18 Business Name Mistakes That Will RUIN Your Growth (+ how to fix them)

by Alessandro Perta

It’s harder than ever to come up with a great business name (that’s true for startups and blogs, too).

But if you think taking a shortcut is the way to go, think again.

Your company is here to stay for years, possibly decades.

So is it worth the risk to pick a name that you’ll regret in just a few months?

Not to mention the headache of rebranding later, when you realize just own important your brand name is…

So without further ado, here are the top business naming mistakes that will ruin your brands for years to come (click to jump to a specific part):

1. Involving Too Many People in The Naming Process

If you involve every board member and their mom while brainstorming for the perfect business name, you’ll never find it.

The more people around the table to give their opinion, the more COMPROMISING.

But what is the goal here?

  • Trying to find a name that pleases everyone? (good luck with that…)
  • Choosing name that doesn’t hurt anyone?

If you answered yes to any of these 2 questions, I bet ego or politics of some other stakeholders are the culprits here.

Well, screw ego- or politics-driven people. If you let them enter the game, you’ll lose without even playing.

Choosing the right business names implies many things, including being bold and daring to go with a strong, brandable name.

On the other hand, compromising is a surefire way to end up with a bland, uninspiring business name that nobody will remember.

How to fix this:

  1. Involve as few people as possible (I tend to go for 3).
    Be strong and firm if someone else wants to join the process: say no.
  2. Involve at least one decision maker.
    If you don’t, your name will just remain an idea.
  3. Make sure people around the table share the same vision about your company (mission, beliefs and values) and understand the needs of your customers.
    Ego- or agenda-driven people should NOT be around the table.

2. Not Asking for Feedback

Working on a name with limited number of people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for feedback once you’re done.

There’s nothing worse than choosing a name, and then notice that:

  • people just don’t get it
  • it can have a negative connotation
  • your target audience doesn’t like it
  • there is an obvious alternative available that’s better

(By the way, this is still relevant if you’re working on your own, such as a solopreneur, blogger, aspiring YouTuber, …)

How to fix this:

  1. Make a shortlist of your 5 best name ideas (I like to narrow it down to just 3)
  2. Ask people from your target audience which name they prefer, and why
  3. Do the same with people who have no interest in what you’re doing, and ask them what your name evokes
  4. If people are unimpressed or uninspired, go back to the drawing board

3. Not Getting a .com Domain Name

Okay, this one is a little controversial but bear with me.

I don’t care what your industry is, you should find a name that has a .com domain name available AS IS.

Period.

Seriously, do you want your clients, fans or prospects to wonder what is your website TLD (Top Level Domain, or extension)?

  • Oh crap, the .com website is not the right one!
  • Was it .net?
  • Or .org?
  • Maybe just .co?
  • Aaaaah, nah that was a fun pun with .in! (justkidd.in)
  • Nope! .io maybe!?

By the way:

Many naming consultancy firms tell you that you shouldn’t limit yourself to what’s available as a .com domain name.

I respectfully disagree.

If your name idea is already taken as a .com, that is a good sign that you need to differentiate your name more in order to position yourself and stand out.

(As it will probably be taken as a company name anyway. Or worse, trademarked.)

For decades now, .com has been synonymous with commercial businesses in particular and the Internet in general.

Embrace this convention.

How to fix this:

  1. Choose a name whose .com domain name is available
  2. If your ideal .com is a premium domain name (in the $100-30,000 range), consider getting it BEFORE your company gets big and famous. It will cost you way more then! So if it’s perfect for your company, is fairly priced you have the budget, just get it.
  3. If none of the above work, keep searching for a great .com domain name – you’ll thank me later

A few exceptions:

Sometimes, it makes (a lot of) sense to get another extension on purpose.

  • if you’re developing a library for a programming language (or anything related to programming in general), .io might do the trick
  • if you’re building an institution that lives in one country only and will never ever go international or global, your country top level domain is probably the right (and only) call
  • non-profit organizations are the best suited to get a .org

But for the vast majority of business, .com will still be the best way to go. And the best asset, too – good domain names are worth thousands of dollars!

4. Choosing a Name That Will Never Rank on Google

Here are a few business name ideas if you want to make sure to never rank on Google:

Descriptive names make it IMPOSSIBLE for people to find your business on Google.

You will NEVER rank for common word combinations and expressions, so avoid them like the plague.

(Not to mention you’ll probably never find an available .com domain.)

How to fix this:

Choose a name that will easily rank on Google by:

  1. searching for your phrase match with and without spaces, and making sure Google finds as few results as possible (we’re talking less than 1,000 results here)
  2. checking that Google asks “Did you mean”: [something else than you typed]
  3. the phrase match results make no grammatical sense (words are adjacent, but they are not part of the same group of words or sentence)

5. Getting a Name That Is Already Trademarked

You find a cool name and the .com domain is available.

