Posted: Tue 30th May 2023
Coming up with a good name is an essential part of creating a new business, but many great business ideas have been sunk by a name that jars.
Identifying a great name for a small business can be surprisingly tough. It's hard to find something that's distinctive, memorable and isn't already being used by another business.
So let's take a look at some of the decisions you'll face during the naming process. By considering your options and the pros and cons of each choice, you should find it easier to find a business name that works for you.
What makes a good business name
Coming up with an effective business name is an essential part of making your brand memorable and recognisable. Your name is the first impression you give to potential customers and it sets the tone for all future interactions with your brand. A good business name will embody your brand's identity, mission statement and values.
A memorable and original business name should do the following:
Evoke feelings and emotions related to your industry and niche: For example, if your brand relates to fitness, your business name should stir feelings of energy, strength and vitality. It's important to choose words that resonate with the emotions of your potential customers.
Sound catchy: A great business name should have a strong and memorable rhythm. This makes it easier for potential customers to recall. Catchy business names tend to be rhythmic and fun, with the potential to go viral and become a cultural phenomenon.
Be relevant to your target audience: Always think of your audience when choosing a name. For example, if your ideal customers are millennials, your business name might be trendy and youthful. If you're targeting a more mature audience, a more refined and sophisticated name might better suit your business.
Be easy to recall: A great business name should be easy for people to bring to mind. It should also be easy to type, spell and pronounce. If it's difficult to say, people may struggle to recommend you or ask for your product in a store. Avoid complicated or meaningless names as they can make it difficult for potential customers to remember your brand.
Be as short as possible: The shorter the better, as it makes the name easier to remember and type. Short names are also easier to share on social media where character limits exist. And whenever your name is listed either on the search engine results page, on an email, or even in print, a short name gives you the advantage of space.
Be original and memorable: All good business names tend to be original. Avoid generic names that don't stand out, and choose a name that will capture future customers' attention.
Avoid being too narrow: A common mistake is people naming their business for what they're selling right now. For example, Joe's Granola could be a great name for a new granola brand. But once successful, the business may want to expand into other products, industries or sectors. Make sure your business name is relevant but not too narrow for you to grow.
Why having a good business name is so important
Your name is your initial point of contact with customers. It's a fundamental piece of your brand's overall identity and can have a significant impact on how people see and perceive the business.
A strong brand name helps you establish your values and personality and set yourself apart from the competition. It can also convey the quality of the services or products you offer, as well as attracting potential customers.
Creating a really good business name can take time, but by embracing some of the principles set out below, you can make sure your venture has a memorable and effective name that resonates with its customers.
How to name a business
Here are some strategies and tips on how to come up with a business name that accurately reflects your identity, values and goals.
Your brand name should be descriptive, evocative, easy to pronounce and memorable. It should communicate the essence of what the business is about and what it has to offer.
Are you setting up as a sole trader, limited company or partnership?
Whichever business structure you choose, you'll need a name when you register.
Sole traders in particular tend to trade under their own name, while partnerships can incorporate under the founding partners' names. For sole traders and partnerships, your name must not:
be offensive or contain a sensitive word or expression
be the same as an existing trademark
imply connection to government or local authorities without permission
include limited (Ltd), limited liability partnership (LLP) or public limited company (Plc)
Limited companies, meanwhile, are subject to other restrictions, including not registering under a name that's the same as, or too like, an existing company's name.
Within these restrictions, however, you have a lot of leeway, which means you can get creative.
Descriptive or abstract name?
First, you need to decide which of these two broad groups is going to work best for your business. Let's look at each choice in depth.
Descriptive names – in other words, names that describe exactly what a business does, so something like 'Online Printer Cartridges' – used to be all the rage for online businesses. Their advantage is that they make what you do abundantly clear to newcomers.
They require no investment in the brand to tell visitors what you're good at. And, historically, they were easier to rank highly on Google for relevant searches. The downside is that they can be plain and unimaginative.
Abstract names are less straightforward and don't really tell you what a business does. At first glance, they can appear nonsensical, but they usually have the benefit of being memorable.
If you can explain your abstract name, if there is a story about why it is what it is, it can be a nice payoff for customers who know the inside story (think 'Google'). Nevertheless, if you're going for an abstract name, you'll have to invest in marketing your brand and making it clear to potential customers what you do. This is going to need more time and money.
Of course, it's possible to mix the two. The name 'Flickr', for example, doesn't describe that it's a photo storage and sharing website, but it does hint that images are involved.
At this stage, it's a good idea to draw up some potential business name ideas. They don't have to be great. In fact, you may not end up using any of them. But it's helpful to have some potential names to refine. Try to think of five descriptive names for your business and five abstract names before moving on.
