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3 Rules for Naming Your Startup

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When you’re creating a startup, there are far more important things to get right before the company name. But once you’re comfortable with the big stuff, spend time with the name. Don’t do this for the emotional side — even though it’s a name you’ll live with, sleep with, and be associated with (hopefully) for a very long time. Do it for the professional benefits: A good company name can contribute more than you think. For a startup, it can impact consumers, corporate customers, partners, analysts, the press, and even would-be employees in terms of how they think of you, how much they remember you, even what they think about you.

As your startup gets bigger and more successful, the name matters less. Also, a company name means more if you’re doing consumer services, not enterprise software. But it’s important for enterprise software too – in part because there’s more opportunity to stand out.

But irrespective of all these caveats, your company’s name is important, very important. I have a little experience with naming startups — some more successful than others, and I’ve learend a few things.

*My 3 rules for what a startup name must have:*

*1) Relevance* – how intuitively does it communicate what you provide?
*2) Catchiness* – how catchy, easy to remember and spell, fun to say out loud?
*3) Personality* – how well do the words and prosody communicate the company’s personality? Are you hip? Solid? Safe? Hi-tech? Warm? Simple?

What makes a better or worse name depends a lot on your company’s objectives. Below I offer *3 Mini Case Studies* of my rules at work, taken from *my turns at naming companies I have co-founded* — and like I said, some worked out better than others. But I hope these will be helpful:

*1) “Dial Directions”:* – free voice-activated phone service: you call, say your start and end locations, receive directions by text msg. In this case, the name is *relevant.* To call the service, you literally “dial” the phone number “DIRECTIONS” on your cellphone keypad (spells 347-328-4667). *Catchy,* fun, simple words, easy to remember. In this case alliteration helps too.

*2) Voxify* – voice-activated software, handles customer calls for call centers. More *indirectly relevant*: “vox” is understood by most folks as having to do with voice (Latin), and “-ify” imparts a sense of action; *Catchy,* it rolls off the tongue easily, people remember it, it’s easy to spell. Sounds cutting-edge, which was helpful as the company introduced a new generation of speech automation. If this were a consumer service, however, probably too techie a name.

*3) Anubis* – enterprise software for data mining. *Poor name.* *Not relevant* – Egyptian deities aren’t known for any data mining; *not catchy*; hard to spell over a phone call. Only one thing worked: having an “A” name floats your company to the top of any alphabetically sorted list (e.g. in a press article). The name was chosen over a quick phone call by a pair of young co-founders. Not recommended!

To find a great name for your startup, you’ll need *a combination of creativity, a good feel for words, and marketing analysis.* Thanks to the shrinking world of domain names, you’ll need more creativity than ever. Take some time and do it carefully. It’s worth it!

13 Responses to “3 Rules for Naming Your Startup”

  1. adambenayoun

    I personally think that any name can “make” it if you have good marketing skills.
    There’s several hundreds of name that are catchy and good but their companies never made it and lot of companies that are successful but their name were poor.
    Usually when I pick a name, I’m coming up with 100 names and doing round.
    First round I usually take off of the list around 70% that I like less.
    Then in the second Round, I usually ask friends and people what they think about the rest of the name. I usually end up with 5 solid name.
    Third round I evaluate the name by its stickiness, combination letters, relativity to the product (not always good for you), and other parameters but lots of gutts feeling.
    I usually end up with 2 names, which I have to chose from (I end up registering them both so I can take my time picking one of them without worrying than some domain name squatter will steal it from me).
    Few golden rules I use when looking for a domain name:
    – *pick one free* (I’ll never spend more than 100$ at the beginning to buy a domain name, prices are always too high and usually you’re building your name after marketing it and not vice-versa. Of course I’m not talking about generic name like that alone are worth lot of money.
    – *Never use underscore* – Don’t know why, I hate those.
    – *Always buy a .com and other extensions* – I never buy .net domain alone because I like .com domain more. But when buying a .com name I usually buy the other extensions as well, such as .net and the local extension of my country, you never know.
    – *Trust no one but you* – I could do a lot of survey, but at the end its what you’re feeling about your name, do you like it? does it sound a bell? its like a relationship. Why other can’t help you pick a name? because judging a name usually comes from personal preference or taste and not objectivity.

    Hope that helps.}

  2. vineet_s

    We had a great experience using In particular they don’t charge you if they don’t pick the name for you. It is worth using atleast to get help for brainstorming.

    PS: Hmm… you only linked your companies name. Personally I find Voxiy and Anubis more catchy name than Dial Directions.}

  3. iamronen

    nice thoughts… I would offer that:
    1. add in inspiration… let your gut/soul/body (insert word that works for you) take part in the choice… “Good” is often hidden from the mind and reasoning. Have you ever had the feeling that something is just right but couldn’t explain why ??? Go for that in a name… that feeling/inspiration will carry through the name…
    2. the “goodness” of a brand is achieved over time – stick to it, support it, make it visible, repetition. Someone I spoke to from the music industry told me that a good radio DJ will make any song a hit – simply by endorsing it and playing it over and over and over and over….}

  4. zviband

    Good article! You are missing one big point…
    …it all depends on domain availability. Getting sold on a name, then finding it is taken, sucks. Settling for a .net or a second tier domain is a big mark against you most of the time.

    I chose the name Localnik for my site (community powered marketplace for home services) because it’s relevant, easy to pronounce, and most importantly, the domain was available!}

  5. mistone

    Great topic and insight.

    We actually just completed a renaming process, going from: PromoterForce to Rephoria. Rephoria is a web application, used by consumers to refer friends to trusted services and by service providers to create and manage referral marketing programs.

    Some initial feedback said that PromoterForce was to techie, and bizznessy , so we went with something softer and more consumer orientated. Playing off the word euphoria, Rephoria is defined as, an intense state of customer satisfaction, so good it has to be shared with others.

    Let me know what you think and thanks for the tips.}

  6. often what happens is that you start with a name like it….build ure product and by the time it is launch you are convinced its a bad name…

    and then u start all over again!! its frustrating to say the least …

    difficult to be in love with the name 6 months after you came up with it :-)}