CELEBRATION TIME, right?

celebration wide

Not so fast.​

If your name is already trademarked, run for your life!

Finding an available .com domain name doesn’t mean the corresponding brand name is not trademarked!

So be very careful before going all-in with any idea.

Being able to technically use a name doesn’t equal being able to legally do so.

Please consult with a lawyer if you’re not sure what you can and can’t do.

Seriously, you really don’t want to put up with a legal battle that will cost you your name. Not to mention your time, money, and energy.

How to fix search for this:

If your idea is already there, please, consult with a lawyer.

Or let it go. (Even if it’s not trademarked. Better safe than sorry).

6. Using Plain, Descriptive (and Boring) Keywords

I get it, business names with descriptive words make it easy for people to know what you do.

But it also screams BOOOOORIIIIIIIIIING to me.

(And I’m probably not the only one.)

So do you want your audience to merely know about what you do?

Wouldn’t you rather them

  • remember it?
  • feel something about it?
  • be intrigued by it?

Not only using plain words is unimaginative, but it makes finding you on the Internet nearly impossible.

Using at least one word strongly related to your business or industry might make sense.

But going only for descriptive and plain words won’t make you stand out enough (sorry).

How to fix this:

  • if the words you intend to use are all too generic, vanilla, plain… be strong and drop them (these are the ones you see over and over in your industry)
  • use alternative keywords for your niche, words that you don’t see often (but convey the same meaning)
  • use bold words, that reflect your unique (brand) identity and beliefs

But remember this: bold words get remembered.

Use this trick to your advantage and use at least one bold word in your business name!

7. Difficult to Hear / Understand

Let’s say you’re in the nutrition niche, and you decide to develop a special blend of whey protein for sportspersons to get lean.

You decide to name your product LeanWhey.

(That probably wouldn’t do for a company name – it’s too plain and descriptive – but it’s fine for a product name.)

Then you go to for a drink with friends at your local pub, and begin to talk about your upcoming company and product.

They can’t read your name. So what will the hear? Is it:

  • LeanWhey?
  • LeanWay?
  • LeanWheigh?
  • or LeanWheight? (pubs are loud, transient sounds like Ts are difficult to hear)

The problem is: there’s no unique way (pun intended) to spell your name for your niche.

No bueno.

How to fix this:

  • Say your name out loud to a few friends
  • Ask for the first spelling that comes to mind
  • If 95% or more get it, you’re good to go
  • If not (you need to spell your name in order for them to find you on the Internet), discard that idea and go for another one.

Now, I REALLY love puns.

(And sometimes, they can make great business names.)

But for this to work, make sure your target audience knows exactly what you do.

A few examples:

  • Self Maid
  • Loan Wolf
  • Flour Power

All these can work well given the right context.

Just don’t go overboard with something like Tie And Die.

We might share the same love for dark humour, but not everybody does.

8. Dropping Lettrs or Going For W3ird Spellingz

Searching for your fresh, bright idea online is an exercise in humility: all the cool names are already taken.

So you might think of cutting some corners by dropping letters or using unusual spellings.

Well, think again.

Yeah, sure, you will find a spelling that nobody’s using (yet).

But “clever” spellings won’t make your startup name stand out or look cool anymore, sorry.

In fact, Crunchbase published an article stating that “Startup Names May Have Passed Peak Weirdness” (source).

  • Clevr
  • Cl3v3r
  • Klever
  • or Kl3vr (the worse of them all)

… will never make a good replacement for clever.

They just look clueless. Or worse: dated.

How to fix this:

  • Use the original spellings OR
  • Use made-up words and brand names

Made-up words are in my opinion always better than weird spellings that most people don’t remember (or like…).

9. Too Many Repeated Letters (aka Overboard Alliteration)

Let’s imagine you’re a blogger and you decide to go with Miss Sassy as your blog name.

(By the way, this name is already taken by multiple persons and businesses, if you wonder.)

Now, Miss Sassy is great name. I love the energy.

What happens when you drop all the spaces, to make it a domain name or social platform username/handle?

misssassy

I don’t suffer from dyslexia or dysgraphia, but even for me, this are hard to read or type.

Expect people to make mistakes when typing this kind of names – it WILL happen.

Like missssassy (4 middle Ss) and missassy (2 middle Ss).

How to fix this:

  • type your name without spaces and see how many letters are repeated
  • if you have 3 times the same letter in a row or more, consider changing your name

10. Using Your Own Name (when your business is not a personal brand)

I’ve made this mistake over, and over, and over again.

