How to Name Your Small Business in 3 Steps
“What should I name my business?”
“I need help with my business name!”
“Are there any good business names still available out there?!”
I hear these pleas for help again and again from my start-up friends. You might be reading this post because you’re in the same boat.
YOU HAVE AN AMAZING IDEA TO START YOUR BUSINESS, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO GIVING YOUR BUSINESS A NAME, YOU FEEL COMPLETELY LOST.
I totally understand, and I’ve been there! Your business name is going to stick with you for years to come. I know you want to make sure you start out on the right foot, set the right tone, and send the right message.
COMING UP WITH A BUSINESS NAME CAN FEEL DIFFICULT AND AT TIMES OVERWHELMING. I KNOW YOU WANT TO GET IT RIGHT.
My family watched a lot of old movies when I was growing up, and I always enjoyed sitting down to watch Cary Grant films. He was funny and charming in every role. Even his name seemed to have this elegance about it.
But did you know that his birth name was actually Archibald Leach? I can’t imagine that he would have had half the success he did if he hadn’t decided to change his name from “Archie Leach” to the much more glamorous, memorable, and on-brand for a leading man name, “Cary Grant.” Archie may have had to work at least twice as hard to gain the recognition as Cary. The right name supported Leach’s transformation into the leading man we all know and love as Grant.
YOUR BUSINESS NAME WILL HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOUR BUSINESS, JUST LIKE CARY GRANT’S NAME HAD ON HIS CAREER.
Your business name will be an integral part of your brand. You want a name that will:
be memorable and make an impact
truly represent “you” to your customers
help you attract ideal clients as you grow your business
After all, a brand isn’t just a logo and color palette, it’s all the things that go into the impression a business makes on its customers—and that includes your business name.
SO, HOW CAN YOU DEVELOP A STAND-OUT, MEMORABLE NAME FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS?
A clear process will help you find the name that is the right fit for you. From my experience, I recommend the following process to anyone who is having difficulty with developing a name for their business.
IT ALL CENTERS AROUND ONE SIMPLE THING: MAKING A LIST.
So get a pen and paper, settle in, and get ready to name your business in 3 steps.
step 1 - MAKE A LIST
To name your business, you’ll first need names to consider. Get started with your list by reviewing your business plan and researching your competition.
review your business plan
You won’t have a clear vision for choosing your business name without a clear vision of your future business. Start the process of making your list by reviewing your business plan, mission, and vision. Think through all the steps in your process from start to finish. Note key words from your process, components of your product or service, ideas, goals, dreams—anything that stands out to you as something that will make your business different from the crowd.
RESEARCH YOUR competition
Do some research on your future competitors to see what similar businesses are named. You’ll know better what business names will blend in, what names will stand out, what names will differentiate you, and what names will be too way out there for your market.
write YOUR list
This is where the pen and paper come in. Make a list of as many potential names as you can think of for your new business. Push yourself to write more. Maybe come up with a goal—like 50, 100, 150 potential names. Keep writing down names until you’ve met your goal.
For Tarva Design, I had a list of dozens of potential names when I was finished brain storming. I didn't try to edit as I wrote. There is absolutely no delete button available with a pen, so try to move away from the computer.
Another option is to keep a list on your phone in the notes app. This is especially helpful if you are not doing all your brainstorming in one sitting. Add names to the list as you think of them, whenever and wherever you think of them. But don’t delete any! The editing will come later.
Kickstart your list with these prompts:
Names based on your name
Use your name, a portion of your name, or a creative version of your name.
Examples: Ann Taylor, Adidas, Barnes & Noble
Self Explanatory Names
Use words that relate to your process and clearly describe your product/service.
Examples: Beauty Counter, Turbo Tax, General Motors
Start-up Story Names
What about your start-up story or your personal story makes your business special?
Examples: Five Guys, Five Daughters Bakery
Wild Card Names
Make up anything you want to. Invent a word. Use an unrelated object or place. Pick something from your favorite novel. Get creative.
Examples: Ugmonk, Xerox, Tarva Design
step 2 - NARROW DOWN the LIST
Once you have your list, the goal is to whittle down your long list into a short list. Don’t get stuck on one name just yet. You still have a little research to do before you settle on the right name for your business.
Start with the five names you like the best from the long list. Research those names. If nothing sticks from those five names, move onto your second five favorites. Keep going until you pick your top two or three viable favorites.
