Naming Your Business

The naming process for anything is usually long and tedious. New parents and new businesses struggle with this problem all the time. It’s pretty obvious when a business just doesn't want to put in the work to do it right. I'm sure you have seen business names that are so overly generic that they are almost meaningless. There are several problems with not investing the hard work and time into naming your business. There are good reasons why you should care about the name of your business, good times in the process to do the work, and some best practices and resources to get your business name right.

Why Business Names are Important

Naming in general is important for several reasons. If you're a parent think of all the thought that went into naming your kids. Parent’s are limited to 9 months to decide on the name of their child and sometimes “naming remorse” a few months later. In an article in the Wall Street Journal Online entitled The Baby-Name Business we learn that some parents today are even hiring independent consultants to name their children.

…the consultants discussed names based on their phonetic elements, popularity, and ethnic and linguistic origins – then sent a 15-page list of possibilities. When their daughter was born in April, the Mistrettas settled on one of the consultants’ suggestions– Ava – but only after taking one final straw poll of doctors and nurses at the hospital.

While this may seem silly to some, a name is important and can have an impact on that persons life and opportunities. There is a very popular book that was written in 2009 entitled “Freakonomics” that has a section on names. The book discusses perceived correlation between a persons name and the outcomes in their life. At first glance it could appear that people that end up living in poor inner-city situations have a certain type of name. The truth is that this correlation is more about the cycle of generational poverty and the names that come out that culture, rather than any certain name deciding your future.

I say all this to demonstrate the importance that we place on naming and how a company should give just as much thought to their name as a parent does for their new born child. And while the business name may not be directly related to it’s success and failure, organizations that have taken the time and made the financial investment in naming do tend to be more successful, not because of the name itself but because they have a culture of doing things the right way and investing in their future success.

How to go about it

There is a lot that goes into developing business names and even more that goes into protecting them. Often small businesses and organizations have and idea and a name and think they have a business. While the idea comes first, it must be developed, explored, and the beginnings of a strategy developed before the name comes into play. The name is part of the strategy and should be informed by it. The full process is laid out by Alina Wheeler in “Designing Brand Identity.”

1. Revisit Positioning

When beginning to think about business names you will want to examine the brand goals and the needs of your target market. If you already have a name take a fresh look at it and see if it’s still in line with the brand goals. Take a look at your competitors names and look for patterns or similarities in how they have named themselves. Have they found the best solution or is there a better idea that you can leverage?

2. Get Organized

This process should not be done alone and gathering all the resources and people that should be involved can be a large task in itself. Take some time to put together a time line for making the tough decisions and put together a team of people you trust to advise you in the process of developing your brand name. Brainstorming is a major part of the naming process and you’ll want to come up with as many names a possible. It is helpful to have someone that is good a facilitating a brainstorming session on the team. Decide with the team how the decision will be made and be sure to have any naming resources gathered together for easy reference.

3. Create Naming Criteria

Developing business names is not an arbitrary process, You will need to set some criteria for how you decide on the brand name. What goals do you have for it the name in terms of performance? How should it help in your positioning? A big area that many small businesses over look is meeting the legal criteria of protectable brand name, and depending on the industry there may be some regulatory criteria to be met.

4. Brainstorming Solutions

Brainstorm lots and lots of names. Hundreds maybe even thousands. Fully explore all your ideas, then organize them into categories. You can’t know if you have the best one unless you have tried them all. Try hybrids and variations and maybe foreign languages. The right name may be something you make up as a combination of other words or sounds. Brainstorming should be messy, get all the ideas out and don’t worry about rejecting them at this point.

5. Initial Screenings

Here is where you begin to hold your brainstormed ideas up against your pre decided criteria. Be sure to review all the criteria before rejecting a name. This is just the initial screening, you’ll be much more discerning as the process goes along.

6. Contextual Testing

This round of testing is all about using the name in the various contexts it will likely be used. Say the name, write it down, use it in a sentence, or leave a voice mail with it. Try to come up with as many different real world contexts in which to test each name and make note of how they perform.

7. Testing

At this point you'll be getting very thorough in your testing of each name candidate. Check for red flags. Maybe it’s used in connection with something you don’t want to be associated with. Be sure there are not any trademark conflicts. You will want to be sure that the name doesn’t have any bad connotations in a foreign language, especially if you are conducing business over seas. Pay close attention to the linguistic characteristics. You don’t want a brand name that is easily mumbled and often misheard.

8. Final Legal Screen

If you want to fully protect your brand name so your business can be free to grow both domestically and internationally you will need to hire an attorney to do a full legal screening of the name. This includes domestic and international usage, domain names, any regulatory restrictions, and finally getting it registered as a trademark.

I hope you can see that by spending the time and energy to discover the best name for your business you creating a valuable asset. Using this eight step process of developing your business name will be putting in great shape for having a recognizable, well performing and protectable name that will grow in value over time. Below there are a few links to some naming worksheets developed by WOW Branding.