Naming a Startup: The Definitive Guide [2021 Update]
Facebook, Uber and Nike are all really great names that keep on the customer brain really easily. Naming a business tends to be one of the most difficult decisions when starting. So go on reading to learn how to choose a cool, memorable and strong name!
Choosing a startup name for your company can be difficult for many. The name of a person indicates their personality and characteristics. That will correctly apply to the world of startups, where the name of a company transmits a determined image and culture. That’s why the election of the correct business name is an inevitable stage in the business development process.
You already know that a powerful and cool company name can be the key to success in marketing and branding terms. So, to guide you through the naming process and to help you avoid spending thousands of hours of your precious time, trying ineffective business name generators and developing serious stress problems, we have built The Definitive Guide for Naming a Startup. Take a look at it.
The Naming A Startup Guide
Step 1: Understand The Psychology Behind A Name
The name of your startup speaks for you when you are not even there. What people think when they first hear your startup name matters. That first feeling they get, what they fist initially think of your startup when hearing or seeing the company name, and the things they associate with it (like wealth or prestige) matter immensely.
Don't be afraid of having somewhat of an edgy name if you are a rugged type of company that wants that to be easily identified. Though be sure not cross the line between a little edgy and controversial.
With any company or startup, you must understand that no matter what the name there are going to be people who may think negatively about your startup no matter what. Having a minority of people not liking your company based off your name is nothing to be afraid of that is natural. If the perception is the opposite though, then you know it is time for a change.
Step 2: Knowing the What Not to Do
Before understanding what to do, you must understand what not to do. So, to help here is a 3 points list of what not to do.
1. Names that are Difficult to Say
The most vital rule when coming up with a name for your business is that your name must be simple to pronounce, spell, and remember.
If people have a tough time saying your name, then it’s most likely that they will evade saying it altogether. You should avoid using a confusing intentional misspelling in your name as part of an effort to be creative or unique. It’s very common for names with complex intentional misspellings to create more confusion than intrigue.
If you have a name, you like, but you’re not sure if it’s the one, try applying the “crowded bar theory” to your name. If you were telling a friend the name of your startup at a crowded bar, is it easily understandable? An example of a name that does not pass the crowded bar theory would be a hypothetical restaurant called Sam and Ella’s. This name could sound like salmonella when it’s overheard in a crowded bar, and it is equally undesirable and unappealing. Therefore, it’s essential that you double check that your brand name only has to be heard one time to be correctly understood.
The best business names that are simple to pronounce and easy to spell are the names that potential customers are more likely to remember. When your happy customers share your business name with their family and friends, they will act as agents of your brand. Choosing a smooth, clean name makes the sharing process much easier for your customers.
2.Names that Aren’t Unique
While it is always essential to have a descriptive name that informs your audience about what your business offers, names that are too vivid end up being boring.
For example, Certified Office Stationery Items LLC is a very descriptive name. From the name alone the audience has a complete understanding of the products they sell for what purpose. However, the name is not unique. It’s too descriptive, and that makes the name feel bland and ordinary. Titles like this one are outdated and can’t compete in today’s modern market because it will not interest or intrigue customers.
3. Long Names
Long names are problematic for many reasons. The cumbersomeness of a long name will turn-off many potential customers and clients because long names come with long URLs. You should also think about possible social media handles you may want in the future for your brand. Twitter handles stop at just 15 characters, so make sure your name is short enough to fit or be abbreviated. If you still can’t find an available business name, try checking the internet for domains for sale - you might find the perfect name through the available URL.
Step 3: Which is your Purpose?
If you haven’t already defined the purpose of your startup, you should start by spending a few minutes describing the ambition of your company and the promise to your consumer. Maybe these two common templates will prove useful to you:
We help A (Customer) do B (Problem) doing C (Solution)
For example: We help email marketers create their newsletter emails by giving them a fully responsive and easy email design tool.
Or maybe you like this formula (Commonly seen in tech startups):
[Famous Company] for/of [New Domain]
For example: Airbnb for supercars, or, Tinder for dogs.
In the following video, Jim Stengel explains the relationship between purpose and business and shows how this connection affects the growth of the company.
Step 4: What is your Buyer Persona?
Defining your buying persona helps you understand your customers, which is not only crucial to finding a cool startup name but also needed when carrying out a content marketing strategy, an email newsletter campaign or a social media campaign. To do this, try writing down on a sheet the following characteristics of your ideal customer:
Background & Demographics: History, sex, age, role, company & income.