Ask yourself the following questions:
IS the NAME available?
Before you ask any of the other questions, you’ll want to ask this one first. Is the potential business name available for you to use?
Is there a similar businesses with this name in your area? Is the trademarked or widely used elsewhere? Consider where you will operate your business and learn what restrictions might apply to you if you register a similar business name in all the locations you might operate—local, state, country, or world-wide.
A helpful tip: Some states have a government website you can search current business names. You can also call your county clerk or town hall to find out what you will need to register your business name.
Does the name meet your goals?
Does the name match the vision and mission for your business? Does it reflect your company values? Consider your business’s potential growth & development. What do you want your business to look like 5, 10, 20 years from now? How will this name fit with that future growth?
IS the NAME EASY TO SAY and spell?
“How do you say that again?” If the name is difficult to say or to spell, this might be a hurdle you want to avoid.
Imagine yourself at a networking event. Will you be able to communicate your business name easily to potential clients and business partners? Will they be able to search online for your name after hearing it once?
Is the name easy to Google?
When I was brainstorming names for Tarva Design, one of my potential naming ideas was Willowtree Design. It was easy to say. It was easy to spell. It met my goals. But Willowtree Design didn't make the short list. Here’s why:
There are a bajillion businesses named Willowtree Design! From graphic designers, to landscapers, to interior designers, there were pages upon pages of Willowtree companies. Had I gone this direction, I would have had to compete in Google’s search lineup with literally hundreds of similarly named businesses. I liked the name, but I didn’t like it that much!
Is a URL available?
Is there an available “.com” web address available for that business name—or a variation of it?
If the URL isn’t readily available, in some cases you can purchase it from the current owner for a fee. The cost can vary a great deal, so do your homework if you plan to pursue this option. You can also have a website address with other extensions, but a .net or .org might not be as effective for you depending on your business.
Give the names a test run
This step is crucial to helping you feel confident about your choice in a business name. Say the name aloud several times and envision telling others about your business using this name.
Meet with trusted advisors and ideal clients and ask them what they think. Share your goals. Keep an open mind. Ask lots of questions.
One caution: Just as too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup, too many “advisors” can ruin a good idea and leave you feeling confused and frustrated. Be selective and intentional about who you ask for feedback, and always refer back to your goals.
step 3 - PICK A name
The final step is to pick something you like and feel like represents you well. Then own it!
YOU HAVE TO PICK SOMETHING OR YOU'LL NEVER GET STARTED.
I've seen this many times, someone has such a hard time making a decision on a name that it's hard to just get started with other important things like actually starting the whole business!
ONCE YOU PICK SOMETHING, MAKE IT YOURS—LOVE ON IT, BE PROUD OF IT, PROMOTE IT.
As long as you like the name and feel confident about it, you will spread that confidence into your business and to your customers.
where do you get stuck?
Do you get so set on one name that all other names pale in comparison?
If you get stuck on one name, but it’s taken or too common or just doesn’t make sense to anyone but you—go back to the pen and paper. Commit to making a list of 100 more names to consider. Hold them all loosely in your mind until you do your research. The time to get set on one name is only after you’ve gone through the process.
Do you have too many good naming ideas and can’t seem to choose the best one?
Sometimes this is where folks get stuck. They have so many good ideas, how can they ever choose? Commit to doing the necessary research to narrow down your list. Taking time to look at the specifics of each name will help you throw out ideas that, although might be good ones, are just not a good fit for your business.
Do you have trouble committing even after you think you’ve found the right name?
You have narrowed down the list to one name, and you love it—you think. You just can’t quite commit to it. What if there’s a better name out there you just haven’t thought of yet? Commit to giving the business name a test run. Reach out to some trusted advisors, friends, potential customers, or actual customers. Saying the name out loud, hearing the reactions of others, and discussing your process will go a long way toward you envisioning your business actually being named this name.
Have you followed these three steps name your business? Did you follow a different plan?
I’d love to hear about your experience!
Leave a comment below to let us know your name, your process, and why you chose it!
The name Tarva Design Studio came from one of Christin’s favorite book series—The Chronicles of Narnia (she is seriously in love with this series!). One of the books names a planet that is referred to as “Tarva, the Lord of Victory.” In our research, we also discovered that the word tarva is Swedish for "require." We feel like well-designed, intentional branding and marketing is a requirement for small business success! After discussing with a few friends and clients, we decided it was the perfect fit.