at? 

By now you should have a long list of keywords and phrases related to your brand.

4. Find more words.

But you’re not done yet! Now get out a thesaurus and start finding more words. Look for synonyms and add them to your list. You don’t need to be super picky about this. If the words you find don’t ift, don’t add them. But this ensures you get all the keywords possible and that you leave no stone unturned! 

5. Start getting creative!

Now it’s time to start putting those words together to find your business name! 

You can use name generators like NameSnack, Shopify’s Name Generator tool, Within The Flow or Oberlo. (And check out this article from ZenBusiness with more business name generator ideas.)

Or you can start brainstorming yourself. Here are some ways to get creative!

  1. Merge two words. Try putting two words from your list together. See what works and sounds catchy.
  2. Use your name. Some businesses work well using the founder’s name. Does this suit your business?
  3. Acronyms. Try an acronym for your business, such as IBM (which stands for International Business Machines) or LEGO (which is short for Leg Godt – Danish for “play well”)
  4. Wordplay and puns make for a memorable and catchy business name. A local business named Nothing Bundt Cakes is a fun play on words and reveals a lot about the business.
  5. A portmanteau is a French word for contraction. This is when you take the beginning or end of two words and mash them together. Like Brunch or Podcast (iPod + broadcast). Use this portmanteau generator to see if it works for your business name. 
  6. Descriptive word phrases. You can use keywords to describe what you’re selling. Combine your product or service with their benefits to create a powerful business name. 
  7. Metaphor. You can use a metaphor to describe your business with a symbolic meaning. For example Amazon is meant to convey the large selection of products that they offer customers.
  8. Evoke emotion. Not your emotions! However, leverage the emotion that you want  your brand to evoke in your business name. Such as The Divine Barrel or Designed for Joy.
  9. Ingredients. If you are a food or ingredient based business (such as organic products, etc), then use a signature flavor, scent, ingredient that you would like to be known for in your business name. 
  10. Culture and history. Use words or names with a cultural reference – from history or storybooks. Such as Nike, the the Greek god of victory or Starbuck, the first mate in Moby Dick.

6. Do a quality check.

Now you need to make sure the name makes sense. You might have a list of possible names at this point. It’s time to start putting them to the real world test. Does the name make sense for your business? 

  1. How does it sound when you say it outloud. Try inserting it into your elevator pitch. How does it sound? Try it out on others and ask their opinion. 
  1. Think about the future of your brand. Does the name allow your brand to grow and evolve or is it restrictive?
  1. Is it easy to pronounce and spell? 
  1. Does it look appealing? Type it out in some different fonts. How does it look? Try out some mock logos. Is it visually appealing when typed out?
  1. Is it memorable? This is the main goal of your business name so it has to pass this quality check! Is the name catchy? Easy to remember?
  1. Is it telling of the brand? What does the name reveal about the brand? Ask some friends or family members to tell them what they think the business is about just by the name. 

Eatmywords.com, a brand naming agency, recommends using the SMILE test on your business name:

Suggestive—evokes something about your brand

Memorable—makes a familiar association

Imagery—aids memory through evocative visuals

Legs—lends itself to a theme for extended mileage

Emotional—moves people

Use the SMILE test and their Free Name Evaluation Tool to see how strong your top names are.

7. Check availability.

Hopefully you now have your business name list narrowed down to just a handful of names. The next step is to see if the name is even available! This is an important step. Done incorrectly, it could get you into a lot of legal trouble.

Legal Stuff: 

First you need to check to see if the name is already taken by someone else. Start with an easy internet search. Type in the name you want to use and see what comes up. Is anyone else using it? Are they in the same industry as you? This isn’t necessarily a show stopper, but it should give you pause. You don’t want someone searching for your business and finding another with the same name, especially if you operate in the same space.

Next, consider how you will be registering your business. LLCs, Sole Proprietorships, Corporations and Partnerships are all registered at the state level. Trademarks are registered at the federal level. 

Check your Secretary of State website for business registration information. Search to see if your business name is already registered by someone else or if it is available for you to use. 

If you decide to register as an LLC, there will be some requirements and restrictions you must adhere to. These may vary by state so make sure you check your state’s specific guidelines. But there are a couple that apply to almost every state.

The first is that you must include “limited liability company” or the acronym LLC or L.L.C. to your business name. You also can’t use a name that could be confused with a government agency. You also could be restricted from using certain wording such as “university” or “bank” without special arrangements.