Over the course of a decade, my personal website was about:

  • music composition services (a side project)
  • PHP development tips (as a personal wiki for my day job)
  • photography (as a hobby, then became a part-time job)
  • business coaching (beginning of a career move that didn’t happen then)
  • strategy and marketing (finally! my current niche… but not with the same positioning)

If you’re like me and you like experimenting (or you like to do many things), don’t use your name as your business name.

Same goes if you don’t exactly what do to (yet).

Here is why:

  • most people don’t understand personal strategic moves (like multiple career changes – trust me, I talk from experience)
  • you can’t sell your current activity to pursue another one – YOU are your business!
  • your personal brand will never be as big as giants like Apple, Tesla, Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft, …
    Okay, these are not the norm, but still
  • your employees will work for a person (aka a product or service in this instance), not a vision, a set of values and beliefs
    This makes creating a meaningful work for your employees that much more difficult
  • changing the content on your personal website all the time will pretty much kill its ranking and domain authority in the long term

For those reasons (and others), Neil Patel says he wishes he didn’t build a personal brand).

How to fix this:

  • Unless you’re a personality and you’re sure you’ll never make a personal strategic move (but who can be so sure?), go for a business name

Now, here is something worth mentioning:

You CAN have a personal website/brand AND a company.

Whereas Misfit Hustler will probably always be about freelancing, entrepreneurship and business growth, I (as a personal brand) will probably always love straightforward talk, workshops and keynotes.

See where those intersect?

  • Today, I can deliver punchy keynotes about strategy and marketing… but I could change the TOPIC (or industry) in the future no problem.
  • Today, Misfit Hustler is mine… but I can sell it anytime, if and when that makes sense without me hindering the future growth of the business.

This looks like a win-win to me!

11. Choosing A Name That’s Too Long

If you struggle to find a name, you might lose hope.

So much so that you may want to call your social media consulting services company exactly that… Social Media Consulting Services [insert facepalm].

Look at all the mistakes this name makes:

But most importantly: IT’S SO. FREAKING. LONG!

How to fix this:

You’re probably better off going back to the brainstorming phase. Such a long name will never stick in people’s mind.

And if you consider solving the problem by shrinking Social Media Consulting Services down to SMCS, read on…

12. Using An Acronym

I bet 99% of people reading this article are not naming a bank, an international group or a radio / TV station.

And even for those companies, I would argue that acronyms make for very bad business names.

Let’s say you want to go for a long, lousy name like Business Strategy And Marketing Consulting. (Wow, that’s bad… sorry if that’s your name!)

But it’s too long, right?

So you use an acronym, and go for BSAMC instead.

no god please no
  • If people don’t know about your company, how are they supposed to know what BSAMC stands for?
  • If they do know, will they remember what the S stands for?
    Is it Strategy? Sales?
    Something else, like Services?
  • If they only remember the full name, will they search for BSAMC, BSMC, BS&MC?

Unless you have the marketing budget to call yourself DKNY and throw money away to make your name stick in people’s mind (and even then)…

Just. Don’t. Ever. Use. Acronyms.

To prove my point:

Do you remember what USPTO, EUIPO or SMCS (that we saw earlier in this article) stand for?

Also:

Does the Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining name ring a bell?

What about 3M?

While the vast majority of people know about 3M, they don’t know about the origin of the company name.

So if you consider using an acronym for your brand, business or startup: think again.

Now here’s another mistake that Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining made at the time of naming their business:

13. Choosing A Location-Based Name

Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining, Kentucky Fried Chicken and many other business have this in common:

They all expanded (in operation or awareness) WAY past their initial location.

Whether you sell a product or service locally or not, today’s economy is global.

Not only does your business have a website (it does, right???) – so it’s global by definition.

But you never know where the opportunities can come from.

This is especially true if you live in a small country like I do (Belgium is in the place!)

How to fix this:

  • easy: no location in your name!
  • planets are okay, though (including Earth). Seriously!

Some exceptions:

If you are:

  • a sports team
  • a national institution
  • a fashion brand (perfumes, clothes, accessories, …)

or any other business where the location is part of your identity… please by all means, DO include your city or country!

14. Choosing A Name Based On A Niche, Product or Service

You’re starting your Etsy or Shopify Ecommerce: congratulations!

Let’s say you sell hand made, ethical pillows and you want to call your store 1001 pillows.

What if you decide to sell other knick-knacks? Like photo frames, candle holders, vases or home scents?

Sure, 1001 pillows can still work as a store / brand name, but it’s now way too specific for the new products you intend to sell.

Same is true if you wanted to use keywords like interior design, home, or living room in your name.

What if all of a sudden you want to go B2B and sell to businesses?

How to fix this:

Use emotions, values and results in your name, not products or niches. Glowing Spaces seems like a way better name for the example above!

