Naming Your Startup: 7 Tips for Success

It seems so easy: only 26 letters in the alphabet.

Once you’ve made the decision to start a new business and have at least the basic resources in place, undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is deciding what to name it.

For a task that seems so simple on the surface, most experienced entrepreneurs will admit that they spend an inordinate amount of time on naming — much more than they’d like.

Sure, there are always those who’ll make a flippant decision, tossing something out and worrying about the consequences later (and there are many). But most business founders, especially those who’ve been there before, know just how far-reaching the naming decision can be.

Marketers have long maintained its importance. Highly acclaimed authors Al Ries and Jack Trout (“Positioning” and several other classics), call it “the single most importance marketing decision you will ever make.”

No wonder, then, it gets the attention of serious entrepreneurs. And no wonder many, unfortunately, get tied up in endless hours of playing the name game.

“How hard can it be?” they think. “I’ve named kids and dogs before.” Then reality sets in. A business is not a dog — or at least one hopes not.

What Makes a Good Name?

Here are some guidelines and considerations in naming a new company, based on my long experience in naming and branding:

1) Your name should be trademarkable — something you can own and protect. Naming experts often point out that “coined” or made-up words, or alternate spellings, tend to make the best names for that very reason. Common or dictionary words can be a problem. (To get started, a business must register its name with the office of its Secretary of State. And, of course, it needs to reserve an Internet domain name. Also, remember that, if your company will do business outside its own state, it should seek federal trademark protection.)

2) It should be unique or memorable. Again, something different is the objective here — not sameness, copy-cat, or commonplace. In fact, the latter can get you into costly name disputes down the line. The value of having a memorable and different name is well documented in the literature of the marketing profession, and in the accepted best practices of branding.

3) It should be as short as possible — within reason or availability. This trait can be somewhat of a luxury anymore, since the vast majority of short Internet domain names are long since taken. But this objective speaks to the general desirability or need, in our cluttered society, to keep things simple. Minimize the number of words and syllables in your name and your Internet domain (where possible). Shorter is always easier to remember.

4) It should be easy to say. “Pronouncability” is critical, which gets into avoiding certain letter combinations or sounds that require too much effort to say. That is, if it even hints of being a tongue-twister, best to forget it!

5) It should also sound pleasing to the ear. But, chances are, if it “rolls off the tongue nicely” from the sender (see number 4), the receiver will find it sounds pleasant to him or her, too! Far too many companies do not give enough attention to the spoken implications or linguistic aspects of naming.

6) It preferably should be suggestive of a benefit or product association. Such is the holy grail of naming: does it begin the branding process in the person’s mind, even before you say anything else? After all, the name essentially becomes your “package,” at least initially. And, if it’s a software or services company (read: intangibles), that’s the case ongoing, making the name even more critical.

7) Finally, your name should be one you can build a story around. In other words, a brand. That’s what you’re creating. Be careful it’s not a name that’s too limiting. Rather, it should have what we call “stretch,” so you can grow to the vision you have for the company.

Seven short tips. Sounds easy, huh? Unfortunately, it’s not. But keeping these objectives foremost in your mind will serve you well as you set out to build your dream. Happy branding!


Graeme Thickins is a naming, branding, and technology marketing consultant based in Minneapolis. His long interest in names, he reasons, has something to do with the one he acquired at birth in Western Australia. He later accompanied his entrepreneurial parents to the U.S. at age six, and has been explaining his name ever since. He thus comes to storytelling and branding naturally. 

Leave a Comment