What’s In A Name?

Karl R. LaPan President & CEO, The NIIC

If you’re in the concept phase of your business then you know that naming your business is a critical step in the development process. After all, the name is often the first impression people have before interacting with your brand.

A Fortune article in 2013 gave some great examples to ponder as you think about what’s in a name. Before Blackberry, it was Research in Motion. Phillip Morris was changed to Altria, and BackRub became Google. Cadabra was the predecessor name to Amazon. Yikes! So now, we must all agree there is something in a name.

But where to begin? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • It starts with a brand perception. Start by deciding what images or feelings you want your business to create in the minds of your target audience. For one, the name should reinforce the key elements of your business. Your name should identify your company and its products and/or services. Your customer discovery and validation work, your core purpose (and compelling value-proposition) and brand promise will inform this process.
  • Don’t be clever when naming. The more straightforward the name, the less effort you must put forth to explain it. Stay away from the esoteric or overly intellectual. Everyday people can identify with brand names they can relate to and understand. There’s a reason companies like Facebook and Lyft have solid name recognition. They call to mind concepts that paint a picture in peoples minds. Don’t over-complicate it or you risk losing your consumer/business focus.
  • Don’t be too literal or generic. It is possible for a name to be too meaningful, however. Avoid geographically focused or generic names. A hypothetical (and fictional) example is “Dallas Signs.” What if the company wants to expand beyond the confines of the city? How will they forge connections with customers in other cities, states or countries? Also, what if the company decides to expand its menu of offerings beyond signs? Think about how your name translates into other languages.
  • Think beyond your current situation. If you are a solo-preneur, is there a chance you’ll grow the business beyond yourself? Or if you plan to be in business with a partner, what happens if you decide to part ways? It’s short-sighted to name the business after yourself or partners.
  • Avoid trends. Will your business name be relevant in 5, 10, 20 years? The dot com bubble in the late 1990s serves as a cautionary tale. Then it was considered fashionable to include “.com” after your company name if it was an internet business. Think about the flawed and failed pets.com, eToys.com and Webvan. After the internet bubble burst, this suffix became associated with widespread failure—and who wants that?
  • Lastly, do your due diligence and execute an IP strategy around your potential trademark. Does anyone own the rights to your potential name? You don’t want to face a lawsuit later down the road because you were negligent in this regard. This is when consulting an intellectual property attorney or checking the USPTO trademark database might come in handy. Also, you should checkout your state’s Secretary of State website to do a business search to see if the name is available. In Indiana, go to the Indiana SOS to search a business name.

If you have successfully named a business, what factors did you take into account? In retrospect, what have you learned from naming a business? Share your tips & feedback in the comments.


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