So, you’ve decided to have a … company. One of the first (of many) decisions is what to name it, right? This is an important, and often emotional, decision that is no less crucial than naming a baby. The big difference is that there can be more than one Brittany or Jennifer in a group (trust me on this… there were five Jennifers in my kindergarten class!). This is not the case for companies, which makes the process that much more challenging.
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Picking the perfect name can also be a daunting task as there are many horror stories of naming or renaming initiatives gone wrong. In June 2011, for example, Overstock.com renamed itself as O.co. According to ragan.com, “Only three months later the company returned to Overstock.com—but not before spending millions of dollars on a six-year naming rights deal with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.” Ouch.
I have also had clients that have needed to rename their company because they have run into trademark or competitive issues. This is a very unfortunate situation and all too common among young enterprises where a name is generally chosen quickly and sticks because it has cachet and appeal. Typically, they were never put through a thorough and rigorous vetting process, which eventually leads to problems and renaming.
To help you avoid these pitfalls, here are the top guidelines I’ve used over the years of naming products, services and companies. Here are the top things to keep in mind:
- It needs to be short – meaning no more than 2-3 syllables. If it’s more than that, people will automatically shorten it and you’ll be forced to adapt. Beverages and More has gradually adapted to being called by its once nickname, BevMo. That works fine but it would have been easier to have kept the name shorter to begin with! A good test is to ask yourself: “If the company isn’t already world-renowned, how will the name set it apart from the crowd?” And before you ask, no, 1-3 syllables does not mean 4; it means 1-3. Period.
- It must be memorable – some names are just of so forgettable. Typically, these forgettable names fall into two categories: they are either very strange (like Zilinx) or very generic, like American Paint Supply. Take this time to make the name something people will remember, something with style. I have never understood why car manufacturers name their cars using numbers – it’s arcane and makes it hard to remember. Your company is distinct – make sure the name is too!
- The names must be easy to pronounce – if people can’t figure out how to say it, that will make it harder to remember. The language of the business world is English, so a name that follows the natural rules of the English language works well.
- It must not have a vulgar or negative connotation in another language. In this connected world, it is crucial to have a good linguist review your list of names. It is sometimes surprising what a translation can mean. For examples, apparently Chevy had a hard time selling the Nova in Mexico when they launched it. A Spanish linguist could have saved them grief and untold millions since “No va” translates to “no go” in Spanish – not exactly something you want your car to be associated with.
- The name needs to be available as a good URL. This is easily overlooked in the naming process, but it is critical as the URL needs to match the company name. And, yes, all the good ones are taken. It’s much easier to buy a new URL than it is to try to wrestle it away from someone who’s squatting on your favorite name. Make sure to check before you leap.
- It must be available in your category. You will need to register your name within a certain business category and you need to be sure the name you want isn’t already taken by someone else in the same category. If you’ve followed Rule #2, you should be fine. I haven’t looked, but I’d be willing to bet that “American Paint Supply” actually exists and is “taken” in the “paint supply” category. If you were starting a paint supply company and wanted that name, you would quickly discover it was unavailable when you went to apply for your new business entity documentation.
And the seventh and final rule? NEVER use an acronym. This is a major pet peeve of mine and one I see all the time. Folks say, “Well, what about IBM?” Yes, well, when you have literally billions of dollars to spend on marketing and branding, and several decades in which to establish that brand, go ahead, use an acronym. (IBM, by the way, was created because everyone got tired of saying “International Business Machines” (ten syllables … refer to Rule #1).
So, there you have it. The seven rules for naming your company are that the name needs to be:
- Easy to say and spell
- Have positive connotations
- Available as an associated domain name
- Available in your category
- Not an acronym
There are a few other things you should consider as well. One of the other big decisions in the naming process is whether you really want a real word name (or a close approximation) like Apple or Google, or are willing to flex to something that’s an imaginary word made from combination of syllables, like Escalade. It is infinitely more difficult to find a real word or a variation of one that fits the seven criteria outlined earlier, so if that’s something you have your heart set on, be aware that you may not be able to follow all the naming rules.
Now that I’ve made the naming process sound daunting (unfortunately, it can be …), remember: this is also a fun process and will be an important part of your corporate identity for many years to come. Also keep in mind that the name does not make the company, the company makes the name. Over time, the name you choose will come to be infused with all the brand characteristics that represent your new company.
I wish you the best of luck with your new company name!
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