15. Being Not Exclusive Enough (aka A Copycat)

Let’s imagine these startups:

  • WebBnB
  • YouVid
  • MarsX
  • Transporteroo

I bet you know exactly what these company do, even without asking or reading about them.

If you do the same, everybody will know… that you’re a copycat.

Copying other business names is not clever; it’s lame.

lame

Don’t be that company.

How to fix this:

Be bold, and go for a unique, brandable name that you own (every sense of the word) and that makes you proud.

One easy way to do this is to use words, conventions or concepts that are popular in your niche’s culture.

16. Not Checking The Meaning in Foreign Languages

Have you already seen this ad?

nancys petites bites

Maybe calling your company (or product in this instance) Petite Bites is a great idea for an English-speaking audience.

In French? Not so much.

  • Petite in French means small, and
  • Bites in French means… dicks

You get the point.

You may never know if or when your business will expand, so you really can’t make this kind of mistakes.

How to fix this:

Use WordSafety to check your name. Better safe than sorry!

wordsafety petite bites

Just like in English, most French words ending with an S are just plurals.

So trust me (I’m a French native speaker), bites IS a problem!

17. Going For The First Good Idea You Stumble Upon

In today’s world, everything has to go fast.

Even business decisions.

I get it.

Now, don’t confuse speed with haste.

Just like rushing your business strategy decisions, rushing your business naming process will most certainly end up in you having to do it all over again in a matter of months… or days.

I actually made this mistake with Misfit Hustler.

I found some great ideas and bought the corresponding domain name… but these ideas were not perfect for the exact audience and topics of this site.

How to fix this:

  1. Make sure your name is not too descriptive or focused on a niche, product or service
  2. When you have found a name that seems okay, wait at least 48 hours
  3. If after 48 hours you still like it, ask people what they think about it

Only then will you be able to better judge if a name is a home run… or an option you can safely discard.

18. Settling For a Name That Doesn’t Make You Proud or Excited

This is probably the sneakiest mistake of them all.

Not because it’s bad, but rather because you won’t notice it until it’s too late.

Picture this:

You’re meeting investors at a pitch session, or friends at your favorite pub.

When asked about your project, you say your brand new business name, and you’re left with a weird feeling of… well, nothing.

(Or worse: shame and regret.)

I don’t know if that happened to you, but it happened to me.

Please learn from my mistake:

Avoiding all the previous mistakes is not enough. You need to feel EXCITED about your name!

If you don’t, all you’ll be left with is a “meh” feeling.

You’ll feel it, your conversation partner will feel it… and you’ll move on to discussing more interesting (or less embarrassing) stuff.

And at some point, you’ll end up changing your business name anyway.

Save yourself the time and hassle of a rebranding – it’s a pain in the neck.

How to fix this:

  1. first, give yourself at least 48 hours to get a good feel for your name
  2. say it out loud multiple times, in front of a mirror if need be, and notice how it makes you feel
  3. imagine yourself saying your business name to a very close relative, like your parents or significant other (or do it for real), and feel the pride and excitement (or lack thereof)

If your business name doesn’t make you proud,
If you’re shy or afraid of saying it,
If it doesn’t excite you or puts you in a mood to work and grow your business right now,

Please: Let it go and choose another option, or go back to the the brainstorming session.

All this may sound silly…

But settling for a name that doesn’t make you want to shout it from the rooftops WILL leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth, for months and years to come.

So be brave, and let it go.

On to You

  • What mistakes did you make in the past while naming a business, and that others can learn from?
  • What mistakes didn’t you think of, or consider enough?

Please share with everybody in the comments!

Comments

  1. Very useful article and could have saved me time finding my business name.
    But then again had I not gone through my process, I wouldn’t have found ‘Symphonic Design’.
    It came to me from my two passions: music and design.

    Composing a symphony consist of the manipulation of 5 main aspects which apply to both visual design and musical composition:

    1.) Melody – ordering and disposing of several structural elements in such a manner that their succession is pleasing to the senses
    2.) Harmony – rendering of two or more simultaneous elements in such a manner that their combination is pleasant
    3.) Form – refers to structure, composition and performance
    4.) Rhythm – regular recurrence or pattern (regularity in design), pattern unites rhythm with geometry
    5.) Timbre – the perceived quality

    1. Author

      Hey Sven, going through the process is clearly required!

      Love how design and music blend to form your business name, it sounds terrific!

      Every time I had to find a name for a project of mine, I had to go through MANY ideas and iterations before finding.

      this article is part of a long series of article about finding a business name. The whole thing is going to come together over time. And I’ll definitely talk about the process of finding a name for different businesses: blogs, startups, brands, …

      I’ll talk about how messy finding Misfit Hustler was!

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