What's in a name? How to choose the best one for your business

Aja Stuart

Choosing a name is possibly the least straightforward aspect of getting a business up and running.

A name can set your business apart and get it on the path to success, or it can doom your business to obscurity before you’ve begun. It’s an emotional, sometimes overwhelming process, and the stakes are high.

Have I made you nervous? Sorry about that, but there is hope!

There are a few guidelines you can follow that will take the guesswork out of choosing a name for your business baby and put you on the right track from the get-go.

Paul Nelson, the MD and founder of BrandMatters, a brand strategy, design and marketing consultancy based in Sydney, knows what makes a name great, and how to come up with a winner.

“The next step is to consider the type of name most appropriate for your business and the services you provide.”

Nelson recommends starting with your brand essence when starting to develop options for your name. “A strong name will align with the brand’s positioning and will ultimately inform the development of a logo and brand identity. It is a powerful part of the business’s DNA.”

“The next step is to consider the type of name most appropriate for your business and the services you provide,” he says

“There are three types of names.

Descriptive: attributes of the business are inherent in the name e.g. Just Jeans, AusPost. This gives real clarity to your customer but it can be hard to stand out and be original with this type of name.

Associative: alludes subtly to a benefit or attribute e.g. Jetstar, Netflix. This allows for more creativity and individuality but is less clear to customers.

Abstract: unique and distinctive e.g. Google, Orange. These names are more ‘own-able’ for the business but they require more support in communication what the business offers.”

While a name might sound perfect to you, there are a few things you should check out first. Nelson recommends making a shortlist and hitting Google to see if there are any negative connotations to the name that you may not be aware of. An image search may also be a good idea.

Once you’re in the all clear with Google, it’s time to put yourself in your customers shoes. Is your name easy to pronounce? Will it be consistent? Or can it be given a million nicknames that could cause confusion and prevent familiarity with your business?

Once you’re in the all clear with Google, it’s time to put yourself in your customers shoes.

Got a shortlist that’s ticking all the right boxes? Nelson highlights the importance of putting in your due diligence.

“Your name should be available as a useful URL, search via web hosting sites to make sure this is the case. The name should also be available for business name registration in the countries where your business is registered and you need to check it is available for trade marking in the countries where your business operates.”

“You should consult your legal representatives once you believe you have reach a name that you are keen to move forward with,” he says.

What does Nelson consider to be the top three mistakes you can make when trying to name a business?

Not thinking strategically: everyone has their own personal opinions and preferences and not everyone’s opinion will align during a renaming. It’s critical that stakeholders evaluate naming options based on their alignment to the business’ strategy, positioning and intended audience.

Involving everyone in the business: senior stakeholders are aware of the brand journey to date; often junior staff and relatives are not. By asking everyone’s opinion you are in danger of becoming overwhelmed with feedback and losing site of the best strategic decision.

Not managing confidentiality: a name is a fragile thing, it only comes to life once it has been imbued with meaning via a strong visual identity and an aligned brand story. This is why it’s vital that those involved respect the confidentiality of the process, so that the new name and brand identity can be revealed to customers and staff in a way the delivers a positive impact.

By following a few simple guidelines naming your business can become a much clearer process. Now if we could only do the same for naming children.

Aja Stuart

Aja is Sydney-based writer and serial entrepreneur. She regularly writes about small business, entrepreneurship, and health and wellbeing. Her latest entrepreneurial adventure is Yomama.world!