For some entrepreneurs, what’s even harder than coming up with a great business idea is figuring out how to come up with a business name. After all, your business’s name doubles as your customer’s first impression of your business, and first impressions matter. You want your business name to be memorable, but approachable; unique, but easy to pronounce; indicative of your product or service, but not too on the nose.
Easier said than done. But as it turns out, coming up with a business name involves equal parts logic and creativity: There are some essential small business marketing tenets that your business name should align with, but you still have a lot of wiggle room to invent and explore.
To give you some direction and inspiration, take a look at our comprehensive guide on how to come up with a business name.
8 Tips on How to Come Up With a Name a Business
1. Make sure your name is available.
Imagine this: You’ve come up with your ideal business name. You’ve ordered a stack of business cards and official stationery. You’ve designed a logo. You’ve printed T-shirts, tote bags, and other merch proudly bearing your name. And then, on a whim, you type your business name into your search engine of choice—and discover that another enterprising entrepreneur has already taken your moniker. That’s a bummer. (Not to mention a huge waste of time, energy, and money.)
So before coming up with a business name, do a quick Google search to make sure it’s not in use by a competitor. Not only would sharing a name with a competitor be bad for your bottom line, but it might actually run you into legal hot water. Laura J. Winston, a trademark attorney at Offit Kurman who counsels small businesses on selection of names and brands, says:
“When choosing your business name, you can avoid legal trouble by making sure you select a name that is not in use by another business in the same or closely related field. The last thing you want is to face a claim of infringement that could get you to spend money and maybe have to change your name soon after launch.”
Winston also suggests checking for trademark filings in the US Patent and Trademark Office. You should also conduct a Secretary of State business search to find out if there’s another business in your area that’s operating under your potential name. If you plan on incorporating your business (which we recommend you do!), then you’ll need to complete this step anyway.
The legal aspects of checking for name availability can become overwhelming, so if you have the budget for it, Winston advises working with an attorney who can both advise you and conduct availability searches on your behalf. They can also “advise on whether it is appropriate to file an application for trademark registration.”
At the same time, consult GoDaddy.com to check for your name’s domain availability, as building a business website and buying your domain name are crucial for your SEO strategy. If your exact desired name is already in use, you can also check out related alternatives. You’ll also need to check whether you can use this name for your social accounts, especially Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, when thinking about how to come up with a business name.
2. Make it descriptive.
While your business name doesn’t have to be a verbatim description of the nature of your business (though it can be!), it should ideally imply what it is that you do or sell. At the same time, when considering how to name a business, your name should reflect your business’s core values and evoke how you want your customer to feel. For some guidance, take this advice from Alistair Dodds, the co-founder and marketing director of London-based digital marketing agency EIC Marketing:
“A good business name has to mean something to you as the owner and, more importantly, for your prospective client. It’s the first part of the marketing storytelling process. Your name should either convey what product or service you offer, or speak to the nature of the industry you are in. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too long or difficult to remember.
“A perfect example of this is in the movie ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ where the character Jordan Bellfort selects the name ‘Stratton Oakmont’ for the security and safety the name inspires. He wants it to sound like a safe financial institution, and the name does do a great job conveying this.
“In contrast, we chose the name Ever Increasing Circles because, as a marketing company, that is what our goal is for our clientele: namely, to increase the total number and size of marketing audiences and opportunities that our clientele will experience by working with us.”
If you’re stuck on coming up with a business name, try doing a word-association exercise to come up with related terms that evoke the nature of your business. As you do so, feel free to get as literal or figurative as you want—which is how Brandon Cook, the director of marketing at lab-grown diamond company Clean Origin, came up with the name for his business:
“Having launched several small businesses, I have spent countless hours toiling over finding the perfect name. For many small businesses, it can be really easy to just name yourself after your product or service. Although this may feel like an easy solution, it does not differentiate your business in a way that will stand out, and more importantly, stick with your customers.
“You may choose a name that ranges from literal to evocative, or symbolic to abstract. Depending on your line of business and how comfortable you are with taking risks, the possibilities are endless. When it came to naming our business, Clean Origin fits somewhere between literal and symbolic. Clean Origin sells conflict-free, lab-created diamonds. The origin of our diamonds is what sets our business apart and something that we wanted in the name of our business.
“Ultimately, you have to go with your gut as to what name best fits you and your business. Just remember that your name should sound credible, positive, and unique to your company.”
3. When in doubt, use your own name.
Naming your business after yourself can be a little staid for some (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a consultant), but there are ways to get more creative than your standard first name-last name formula. Take a look at how Phil Risher, the owner of Phlash Consulting, came up with his business name:
“Phlash is a combination of my name, Philip and my wife’s name, Ashley (Ash); if you combine the parts, you get Phlash. Phlash is also a unique way to spell ‘flash,’ and it can be spun a million different ways for tech and business, like, ‘We get the project done in a Phlash.’ Our logo is a lightning bolt, which also helps support the pronunciation and the idea of a quick turnaround.”
