What's in a Name? The ABC's of Baptizing Your Biz.

Editor’s Note: Our friends at PartnerUp sent over these tips for how to effectively name your startup. (Sorry, it’s no longer enough to be clever!) PartnerUp is an online community that matches founders to cofounders, employees and advisors. Its creator, Steve Nielsen, has written for F|R many times (see list at end). This piece is coauthored with his colleague Megan Dorn.

Writing a business plan can seem like a piece-of-cake compared to the tedious task of creating a company name. It seems like such a trivial component, but so much of a company’s success rides on its name. Starting a business with a weak company name is kind of like driving a car without an engine — it probably isn’t going to go anywhere.

But don’t fret; PartnerUp has put together an A-to-Z guide to deciding on a stellar company name. Bear in mind the following tips and you should be able to find the perfect name for your company.

Acronyms: Be careful when using an acronym as your business name. Acronyms are often confusing and sometimes spell out unintended words.

Back-ups: Create at least two, maybe even three, back-up names for your business. When you go to register the name, your first choice may already be taken.

Competitors: Make a list of the names of your competitors. You can use their names to get ideas, but the main idea is to make sure your name is distinct from the others.

Domain Names: Make sure that the name of your company would also make an attractive domain name. And make sure that domain name isn’t already taken.

Expansion: Consider the expansion of your business. If your business were to expand, would the name still be fitting? It should be able to roll with the changes.

First Letter: The first letter in your company name is important because it determines where your business will be listed in directories. Many companies choose to start with a number or the letter “A” to ensure early placement. This was more important in the olden days of yellow pages being a huge ingredient for success, but nonetheless remains a consideration.

Gut Feeling: Never underestimate your gut feeling about a name. You should feel very strongly about your company’s name. You are the one who has to live with it.

Headlines: Picture the name of your company splashed across the headlines. Does it look and sound good?

Industry: Make sure the name conveys the industry your business is in. Give some clues as to what exactly you do. This makes it easier for potential customers/clients to seek out your business.

Jot: Jot down a list of adverbs, adjectives, anything that could describe your business. Gather as many words as you can and then start playing around with them.

Kleenex: Even though Kleenex is used in everyday language as a tissue, it is actually a trademark. Common words like Frisbee and Rollerblade are also trademarks. If you have a product that you think is going to be big, come up with a name that could be a trademarked name used in everyday jargon.

Length: A trap that many companies fall into is trying to include too much information in the name. People don’t want to remember long-winded names, so they don’t. Your name should fit well on a business card, sign or advertisement.

Memorable: This is, by a landslide, the most important element in creating a company name. People should hear your business name and be able to commit it to memory; another reason long names don’t work.

Name (your own): Using your own name, or a combination of names for multiple owners, shows that you are willing to give your customers personal attention. But it can be difficult to make a company name with your own name memorable.

Opinion: Test your company names on friends and family. Their opinion matters—after all, they are consumers.

Pronunciation: Your company name absolutely has to be easy to pronounce. If it isn’t, people won’t even bother trying to remember it.

Quirky: So many people try to come up with quirky and weird names because they think these names will catch people’s eyes. Many times they are right, people are intrigued. Your name can certainly have personality, but it should still sound professional.

Regulations: Always make sure you check state regulations on naming a business. Also, make sure that the name of your company doesn’t sound like the name of a government entity/agency.

Spelling: The name of your company must be easy to spell. Avoid any and all confusion. If people are confused, they will immediately forget you.

Trademark: Do not teeter with someone else’s existing trademark. If there is the possibility that you could be infringing upon it, then there’s also the possibility that you could get slapped with a lawsuit.

Unique: Coming up with a unique name is always a good idea, just as long as it still adheres to the previous tips.

Visualize: As humans we innately “see” images when we read and hear language. Try to use strong visual language when naming your company.

Web site: Online businesses obviously have a Web site, but so do many other types of businesses. By creating a distinct name, you can make your name more easily searchable on search engines, resulting in more traffic.

X-factor: Okay, so “X” is a difficult letter to work with, but “x-factor” really does work here. It’s what every name should have—that certain something that makes it successful.

Yellow Pages This goes hand-in-hand with the “first letter” entry. When people search through the Yellow Pages, they almost always start at the beginning of the alphabet and work their way down. If you are in a niche industry and have few competitors then this won’t affect you much. But if your company is in, let’s say, the pizza business, and the name of your business starts with a “Z,” don’t hold your breath waiting for the phone to ring.

Zero: This is the number of customers/clients you might end up with should you not utilize any of these tips.

See these earlier PartnerUp contributions to Found|READ:

* Boot$trapping: ‘Spend it’ Like Dell & Newmark

* 100 M&A Deals. 100 Startup Lessons, a very handy index of the major Web2.0 M&A deals in 2007.

* So you’ve Got an Idea. Now What?

* Tips for Finding Your Cofounder

You can read even more at PartnerUp’s StartUp Blog.


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