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How to come up with a business name that stands out from the crowd

How to name your business

You have a fabulous idea for your business. You’re even ready to start building a website so you can share your vision with the world. It’s going to be amazing. Except for one thing.

Your brilliant idea needs a name. Where to begin?

Differentiating your name from your brand

At this stage, keep in mind that your name is just the beginning of what will develop over time into your brand. What’s the difference?

Think of your name as the doorway through which people will enter in order to learn more about the products or services you offer. If your name is dull, forgettable, or a turnoff, it’s possible you may lose people before they even reach for the doorknob. But, if your name is intriguing, memorable, and engaging, there’s a better chance that your target audience will walk through that doorway to see what you’re all about.

When you are choosing a business name, imagine each idea as it might appear naturally. When your customers encounter your business name for the first time, they won’t be standing in silence before a single word surrounded by white space. Instead, they will see the name in the real world and in the context of your brand, which is the all-inclusive big picture - everything that makes your business what it is. This includes, but definitely isn’t limited to: a tagline, a logo, brand colors, a website, social media channels, advertising, and more. All of these things will help you create a distinct personality for your brand, meaning the name alone should never be expected to do all the heavy lifting.

As people become familiar with your business, they’ll connect your business name with emotions, values, and experiences. Just as the simple name of a fruit has come to represent design, innovation, imagination, and even the sensory experience of that little whoosh when you unbox your new iPhone for the first time, your name will naturally evolve from a one-dimensional word into a multi-dimensional representation of your brand - what you do, how you do it, what makes you stand out, your personality, and your values.

Learning from popular examples

If you take a look around at some of the most popular brands, you’ll find that many can be categorized into one of several name types.

Now, in real life, choosing a name category really has nothing to do with the outcome you’re after: Attracting customers in a world overcrowded with names. Still, if you’re new to naming, it can be helpful to get a broad overview of the types of names that are possible. If you’re not sure what type of name to choose, take a look at your competition and see what kind of names are working for them. Sometimes it’s a wise move to follow their lead and simply choose a unique name in the same category. However, it’s also not a bad idea to consider a name in a different grouping that might make you stand out from everyone else in your corner of the market.

For instance, let’s say you’ve created a photo app, and you discover that the majority of photo app names are mashups or two words mixed together (think: SnapSeed, PicLab, FaceTune). In this case, you might consider a naming category that’s rarer for photo apps, such as a name that sounds like a real person’s name, is approachable and serves to humanize your brand (think: Alexa, Casper, Warby Parker).

So, what kind of a name do you want? Compare these groupings against your field research to determine what the right direction might be for your business:

  • Blends: Zillow is a blend of zillions and pillow, while Skype is a blend of sky and peer-to-peer.

  • Word twists: Tumblr dropped an ‘E,’ Lyft swapped an ‘I’ for a ‘Y,’ while The Skimm added an extra ‘M.’

  • Acronyms: IKEA: Much more memorable than Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, right? IKEA stands for the founder’s first and last name, plus Elmtaryd, the farm he grew up on in a town called Agunnaryd.

  • Metaphorical: According to co-founder Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s working name was Status, then Twitch. But since the imagery was less than ideal, Twitter was the final choice. The definitions for this word - “a short burst of inconsequential information” and “chirps from birds” were perfect for the social media channel’s purpose. Amazon is another famous metaphorical name. Nearly called Cadabra, the name Amazon was chosen for the river to convey the scale of their enterprise.

  • Mashups: Instacart and WeWork are descriptive phrases, SurveyMonkey, MailChimp, and PicMonkey fall a bit more on the random end of this category (although they do demonstrate the popularity of monkey and chimp names).

  • Phrases: Brand names like Fruit of the Loom and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific are long, but most people don’t seem to have trouble remembering them. A longer name gives the brain more to grab on to. Which is easier to remember – Pulse or Electric Owl? In spite of what you’ve been told, shorter is not always better.

  • Non-English words: Etsy is based on an Italian word that means “Oh yes!” and Hulu is based on a Mandarin word that means both “gourd” and “interactive recording.”

Once you begin working on ideas, you may find that you don’t actually want the type of name you thought you wanted. Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal, and part of the process.

Three factors to consider when selecting your name

Factor one: Your audience. What kind of name will resonate with them the most? Are you a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) brand or a Business-to-Business (B2B) brand? Who will be interpreting the name, and in what context?

Factor two: Your purpose. If you could give your new business name a job description, what would it be? Be careful here. Many make the mistake of putting way too much responsibility on one little grouping of letters. Drawing upon some of my own company’s work with clients, here are some examples of what realistic job descriptions for a name can include:

To hint at what you do:

  • MedMaestro (robotic medication reconciliation)

  • StableForm (horse training performance analytics)

To trigger positive emotions:

  • Ruff Revival (mobile dog grooming)

  • Mama Moments (self-care subscription boxes for new moms)

To get attention or create curiosity:

  • Acularo (strategic business management platform)

  • Stoked (digital development studio)

Factor three: Your future. Although right now you’re 100% focused on producing the absolute best hamster skateboards the world has ever known, think ahead five years or so. What if you decide to start selling hamster kettlebells? What if hedgehog hoverboards become a thing and you want to get in on the trend? If you go with Hamsters on Wheels as your name, that will make it tough to expand your brand to hedgehogs or to other pet products without wheels.