Consider these famous mashups and acronyms for more creative inspiration when coming up with a business name: Adidas, after founder Adi Dassler; Goldwyn Picture Corporation (which later became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), after founders Samuel Goldfish and Edgar and Archibald Selwyn; and IKEA, an acronym for founder Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd (the farm he grew up on), and Agunnaryd (the town in which the farm was located). And if you’re uninspired by your own legal name, consider co-opting an especially poetic name of a loved one. That’s how Mercedes-Benz got its name: Mercedes was the daughter of Emil Jellinek, the entrepreneur who commissioned what would become the company’s first racing automobile.
4. Align your business name with your brand strategy—and your larger purpose.
As Dodds mentioned, your business name is an important building block in creating an overall small business branding strategy. Coming up with a business name that encapsulates this may seem like a tall order, especially before you’ve officially launched your business. But if you’re passionate enough to actually get your business idea off the ground, then you should already have a sense of who you’re catering to, their approximate demographics, and what you (and only you!) can provide for those customers—in other words, to understand the purpose, or the “why,” behind your business. Your business name, and the logos and other branding materials you build around that name, should reflect your company’s core values.
If you’re feeling a little lost about how to come up with a business name that can fit into that mission, keep the following advice in mind from Stephanie Goldfinger, the CEO and creative director of Wildernest:
“Your business name, and the meaning behind it, will shape everything moving forward, from your visual identity to your brand story, to building brand equity, to the overall way you present yourself to the world, digitally and in face-to-face conversation. When going through the namestorming process, remind yourself of your ‘why,’ your mission, vision, values, and purpose.
“Try to put yourself in the mind of your target personas. Think about what they care about, and what types of imagery, symbolism, characteristics, and emotions matter to them. Think about things that evoke feelings in them and things that speak to their pain points, goals, and triumphs. Does the style and the meaning of name line up with who they are?”
Sometimes, you need to do a little more digging, thinking, reading, and simply using your imagination to nail down “who you are and what you stand for,” as Goldfinger says, and then to build a name and a brand around those core values. That’s how Raven Beria, the CEO of Brandalaxy, came up with both the name for his branding firm, and the conceit behind his larger branding strategy:
“I tried over and over to think of a decent name when I created my branding firm, and that’s when I found one of the greatest books in marketing: ‘Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick’ by Alexandra Watkins.
“Watkins is the founder of a brand naming company called Eat My Words, and she pretty much outlines her entire process in her book. She calls it the S.M.I.L.E. Test:
- Suggestive – evokes a positive brand experience
- Meaningful – your customers “get it”
- Imagery – visually evocative to aid in memory
- Legs – lends itself to a theme for extended mileage
- Emotional – resonates with your audience
“When I thought about the S.M.I.L.E. process, I thought long and hard about what it was that I was trying to do with branding. Psychologist C.G. Jung talked about ‘The Collective Unconscious.’ And after I learned about his work, I was inspired by the entire idea of archetypes—universal myths and symbols deeply rooted in our unconscious. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to combine psychology with universal storytelling to create ‘outta this world’ branding. But I asked myself, ‘What’s more universal than the universe itself? What’s a sticky name that follows the S.M.I.L.E. process? What seems so impossibly beyond our imagination and yet so real?’ The answer? The galaxy. Hence the name Brandalaxy. So, I used a combination of a tried-and-tested method and looking deep into ‘why’ I was making the business in the first place.
“And that’s just the beginning. Watkins’ acronym reminded me of how important it is to use a recurring theme throughout your business! As a result, I’m always thinking about how I can incorporate terminology and themes of the galaxy in my blogs, emails, service descriptions, and more. It has allowed me to fully unleash my creativity.”
5. Choose a name that can grow with your business.
When coming up with a business name, it’s important to remember that a great one will carry you through the lifespan of your business. Ideally, your business will grow and change over its lifetime, so avoid including words that may prove to become limiting factors. If you’re a baker specializing in CBD brownies, for instance, you may be tempted to name your business after that specialization—but that would be misleading to potential customers if you begin offering other sweet treats.
That’s something Annlan Tran and Katie Fleming, co-owners of Studio Muse, had in mind as they were brainstorming the name of their full-service salon and spa:
“We didn’t want our name to be attached to a certain industry, since we wanted to make room for the possibility of expanding our brand. We could have named our business ‘Salon Muse,’ but that would restrict us to being exclusive to salon services. We can use our name, Studio Muse, to launch our cosmetics company, lash extensions products, and training program (for example, Studio Muse Cosmetics).”
You may also want to avoid including the name of your area in your name, in case you expand your customer base beyond your current locality—which Kevin Tucker, the CEO of SOLitude Lake Management, had to learn the hard way:
“Virginia seemed like a very big place back in 1998 when I decided to start an aquatic management company under the name Virginia Lake Management. Today, Virginia is now just one of the multiple states we serve. That’s why, in 2010, we chose to redefine ourselves with a name that better identifies who we are, what we stand for, and where we are going. We chose the name SOLitude Lake Management to more accurately reflect the principles that characterize our talented team, the unique markets we serve, and our personalized approach to the industry. The word SOLitude (which we pronounce as ‘soul-itude’ with a long ‘o’) calls to mind the harmony found with the sun, self, land and water through appreciation and preservation of freshwater ecosystems—and it better aligns with our goal of achieving ecological balance for each of our valued clients throughout the country.”