If you’re registering as a C-Corp, there will be more rules to follow. Mainly, you will need to include ‘corporation’, ‘company’, incorporated’, or ‘limited’ or their accepted abbreviations in your business name. Each state has their own requirements so make sure to do your research or consult legal advice.

If you go the more informal business structure route, such as a sole proprietorship, the cardinal rule is that you have to register under your own name. However, you can file a DBA (Doing Business As), and operate your business under a different brand name. 

The point here is, to check with your Secretary of State. Decide how you want to register your business and then search your state database to see if your business name is available. Then seek guidance from the Secretary of State or your legal counsel to properly register your business name. 

You might also want to make sure that your business name isn’t already registered as a trademark by someone else. This process is very straightforward. All you need to do is head to the US Trademark and Patent Office’s electronic database (TESS) and type in the business name you want to use. It will tell you if the name is already trademarked by another business or not. 

Next is to make sure the domain name and social media handles are available.

Domain Name

You can use Whois.com to see if your domain name choice is available. You can also use any domain host to search, such as GoDaddy, Squarespace or  BlueHost.com. 

When choosing a domain name, make sure it is easy to spell and remember. Also, try not to make it too long! 

If your preferred name is not available, try looking at other extensions besides .com. See if .net or .co are available. Or add a verb to your name, such as buy, get, cooks, helps, designs, sells, etc. 

If your favorite domain name is available, buy it! Domain names typically aren’t too expensive but if someone else grabs it before you, it can cost a lot to buy it back from them. If you are still undecided on a business name and domain names are available for a couple of them, buy them both and hold on to them until you make a decision. 

Social Media handles

Now that you have your website domain name, what are you going to be called on social media? Make a list of all the social media channels your business will be operating on. Then go through and see what versions of your business name are available on each one.

Ideally, you want your handles to be the same on every social media platform. This makes it super easy for people to find and follow you across the web. Check each platform for availability and reserve the name if it’s free.

YouTube: Choose a name related to your content. YouTube user names can be upto 20 characters long. Include your own name or your business name to keep consistency across platforms. For example, Wandersoul Web Design

Instagram: Your handle is the name after the @ symbol and is what people use to search for your business on the platform. You have 30 characters to use for your user name. It is also used to generate your Instagram URL. Use your business name for your user name handle and use the Name field in your profile to describe your business more and to display your surname. 

Pinterest: Pinterest requires you to have 2 accounts, a personal and a business. Your user name can be 3-30 characters long and will also be part of your Pinterest URL. 

Twitter: Your Twitter username can be 15 characters max. Your profile name can be longer, 50 characters. If your desired Twitter handle is taken, try adding an underscore to create a unique username.

Facebook: Facebook also requires you to have a personal account to build a business page from. They must be at least 5 characters long and also become part of your Facebook URL.

8. Make sure you like the name and are happy with it.

The final step in choosing a business name is to make sure you like it. Are you truly happy with it? Does it feel aligned with your values and mission? You should feel proud to stand behind the name you choose. Does it feel good to say out loud? Are you confident that the name will resonate with your audience? It’s important to take your time with the naming process. This is an implant piece of your branding. It is a strategic move and should be given the time to be done correctly from the start!

To sum it all up, naming your business may feel like naming your baby! But leave your personal emotions out of it. Don’t name the business for you or based on a sentimental value or point of view. This will lead to failure. Your audience won’t be able to truly connect with something that’s only meaningful to you. 

Like with every element of your brand, your audience MUST be included. When you have clarity on who your audience is and what they need, you will be guided to the right business name. 

Make sure your business name passes the memorable and strategic test. Is it easy to remember and does it send the message I need my audience to get?

There are several free web tools and resources to get you started. Name generators, word mashers and strength tests can help you run checks on how well your name will do. 

Use your friends and do market research. Test the name in the real world. How does it hold up with other brand names in your industry? Does it send the message you need to convey about your brand? 

Say it outloud, write it down and type it out. How does it sound? How does it look?

Your business is your baby, but remember, you already love it! You need to get your audience on board now so that they love it too. Starting with a memorable and meaningful name is the first step to planting that seed of trust and connection. 

Take your time. Do your research. And make sure it feels good too.

So now you have your business name, what next?

Once you’ve decided on your business name you can start to move forward with other important steps in bringing your kickass business to life. With your name settled you can create your LLC, focus on your logo and branding & purchase your domain name so that you can create an elevated online presence.

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