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Four Tips for Naming a StartUp Business

naming.pngNaming is fun, rewarding, creative and interesting. How’s that for negating just about every post about the pitfalls of naming or how tedious it seems to be for many people? Granted, naming in a world of diminishing dot com availability is a challenge, but overall, I’ve found naming to be more gratifying than frustrating — when you have the right approach.

I’ve distilled four criteria that when followed, will greatly increase your chance for success and provide awareness of where the pitfalls lie so you can minimize time-intensive dead ends.

Understand the Elements of a Good Name

There are some universal characteristics that good names generally share. Sure, there are exceptions, but playing the percentages is the way to go, unless you have a lot of free time on your hands.

Short and Pithy – Short and pithy describes the kind of names that resonate most with people whose attention spans are, well, short if not pithy, a.k.a. your audience. One to three syllable names are safest; when you get into four syllables, correct pronunciation becomes optional. And with the internet being global, you must now consider non-native English speakers as part of your audience.

Rule of thumb: “If the name can be read in more than one way, it will.”

Sounds Good Aloud – It is often surprising how obvious a name may seem on paper or onscreen, but when you go to say it, it just doesn’t sound good.

Rule of thumb: “If it doesn’t sound good to you, it won’t sound good to your customers and others.”

Easy to trademarkThe ability to trademark your new name is arguably the most important aspect of naming.

Ultimately, you will need a trademark attorney who has access to full national and international name databases, but you can “pre-screen” names via the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office). This will show you if your name is actively being used or not. Additionally, conducting a Google search of your name will reveal whether that name is already in active use, which will usually indicate that a dot com name is unavailable. (More on trademarking in a section below.)

Not Limiting – While the easiest names to trademark are non-descriptive names, people are often more comfortable when a name says something about what they do or what they offer: BestBuy (low price retailer); ComputerWorld (publication about computers; Taste of India (Indian restaurant).

Less descriptive names, on the other hand, accommodate change that may be impossible to anticipate at the time of the naming. Apple Computer dropped the Computer when it became clear their audience and the world had expanded beyond the computer. They were able to do this because the name Apple was not descriptive of any product they would ever create and thus was malleable to building whatever meaning into the name they chose.

Start with a Clear, Well Articulated Value Proposition

Naming, while often relegated to a corporate pizza party-cum-brainstorming session or naming contest, is actually often the first result to emerge from a brand strategy process. The reason corporate naming contests usually don’t succeed is that they are not based on a clearly articulated strategic foundation.

Going into a naming exercise with agreed-upon language around the brand strategy, i.e., vision, position and messaging, provides the context in which a creative brainstorm can be measured against and succeed.


Build the Trademark Process all Through Your Naming Process

The more common a word or phrase, the more likely it will be expensive and challenging to secure a Web domain and copyright. While dot coms are still highly coveted, other “dots” are rising in the ranks as the paucity of trademarkable dot com names causes people to search elsewhere to save time and money.

Today, there are over 1,000 dot suffixes available: country URLs (name.de for Germany); industry suffixes (name.marketing); profession URLs (name.accountant),  and more. Choosing one of these will greatly increase your ability to apply your new name without extra descriptive language to make your dot com name different from the many others like it. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of domain suffixes.

Approach Your Name with the Same Creativity with Which You Approach Your StartUp 

Most of the posts I’ve read about naming start with something like this: “Name selection is often an overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting experience.” You can replace the words “name selection” with just about any worthwhile endeavor and that sentence can work. Worst of all, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you approach naming with the same creative, upbeat attitude with which you approach your StartUp, the process can be highly rewarding and a source of pride every time you pull out a business card or view your email signature.

Here are a few techniques:

  • Develop a list of keywords associated with your brand strategy, industry, benefits, possibly function (although that usually applies to product naming).
  • Explore word roots associated with your business. I first look at the English words and identify the word roots. For example, a name like “Nest” is rooted in “home,” thus is a great name for a technology company that makes products for more comfortable, cozy home living. If I’m naming a company that is all about precision products, I might start with words like precise, accurate, exact, etc., which is probably among the techniques used for Acura (car) or Exact Target (marketing company). I also consult Latin/English online dictionaries, as English words are derived from Latin. The above link also includes translations into many other languages. When you begin a naming exercise, the goal is to generate a long list of potential names and then cull to a smaller selection you will use to conduct your USPTO and Google name searches.
  • Pull out the Thesaurus – Explore the many shadings of meaning a single word may provide. There is also an occasionally useful online tool called the Visual Thesaurus that presents words synonyms as nodes of a network diagram that look and behave like the axons and dendrites of a neural network.
  • Seek visual inspiration – I often simply do a Google search and go to “Images,” rather than “All.” Google will display multitudes of visual impressions of words and phrases. Pinterest is another great tool for naming inspiration and is by its nature more “curated” than Google. By entering a subject, you can find many interesting and relevant ideas, such as is done on the Apple Watch Pinterest page.
  • Try out online name generators – I’m pretty old school about naming but I’ve talked to others who have used Wordoid to help generate naming ideas.
  • Use domain name search tools such as Go Daddy or Buy Domains to see if your name’s url or close proximity is available. Just because you do a Google Search and don’t find an existing match to your name, doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t already registered the url and is “parking,” just waiting for someone like you to offer them $ for a name.

Following these best practices will give you an excellent chance for a successful and — dare I say — enjoyable naming process.

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