Hobbies & Interests
Goals: Short, medium and long term.
Common Objections & Biggest Fears
An example of this could be:
There is no need to complete all of the above characteristics, but this template will guide you through this tedious part of the naming course. For future reference, the example template can be found here. If you want to be a PRO at this, you can even define a negative persona, which are the people you don’t want to target.
To find out precisely who your main buyer persona you must do A/B testing. You want to get an understanding of who wants to buy your product and the similarities between those individuals to find out.
One way to find them is by researching in your customer database. It is crucial at the moment of contacting them to make clear it is not a sales meeting! If not, the results will be completely different from what you hoped.
Another way to find interviewees is on third-party networks, like UpWork or Craigslist.
To start with, a good number of interviews per buyer persona is 3 to 5. Once the meeting begins, and after the common appreciation words, begin asking the buyer persona questions related to the critical points of the above template, such as:
What is your job role?
What is your title?
What are your daily challenges?
Do you have any social media?
What are your goals and objectives?
For an even more successful interview, a vital tip to take into account is to ask Why? Why do you think this? Why are these your goals? Why did you choose that career path?
Step 6: Brainstorming Keywords
On paper (or Word Document) start brainstorming a few keywords that can be associated with your startup. Then, start playing with them. Make variations, transform them and unify two of them. It's recommended sticking to 2 syllables, as short startup names are more easily remembered. We only need to see some of the biggest company names worldwide to understand this:
The union of two keywords can lead to an explicit or implicit name.
Explicit refers to a clearly expressed purpose of the company in its name. The perfect example is Facebook, which is confirmed by the union of keyword Face + Book. Implicit refers to a name that, only by reading it, people can’t imagine what the company is about. A great example is Tesla. Furthermore, a short name might be adorable, but it may bring problems when buying a domain.
Furthermore, a short name might result adorable, but it may bring you problems at the moment of buying a domain.
Step 7: Naming Agency (OPTIONAL)
This step is not necessary, but if you don’t trust in your naming abilities, it's always a great option to hire a naming agency.
Wait there! Nothing of business name generators. A naming team is a group of branding experts which helps companies achieve more tangible connections with the world.
To create a strong name, these agencies usually pay attention to the following concepts:
No names that can limit the business growth
No hard to spell names
Keep names short and sweet
Names with universal appeal
If you hire an agency, no matter how much time they dedicated to selecting your startup name, if you don’t feel happy with the final solution, say it. The name will last for a long time, and you will have to live with it, so don’t accept a brand you don’t like.
For those that don’t want to spend the money on hiring an agency here is a quick video for you.
Step 8: Shortlisting your Names
Once you have a list of names that you like, it’s time to choose your favorite one. To do this, you can score your names on 4 different criteria. This is easily explained with a picture:
Intuitive refers to the question: Is the name related to our business?
Visual refers to the question: How nice does the name look?
Sound refers to the question: Does the name sound good?
Emotional Value refers to the question: What do people think when they hear the name?
Furthermore, when selecting your favorite one, be sure to look at linguistics. Some people build a startup, choose a name and when their startup becomes an international company they discover the name means something offensive or prohibited in another country. To check if your startup name doesn’t have any issues we recommend a tool called wordsafety.
Step 9: Legal Validation
You will most likely want to structure your startup under an LLC or corporation; you will need to search at the secretary of state records to be sure your name will not be similar to other companies that are already registered. If the name is too similar to another business, the secretary of state may not allow you to register the name.
We wholeheartedly recommend you to hire a professional to guide you through the legal validation process. If you are worried because you think the name of your company may be used in another industry, you can do a trademark search by checking out all the patents. There are thousands of guides on Google on how to do trademark research. However, if you hire a professional, you will gain more in-depth information. For more information on legal mistakes, startups visit this article.
Step 10: Ask your Audience, Family, and Friends
Name validation coming from your audience is essential as they won’t have any problems giving you critical feedback. An excellent way to collect feedback from your customers is with an online survey.
Testing the name with your friends and family is risky. But if you still prefer to do it this way, make sure they don’t have any problem telling you what their true feelings are about the name, and being honest if they don’t like it.
