“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once asked. As it turns out, there’s a lot, actually. This is why many entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners struggle to come up with the perfect moniker to represent their company. You’re not alone if you’ve spent hours agonizing over what to call your business, praying to the old gods and the new (and probably a bottle of wine) for some inspiration. While I’m sure the apple will hit your head eventually, be sure to keep these tips in mind when deciding on a name for your company in order to avoid some big (and potentially costly) mistakes.
Choosing a name that’s too similar to something else
No one likes a copycat. While you may look to companies that you love for inspiration, make sure you aren’t just ripping off their idea. Not only is this bad form, but it doesn’t speak highly of your creativity. You’ll also probably struggle to find a domain that clearly represents your business, because larger companies tend to buy up all the domains similar to theirs to protect themselves. You also don’t want to be up against a bigger company when it comes to SEO, so if you value your organic reach, be sure to select something that is both unique and searchable.
Picking a name close to something that already exists can also be dangerous territory, as there might be legal implications if your chosen name closely resembles something that’s already taken. According to Emma Stirk, Founder of the Law Lounge UK, “If you opt for a business name which is similar to an existing trade mark, then you could find yourself faced with a claim for infringement which will not only cost you valuable time; if the trade mark owner is prepared to finance court proceedings, it could also cost you financially.”
As if that isn’t bad enough already, she continues, “if you're found guilty of infringement then not only will you lose the right to that name, you could also lose any associated domain names as well as your customer's details, meaning you’ll effectively have to start your business again from scratch!”
Yikes. Moral of the story, double-check that your name hasn’t already been spoken for.
Making things too complicated
It’s important to pick a name that stands out so it’s memorable and sticks in people’s heads but if it’s too long, too complex, or too difficult to pronounce, people won’t remember it. This is the same reasoning behind why some musicians and actors adopt stage names. Brie Larson is way more memorable than Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers, for example.
“Don't overcomplicate something that should be ridiculously simple. No fancy spelling or weird letter combinations – get to the point,” says The Content Planner Founder Kat Gaskin. There’s no confusion about what The Content Planner is selling and that’s exactly the point. “When I first came up with the name ‘The Content Planner', it was pretty easy. I took all the keywords I was using to search for the planner that I needed for my own business – a planner for my content,” she continues. “To name your product, service or offering, start with SEO – ensure the words are searchable, easy to say/type and describe exactly what your product does.”
Her business is the top result you’ll see when you type ‘content planner’ into Google, so it’s clear that she knows a thing or two about picking a simple business name that gets big results.
Not thinking about scalability
If you’re planning to expand your empire, you’ll want to make sure that your company’s name translates well in other languages and isn’t already trademarked in the markets you’re dreaming of expanding to. While it’s pretty much impossible to know how your company’s name will translate into every language, picking a name that’s able to scale globally is more about understanding your target market than it is about linguistics.
The story of the Chevrolet Nova’s expansion into Latin America is a classic cautionary tale to demonstrate this. The urban legend from marketing class claims that Chevy struggled with its launch of the Nova model in Spanish speaking countries, because ‘no va’ roughly translates to ‘doesn’t go’ in Spanish and no one wanted to buy a car that outright said it wasn’t going to work. While data suggests there’s no truth to the story, it does highlight an important point. You need to know your ideal client well enough to be able to understand what they’ll take away from your brand name.
Oscar Wilde wrote that “names are everything,” but they don’t need to be your starting point. While finding the perfect name to represent you and your company is important, the biggest mistake you can make is letting the challenge of deciding on a name hold you back from getting started. Picking a name can be hard work, but getting hung up on this one point will keep you from building the business of your dreams and living the life you deserve. Who knows, inspiration might suddenly strike once you dive into the work that lights you up and lets your passion flow freely.
Victoria is a communications strategist and content creator. She served as Public Relations Manager at InterNations and Communications Director for nonprofit The Unmentionables before successfully transitioning to a full-time freelance career. Her work ranges from travel tips for publications such as Fodor’s and Time Out to in-depth white paper content for SaaS providers.