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The story behind naming your business

by Suzette Garvey

Naming your business could occur spontaneously or painstakingly. Either way, your business name carries a lot of responsibility. The name had better align with your key differentiators, audience and culture. It had better be legally available, too. Oh, and eventually someone's bound to ask you about the story behind it. In the interest of success and sanity, here are six steps to naming your business.

Step one: Generate a batch of names after you get your branding in order

Like people can grow into their names, so can businesses. Unfortunately, even a perfectly good name can be sullied by the emotions it conjures. Getting your brand strategy in order from the start goes a long way toward keeping a well-selected business name associated with positive vibes. Write down these brand-positioning aspects:

  • Brand story
    • What's your "why?" Why does your company exist?
    • Does the inspiration for your brand include words that keeps surfacing for you? If yes, write those down.
  • Key differentiators
    • Why should your audience choose your brand above all others?
  • Audience summaries or personas
    • Describe your audience groups and their pain points.
  • Brief competition analysis summary
    • List the names of top and emerging competitors. What's their "why?"
  • Three traits you want your name to convey

Determine your name's tone by weighting these factors (1-low priority, 5-high priority):

  • Simple to read, write and say
  • Abstract over concrete
  • Family name is included
  • Industry descriptor is included
  • Combination words are OK to use
  • Acronyms are OK to use
  • Visually vivid
  • Poetic
  • Primary language over foreign language

Draft your initial list of five to ten names based on the brand and tone elements above.

Step two: Constraints checklist

  • Consider whether your prospective name might limit or constrain your business down the road (e.g. geographic or product-specific mention, trendy word choice).
  • Conduct an Internet search to determine which of your prospective names are available for use.
    • Start by entering the desired name into the search bar of your favorite online search engine. This will give you a quick pulse on how widely used the name might already be.
    • Visit uspto.gov to check whether a desired name is already trademarked. While you can file a trademark request for your name here, it's wise to have your legal counsel file that request.
    • Conduct a business entity search through your state government website. 
    • Search the name on social media platforms.

When a name is already trademarked, you cannot use it. If it's not trademarked, but another company already is using the name, seek legal counsel if you really want that name. Depending on how similar your industries and service areas are now, and in the future, you may have flexibility to use the same name.

Step three: Assets checklist

Once you've condensed your list to available names, do a search for the most relevant names you might choose for accompanying promotional assets (e.g. website domain, social media handles)

  • Head to the Network Solutions website and Whois website to check potential website domain names. If a domain name is taken, you could contact the owner of that domain to ask if they're looking to sell it.
  • Select social media handles (@names) that align with your domain name, are easy to remember and ideally match across your various social platforms (e.g. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn). Search your preferred social media platforms to see if your desired handles are available.

Step four: Brand alignment checklist

Weight the factors below according to strength of alignment (1-low alignment, 5-high alignment):

  • Review each remaining name on your list to confirm how strongly each one aligns with your brand positioning and stands out alongside competitor names.
  • Consider how well the potential domain names and social media handles align with your brand.
  • How strong is the emotional impact of the story behind each name?
  • Conduct multimedia testing. How does the name look in print, on screen and with various font styles? How does each name sound out loud, through audio and on video?
  • Practice introducing yourself and your new company name to a sample group of prospective customers. Get feedback from the group.
  • How positively does each name come across in various languages? Are there any negative meanings or connotations?

Step five: Register your name, domain and social handles

Once you decide upon a final name, activate the items below, but be ready for others to notice. You'll want to have the following step six plans in mind so you can stay in front of your own story and name announcement.

  • Register your business name and consider having it trademarked. Your legal counsel can assist with this.
  • Purchase your domain name. Refer back to Network Solutions and register the name yourself. Decide whether you'll keep the Whois information private.
  • Select your new social media handles.

Step six: Name announcement

  • Prepare how you'll announce the new name across various promotional channels.
  • Lean into the story behind the name.
  • Engage your audience so they can share in your excitement.

Making the most of your brand and business name starts and continues with knowing your goals and your audience. Enjoy the adventure.

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