Words are powerful, and names even more so. Names can be literal, informative, trendy, intriguing, indicate personality, stay reserved, fit a niche, or be scaleable. When naming or renaming a company, it’s almost impossible to know where to start. We usually start with the most basic question: what do you need the name to do for your business? If a name is meeting business goals, is simple, memorable, and ownable, it is successful.
Does your name resonate with your target audience?
All good names do something, and that something should be determined by your business goals.
Start with your audience: is your business B2B or B2C? If you’re selling to another business, your name is probably going to be more literal and value-based. Other businesses want to know what you are going to do for them. For example, Greenlight Guru is a B2B SaaS platform that helps medical device designers and manufacturers take their products to market faster. They guide you through the process (guru) to a go-to-market (green-lighted) product. Their name doesn’t suggest the “medical” field, but it doesn’t have to. Their prospects in the medical field know what “green light” means, and they want it.
When selling directly to consumers, it’s less important that a name describes exactly what you do, and more important that it supports, if not elevates, marketing. Carousel is a subscription service for handbags from the world’s top independent designers. The name hints at the consumer experience: she builds a rotation of beautiful bags to choose from each month. The word “carousel” also inspires brand visuals and messaging, from the airy color palette to Instagram captions like “And ‘round and ‘round we go.”
- Does my business’s name describe or suggest what we do? Does it need to?
- Is it trying to do too much? Is it not doing enough?
- Does it suggest something other than what we do? (Spoiler: if the answer is yes, that’s not good.)
- Does it imply value for the buyer?
- Does it position you as experts in the space?
- Does it support marketing efforts? Could it do more for marketing?
Is your name easy to say, spell, and remember?
Whether you’re naming your first pet, your first child, your first car, or your company, names are personal. It’s OK for a name to mean something to you, but a combination of the street you grew up on and your high school English teacher’s last name is more suited to answer security questions than build a business around. The same is true for made-up words. Sometimes, a new word is appropriate and even incredibly successful (Google, anyone?). And sometimes, not knowing exactly how to pronounce Expelliarmus will turn your mom off of the Harry Potter series forever. Good names are easy to say, spell, and remember. The less time prospects spend trying to understand you and the more time they spend listening to you, the better. You would rather have a prospect spend 20 minutes browsing your website or reading your content than asking their friends how they pronounce Gatsby Terrace Fontanone.
Rule of thumb: keep it simple, keep it memorable. It will save you a lot of explanation time.
- Use the newspaper test: could a third grader read this? Pronounce it? Spell it?
- Do you find yourself repeating the name when someone asks what your business is called because they didn’t understand it the first time?
- Is it made up of familiar words?
- Do the words mean something new in the way you have combined them? Did you intend them to?
- Are there positive associations with the name? Negative?
Is your name ownable?
Unique names are ideal, but your name doesn’t have to be one-of-a-kind as long as it’s one-of-a-kind in your market. The last thing you want is to be indistinguishable from a direct competitor. Names are repeatable and trademarking is possible, as long as the companies aren’t competing in the same market. For example, Canvas isn’t the only company named Canvas - it’s not even the only software company named Canvas. It is, however, the only software company named Canvas in the HR/recruiting space (or at least the first to get trademarked). Start by making sure a version of the URL and social media handles are available, and search around for similar names in your vertical.
- Can you trademark it? (While this might not be a priority for a scrappy start-up, it should still be on the to-do list.)
- Can you own the URL you want? Can you own the necessary social media handles?
- Do any direct competitors have a similar or identical name?
- Is there anyone else in the market, maybe not a direct competitor, with a similar or identical name?
- Our go-to name-checker for new companies: Namechk
When evaluating your company name, make sure it is simple, ownable, and marketable. Your name should never get in your way; it should work for you. If it is causing friction or preventing you from succeeding in any way, it’s time for a change.