How to Name Your Business in 2015

As Juliet famously uttered in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell just as sweet?”

There are tons of great names waiting out there that can be slapped on to your business. The perfect business name doesn’t exist; but many imperfect ones do.

Not a good business name
photo credit: Steve Rhode

We live in a world where an untold number of businesses are launched on a daily business. Leaving many scratching their heads in an effort to create a brandable name that hasn’t been taken already, somewhere or someplace.

You’ll find plenty of advice online about naming your company including:

  • Make a list of several descriptive or evocative words that accurately describe or conjure images related to your niche (Glen’s Dog Walking Service, or The North Face)
  • Think of words that identify and/or solve your consumer’s needs (ie., U-Fix-It Computers, One Hour Photo)
  • Creating a new word altogether (ie., Microsoft, or Chevrolet)
  • Combining adjectives and nouns together (ie., American Apparel, Urban Outfitters)
  • Using your own name (Ed’s, Jake’s.)

This advice is all well and good, but these suggestions are more about the “what” really, and less about the “how”.

1. Seek advice from opposing-brain thinkers

Essentially, if you’re a left-brained thinker, find a righty; and vice-versa. It’s important to employ equal parts analytical and creative (see Left Brain vs. Right Brain) thought processes when it comes to finding a great business name.

Left brained folks just don’t understand how branding works; they’re often too caught up in labeling and making things easily identifiable (ie., dummy proof): eg., Norwalk Virginia Inner City Carwash, Able’s Personal Computer Build and Repair Center. Right brain thinkers will scoff at the redundant and dull nature of the lefty, adding a little sugar and spice to an otherwise “decent” name.

At the same time, righties need lefties to keep from creating a branding nightmare. For instance, an Internet startup or restaurant might benefit from a catchy name that tells a potential customer nothing about the products or services rendered. This is often fine because your location or marketing method will place you right in front of customers doors.

On the other hand, a retail computer repair shop, trade service, car dealer, etc., will have a hard time bringing in customers with overly fanciful, indistinguishable business name such as “Thoof”, or “AMBLI”, without a supportive noun in place to properly distinguish the business as a specific brand in an industry (ie., “Thoof Roofing” or “AMBLI Porsche”.)

A left-brained thinker can spot inconsistencies like this easily.

2. Stop using “name generators” such as online brainstorming groups, friends, family, and smartphone apps

This is a common mistake nowadays. Feedback and ideas are one thing, but letting someone or something else without a vested interest in the company, make the naming decision for you, can lead to business name disaster. It’s so easy to rely on an online brainstorming group, website or app to tell you what you should name your company – or to ask a relative or friend to toss some names out at you.

The trouble with this approach is that, while you have a unique vision for how the company will be represented to your potential customers, employing a name generator type of approach allows you to “pass the buck”; allowing a group of people to make a final decision about the name. The end result is often one that doesn’t capture the vision you and/or your partners are striving for.

If you insist on seeking advice from groups and tools, be sure you are the one who have the final say – it’s YOUR company.

Relating to tip #1: your also less likely to get the right ratio of right vs. left-brain ideas that you need to get a name which fits your niche. Get feedback from these folks AFTER the name is conceived, and weigh their thoughts as a whole, carefully.

Ameritech logo on a manhole
photo credit: Antonio Agee

3. Avoid playing into naming trends – in your niche or in general

The last piece of sage advice I’ll give you, is to please stop playing the trend name game. The trend name game involves a lot of key players using truncating words as their brand name, consulting an atlas/map/globe to name their business, and being terribly obscure thinking it will set you apart from the crowd. Basically, in 2014 these practises are over-used and thus, terribly clichéd.

  • Truncated words: There are many out there. You’ve seen them, with names like: DelivrIt, Aciv8, AmeriTech, etc. Think long and hard before delving into this corny side of the market.
  • Atlas-based names: You might be thinking that the local approach will help to brand your business and rank in the search engines. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to expand or franchise a business called “Kentucky Fried Chicken” (now called “KFC”) outside of Kentucky. A hyper local name, even if it’s state or country-based can stifle you in the long haul.
  • Obscurity: The industry you’re in will have a big impact on how obscure you can be with your name. Take a name like Achernar, for instance. The word translates literally to “end of the river,” in Arabic. Whether customers know what it means or not, this would be a great name for a restaurant, whether at the end of a river or not. However, this obscure reference might not have the branding effect you anticipate for a bankruptcy trustee firm, or abuse counseling center.


Naming your business is the first step in the branding process for your new company. The process is more than purely an analytical or creative one. You can’t just pop some parameters into an app or leave the name to chance with a brainstorming group. Naming trends are also an influence that can make the resulting name too generic, overly voguish, or swanky.

One last important bit of advice: take your time, but don’t let analysis paralysis kick in either. So many aspiring entrepreneurs let the lack of a name prevent them from taking action until their company title is fully set in stone, wasting valuable research, brainstorming, and networking time in the process.

Don’t put the cart before the horse! How your business will run – logistics, client acquisition, service, etc., are way more important and will have the most impact on overall branding in the long run.