A recommended method when getting feedback from your family is to ask a few questions of the name and for each one give five possible answers:
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Step 11: Name Generators (Optional)
For many people, coming up with a name is difficult. After all. You want to have a name that will make an impact. For those people that are just indecisive and running into too many obstacles when coming up with a name, a simple name generator, like Brandlance, may be the answer. These tools (you can find 20 here) will suggest the best name possible based on the parameters you put in. Luckily for you, we have picked our favorites to help you come up with a name faster.
Name Mesh is explicitly focused on startups. It works well if you already have multiple keywords in mind. You will have the option to choose categories between standard, new, short, mixed, similar, fun, and SEO related.
For startups on the creative side, try out BrandBucket. This generator offers more than 50,000 names that are already made and ready to be used. All you have to do is enter some descriptive words; you are then able to choose names based on the categories all, invented, and keywords.
Brandroot offers you so many options in comparison to other generators. You can search by cost, by font design, among different categories. The generator asses each opportunity for mass appeal and possible recognition as well. They also differentiate themselves by looking deep into the structural, and visual aspects of business names as it should appeal to the branding and positioning of your company.
Most business name generators use a combination of dictionary words to make longer names. Namelix generates branded, short names that are relevant to your startup idea or your business idea. Each time you save a name, their AI algorithm learns about your preferences and gives you better recommendations over time.
Step 12: Purchase the Domain and Register the Trademark
You have reached the last phase. Your startup is on the right track.
It’s time to buy the domain. Visit your favorite domain name registrar and, if available, purchase the .com, .net, .org, and any other domain you like. But if the .com is possible to use it as consumers are more familiar with them.
After this, register your company in all social media. If possible, register using the same name that you have chosen for your company.
And last but certainly not least, register the trademark for the company name. Some businesses can do this by filing an online application in only a few minutes and without the help of a lawyer. That can cost you between $250 and $350, and you will need to fill in the information required. But in other cases, you will need the help of a professional.
So you probably now know how to name your startup successfully. If you want to keep improving this skill, you should take a look at the following infographic on the best tips to call your startup.
It's Case Study Time
The Boring Company
The name comes from the idea Elon Musk obtained from living in California where the traffic is notoriously bad. He believed traveling underground through tunnels would be safer and faster than cramming people on a bunch of highways that are limited with the amount of people that can be on the road and the numerous safety hazards that occur every day because of that.
With the Boring Company, there is humorous and witty. When you hear you laugh a little inside and you cannot help but want to know instinctively what the startup does.
Brandless is an e-commerce company that sells food, beauty supplies, and household supplies. In today's age, people are so used to brand names like Nike, Gucci, Apple, etc. But having a startup that's called brandless without a doubt make you memorable because not many startups take the approach of having a name that so out of the traditional norms that when you hear it, you can not have that brand name stick in your head.
Taking the approach of having a brand whose logo is so minimal, it is like it does not exist. Just take a look at their products, and you instantly know who it is, or you want to find out. But remember, going against conventional works best when it comes together with startup’s correct vision or message.
Bodega or what it is now known as Stockwell is a vending machine company. The name came from paying respects to corner stores that a lot of people grew up with. But their name as quickly seen as offensive ironically to the same people who found out about the company online.
When you have backlash, you must be quick to acknowledge what they had done wrong and not be like Bodega and wait ten months to address and eventually change the startup name. Founders Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan did not intentionally want to offend anyone but when you come up with a name you have to take in consideration if it may be seen as offensive to others in any way. Furthermore, understand what your name means in other countries as well. All countries have different sets of beliefs and customs, and you must take that into consideration.
Take the national football team the Washington Redskins as an example. The term redskin is a racial slur towards native Americans that dates back to at least a hundred years. So much controversy has been spurred up because of the name native Americans sued the team but lost the lawsuit because the name was trademarked. Under trademark laws, a name can be trademarked even if it is offensive or derogatory.
Regardless, racial, offensive, and inappropriate is not tolerated in this day in age. If you are on the fence on whether your startup name can fall into those parameters, take the time and do some research before proceeding it’ll make the weight off your shoulders knowing you did everything you could to be seen in a positive light and not the negative.
Finding the perfect name for your business can be a daunting task. There are many challenges and obstacles to overcome to see your business name.
Once you do find your business name, everything will feel more natural because you now have a name that you can be proud of and stand behind. One that’ll be memorable, easy to pronounce, and will hopefully cause shock waves in your respected market.
With the help of this guide, the exhausting and time-consuming task of naming your startup is now just a few simple steps away from being completed.