Other types of names
This may sound obvious but there are many types of business names. Here are a few examples:
Made-up words: These are not only unique, but allow you to take ownership of a URL/domain name. Examples of company names based on made-up words are Fanta (derived from Fantasie – German for 'imagination') and Karmarama.
Alternative spellings: Again, these let you get a unique URL and help you stand out. Google, for example, is an alternative spelling of the word 'googol', which is the number 1 with 100 zeroes after it.
'All about you' names: These are usually the name(s) of the business founder(s), such as Sainsbury's, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
Existing words with new meanings: Using these can be really powerful, and some of the biggest brands have done it (Apple is a great example).
Play with word endings: Adding different endings to an existing word can help you find a unique name which works really well for your business. Examples would be Shopify, Deliveroo and Maltesers.
Mash-ups: These are having a bit of a moment, especially in food. For example, cronut (croissant combined with doughnut) or brookies (brownies with cookies).
Acronyms and initialisms: A great way to shorten a longer name. Just be sure to make it memorable – for example, ASOS, BMW, M&M's, HSBC.
Are your potential names easy to type?
This is vital. If typing them requires a lot of attention because they're spelled strangely or use unmemorable words, you have an uphill battle on your hands.
Remember, a significant proportion of your new business is likely to come from word of mouth. If people can't type in your domain or search for it accurately online based on what they've heard, you're going to miss out on a chunk of visitors.
There are a few things to watch out for here. Here are some examples in action.
Too long: Buyonlinewithwestlondonwholesaleexperts.com
Hard to pronounce: Do-better-business-online.com
Hard to spell: Xtracomfybeds.com
Easily confused: Curry2yourdoor.com Vs Currytoyourdoor.com (if you don't have both of these domains, you'll lose customers to the other one.)
Looks like it could mean something else: Teacherstalking.org
The real test here is that someone can spell your business name correctly after hearing it spoken out loud. Remove from your list any names that don't pass this test.
Do your potential names stand out? Are they available?
Could any of your potential names be confused with an existing business or website? Could you be risking trademark infringement by using them?
Try searching your names on Google and see what comes up. Reject all those that look too similar to other brands or sites you find. And certainly don't consider anything that's simply the plural, hyphenated or misspelled version of an already established domain. You'll spend years seeing your hard work in marketing send traffic to those other domains!
It's worth visiting the Urban Dictionary website to make sure there aren't any slightly embarrassing alternative meanings to your chosen names. At the same time, check that your name doesn't translate into anything offensive, so you can confidently sell to customers whose native language isn't the same as yours.
The government's website has a company name availability checker you can use to check whether your chosen business names already exist. You can also visit the trademark section of GOV.UK to check whether your names are existing trademarks. Trying to launch your business with a name that's similar to a trademark could end up costing you thousands in legal fees.
Also try searching on 123 Reg to see if anyone has already registered names you're considering. That way, you'll know if someone has registered a domain even if they haven't yet created a website that's listed in Google yet. Making sure the URL is available is critical if you're to have a website and social media accounts that are easy for people to find.
Testing your business names
When you know your business names are available, you can test them further. A/B testing, creating polls or surveys, and using linguistic screening service providers are great ways to do this.
Once you've made your choice, be sure to test it by asking friends or potential customers if they like and understand your brand name. Try to gather honest feedback about what appeals and what you could improve.
It doesn't mean that you need to change your choice but you might want to emphasise particular benefits in your early marketing efforts, if the name in itself doesn't communicate them clearly.
Also make sure you test in different mediums, such as digital marketing, social media and print advertising. If you need to make any adjustments, do so immediately while your names are still available.
Settling on a domain name
By now, you've probably done a lot of brainstorming and been through a few lists of potential names. Hopefully there are a couple, if not more, that pass the above rules. Now it's time to settle on a final domain name.
Remember, even if you don't plan on launching an online business straight away, it always makes sense to secure your domain name(s) as early as possible.
If you don't, you run the risk of letting someone getting them before you. Buy all the different domain name variations too, as this will make sure people who enter incorrect search terms or web addresses will still find your business online.
How to register a business name
There are some differences in the registration process depending on whether you're setting up as a sole trader or a limited company.
As a sole trader, a key part of registering your business is registering for the self-assessment tax system. You have a legal responsibility to do this. However, you aren't obliged to register your business name anywhere.
If you're launching as a limited company, however, by law you must register your business name and get a certificate of incorporation. You can do this at the Companies House website. You'll need to go through the online application process and pay the necessary fees (currently £12) at the end.
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