6. Get creative.
To recap so far, a good business name should be available for use, indicative of your business’s offerings, unique (even if that means a unique way to use your own name), align with your overall brand strategy, communicate your core values, and be able to scale along with your business. We’ll also add that, when coming up with a business name, it should be readable, easy to pronounce, and memorable.
Now, onto the fun part: Brainstorming. Here are just a few ways to get your creativity going if you’re still wondering how to come up with a business name:
Do a word association exercise.
Write down the product or service your business offers. Then, write down whatever words or phrases relate to that product or service. Better yet, write down words that connote the way you want your customer to feel when they experience your product or service. Don’t think too hard about this—just write down whatever comes up for you intuitively. You can also consult Thesaurus.com to find words with the same denotation as your keyword.
Take inspiration from foreign, Latin, or unusual words.
If the above list didn’t yield interesting results, try translating some of those words into your non-native language. Or take it way back and search for Latin or Greek words, phrases, or roots that you can apply to your business.
More than a few big brands have taken this route: For instance, the restaurant chain Panera Bread co-opted the Latin word “pan,” which means “bread.” Mythology nerds will know that Nike took its name from the Greek goddess of victory. Uber, the ridesharing app, shares its name with the German word for “over,” “above,” or “across.” And before it became a noun and a verb unto itself, Dictionary.com says that “Google” is “a creative spelling of googol, a number equal to 10 to the 100th power, or more colloquially, an unfathomable number.”
Create a mashup.
YouTube, Facebook, Foursquare, Pinterest: Take a cue from some of the world’s biggest tech companies and combine two words to create an entirely unique portmanteau if you’re stuck on how to come up with a business name.
Get inspired by your favorite books, music, movies, or other art forms.
Scan your bookshelves, Spotify account, and Netflix queue to mine interesting, relevant words, names, or phrases that could relate to your business. It’s worked for a few of the business owners we spoke to: Remember that Beria took inspiration from Jung’s philosophy, and Tran and Fleming were partly inspired by Tran’s favorite band—whom, as you may have guessed, are the English rock band Muse.
7. Ask your family and friends to help you brainstorm.
Often, the best way to get yourself out of a creative rut is to tap into other people’s creativity. So if you’re stuck, gather together a coterie trusted (and ideally inventive) friends, family, and colleagues to help you brainstorm. Think of your pals as a crowdsourcing platform—which is how Ashley Lim, founder and CEO of Mansa Tea, a handcrafted aged tea company for modern connoisseurs, discovered her business name:
“When I was a Wharton MBA student, I had a unique opportunity to crowdsource naming ideas from my Brand Management class students. We received an interesting set of names, but it was an undergraduate student who recommended looking into the names of tea mountains given our company heavily focuses on sourcing. Ruling out current geographical names, we chose Mansa, an ancient name for the famous Yiwu Mountain.”
Even if you don’t specifically charge your friends and family to help you brainstorm, simply using them as a sounding board can help generate new ideas when coming up with a business name. That’s how Erin Andrews, the founder of indi chocolate, came up with her business name after chatting with her young daughter:
“I spent months researching names that had already been claimed in some form or fashion when my 7-year-old daughter in the backseat of the car suggested ‘indi chocolate.’ It was a moment I remember clearly. The name is brilliantly simple, has positive connotations, and is meaningful to our family. Her older sister has always had the ‘Indi’ nickname, so we would be naming the company after her. For this reason, we never capitalize the company name.
“Indi chocolate reflects the small, independent entrepreneurial company I founded and still run. There are no deep pockets or big businesses behind the brand, just hard-working folks with a passion for great chocolate and coffee. We also love special orders and private events where we can ‘indi’-vidualize what we make for our customers.”
8. Take it for a test run before it’s set in stone.
Think you’ve found the perfect business name after pondering ceaselessly about how to come up with a business name? Amazing! Now, make sure you actually like it.
Before you go ahead and buy your domain name, register your business under the name, and spend money on branding materials, take it for a test run to get a feel for how it’ll look in the real world. For starters, try using the name in conversation with your family and friends, and ask your guinea pigs to focus on how your potential business name actually sounds. “Certain sounds have certain meanings,” Lim advises. “Hard sounds, such as ’t’ and ‘k,’ are great for a sharp, edgy car company, whereas soft sounds like ‘l’ and ‘m’ are great for a calming yoga studio. Mansa has ‘a’ sounds that are reminiscent of luxury.”
You can also make up mock business cards in an online template to see how your name will look in print, use it in your email signature and write yourself a draft email, and imagine how the handle will look on your social media platforms and in hashtags.
If you feel excited and fulfilled every time you say, see, or hear it during these practice runs, then congratulations! You’ve found your perfect business name. Now go buy that domain name, stat.
How to Come Up With a Business Name: The Bottom Line
As you can see from the business owners we interviewed, there’s no one, tried-and-true methodology for coming up with a business name. Still, we hope this guide has given you some guidelines and creativity-boosting exercises to help you nail down your name. Good luck!