I’ve been thinking about starting my own company recently and researching what I need to do; one of the first things is come up with a company name. It turns out to be very difficult, so I looked around at business names, they seem to fall into 7 categories.
I also asked friends who have started their own company for their ideas on choosing a name.
1 Your Name
It’s not wildly creative, but when the founder has a big personality and can be the face of the company then this can work. It won’t work when your name is very common (Smith), or has a common meaning (Baker), or already exists as a company name (McGregor, unfortunately). It’s often used in legal or professional services firms.
The downside is that when that charismatic leader leaves, sells, dies or retires the company’s name may not retain its brand strength.
Example; The Trump Organisation, founded by Donald Trump. He’s a controversial figure but there’s no doubt that he’s been the company’s head and a PR asset. He’s got around the question of what happens when the guy with the company’s name leaves – he’s hired his three children into high level positions.
2 The practical
The name describes the company’s product, it makes it easy for customer to understand what you do which simplifies marketing and advertising. General Motors, makers of vehicles, is an example of this.
The down side is that if your product range shifts your name may no longer fit your company, which is why the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company is now known as 3M, well that and it’s easier to spell.
3 Location Location Location
Use your company’s location as part of the name. This can give a serious tone for a professional services as in Boston Consulting Group. But if combined with something more unexpected could be a perfect fit for a site reporting on technology and new media such as Dutch Cowboys.
4 The creative
Take a name that has no connection the product or industry, but perhaps a connection to the spirit of the company.
For example the founders of Starbucks like the connection to sea-faring and adventure. Richard Branson and his ‘Virgin’ co-founder wanted to play on the fact that it was their first business.
5 There are no words left
It’s hard to find a simple word, or even word pair, to describe a company, particularly with the added need to get a memorable and preferably short domain name. It seems that there are no words to describe what we do, and anyway everything has been registered.
Lots of companies have therefore created new words, often built by small alterations to real words so that they don’t feel too hard for consumers to learn to spell.
Spotify, for example, both the root word “spot” and the suffix “ify” are known in English so this is easy for people to figure out how to spell, however it did spawn a lot of other -ify companies.
Some companies manage to create a new name that evolves into a word of its own. Google was apparently named based on the word “Googolplex” and a spelling mistake. Googolplex indicates an incredibly large number so the connection’s clear. But now google has entered common vocabulary as a verb, while relatively few people know the original base word.
6 Random combinations
As a function of the “there are no words left” reality lots of companies got creative, combining words that have no real relationship to each other or the product/service. But are memorable.
- Strawberry Frog; a highly creative advertising and digital agency
- Razorfish; a digital strategy agency
- Red Kiwi; a digital service agency
7 The truly clever
Sometimes a company manages to strike the perfect balance between explaining their services and humour, making the name all the more memorable.
- Joe Public; a marketing agency
- Mint; a personal finance tool
- Retriever; GPS for pets
So those are seven ways of thinking about how to choose a name, but what are the steps you should take? I’ve spoken to entrepreneurs recently about how they found their company name – in general there are five steps
- Brainstorm words
I looked at words that meant something personal, described me, or described the business I want to create. I ended up with about four pages of words and phrases
- Combine those words into names that might work for your company.
Eventually I had about six possible names.
- Test it in the smile or scratch test
I added “can I stand behind the name?” and tried to imagine myself introducing the company to the executive board of a potential client company.
- Test the name with a cross section of people – potential customers
A lot of names failed this test, I needed a name that worked in English and Dutch, and some words have unfortunate associations in one language. For example one potential name included the word “connection” but connexion is a bus company and that was people’s first association.
- Register the domain and social media accounts
I would do this before company registration, you need to secure them and your company registration, at least here, is a public document.
Or you can do what I eventually did; I asked my mother.
POSTSCRIPT: My new company is called Fantail Consultancy, it’s named after a New Zealand Bird, but plays on the words “fan” and “tale”. You can read more about my company on my new site.