I’m often fascinated by how little time small business owners spend thinking about a name for their company.  Assuming you are going to be successful and survive for a while, your company name is going to be with you for many years.  It’s also one of those things that is difficult/expensive to change later.  

Though I don’t advocate hiring expensive “branding consultants” and spending thousands of dollars or weeks and months coming up with a name, I think a minimal investment of time can often yield results that are orders of magnitude better than what you’d come up with in your first 5-10 minutes of needing a name.

Your name is a critical component of your marketing (both online and offline).  It will even play a role in your search engine optimization, so it’s worth investing at least a little bit of time (a few days) and coming up with something that works for you.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a branding consultant and don’t play one on TV.  The insights below are from my own personal experience having named several companies and products in my professional career (but no children).  If you’re really serious about naming, hire an expert.

18 Pithy Insights For Naming Your Small Business
  1. Make sure you generate a list of possible names.  Don’t just generate one at a time until you hit one that works.

  1. Ask for help.  If you don’t have the creative gene for generating possible names, find someone that does.  I guarantee you that in your immediate circle of friends and family, someone will be capable of doing this (particularly with the introduction of moderate amounts of alcohol).

  1. Start by making sure the domain name is available.  It is silly to get attached to a name and later discover that the domain name is already taken.  You want at least the “.com” domain name. 

  1. Don’t play games with the domain name just to make it “available”.  You want the most obvious name to be available (without hyphens or other decorations).  Example, if you’re going to name your biotech R&D company “Ace Labs”, then you need to make sure acelabs.com is available.  You shouldn’t use things like ace-labs.com just to get around this.

  1. Descriptive names (that describe what you do) are usually fine for most small businesses.  But, try to be a little creative (i.e. avoid things like “Retail Pricing Consultants”).

  1. Resist the temptation to get too descriptive as it is possible your business will change over the years and you want your name to likely stay with you.

  1. Fabricated (or “made up”) names that don’t describe what you do are easier to get trademarked and find domain names for.  These are usually better for businesses planning for high growth and building a global brand.  

  1. Acronyms are both dated and ineffective.  In most cases, people won’t remember what the letters stand for.

  1. Shorter names are better than longer ones.

  1.  Seek memorable names (i.e. try to be different).

  1.  Earlier in the alphabet is better than later in the alphabet (within reason).  “Acceleration Capital Partners” is better than “Progressive Capital Partners”.  Also, please don’t call your company “AAA <something>”. 

  1.  Avoid names with numbers in them, unless the number is significant and will be easily remembered.

  1.  Make the name easy to say (things like alliteration help).  

  1.  Don’t get cute with world-play.  Stay away from clever reuses of existing words, spelled differently.  

  1.  Ideally, if you speak the name of the company, people should be able to know how to spell it without having it spelled out for them.

  1.   Naming the company after yourself is popular, but I’m not a big fan of this approach.  There may come a time when you want the business to be separate from you personally.  For example, if you have a company named “John Doe Strategic Advisors, LLC”, which of your valued prospective clients are going to want to talk to anyone other than John Doe?

  1.    Test the name .  Talk to at least half a dozen people (friends and family work just fine) and see what they think.

  1.  It’s important that you like the name.  You’re going to be the one that lives with it in the years to come.

If you have possible company names you are considering and want our opinion, feel free to send us an email.  We’re not naming experts, but we’ve been through it enough times that we will likely be able to provide some candid feedback.  Send the message to newnames (at) smallbusiness20.com

If you have your own tips for naming new businesses, please share them in the comments.  

Originally published Jan 8, 2007 9:52:00 AM, updated October 20 2016