How to Come Up With a Business Name [The Ultimate Guide]

by Alessandro Perta

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

So is it worth the risk to rush the process of finding a great name? Just to regret it a few months?

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

So without further ado, here is how to come up with a great business name (click to jump to a specific part):

1. Involve as Few People as Possible

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.

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. Ask for Feedback

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, …)

So ask for feedback before choosing your business name for good.

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. Get an Available .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!?

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

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 $100-50,000 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, it’s fairly priced and 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. Choose a Name That Will Rank on Google

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

  • Fish Net
  • Green Apple
  • Comfy Sofas
  • [insert your unimaginative business name here]

It’s almost impossible to rank on Google for common words combinations and expressions – people will probably never find you.

How to fix this:

Go on Google and:

  • Search for your business name within quotes, then without spaces. Make sure Google finds as few results as possible (we’re talking less than 1,000 results here)
  • If Google asks “Did you mean”: [something else than you typed], then it’s a good sign too

5. Make Sure Your Name is Not 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 business name is not trademarked!

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

Also, being able to technically use a trademarked name (because you operate in a different market or country) doesn’t mean the trademarked company can’t sue you for using its name.

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 and money.

How to fix search for this:

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

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

6. Use Bold Words

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

But it also screams BOOOOORIIIIIIIIIING.

So how do you make sure your audience:

  • remembers it?
  • feels something about it?
  • is intrigued by it?

Now, 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.

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. Pick a Name That is Easy 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, but it’s fine for a product name.)

Then you go 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 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 their mind
  • If 95% or more get it, you’re good to go
  • If not, 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 humor, but not everybody does.

8. Don’t Drop Lettrs or Use W3ird Spellingz

Finding a great business name 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.

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

So for example, if you want to name your business “Clever Ideas” (huh) but the name is already taken,

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

… will never make a good replacement for clever.

They just look silly.

How to fix this:

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

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

9. Don’t Use Your Own Name

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

During the last 20 years, I made a lot of career changes. I worked as:

  • a sound engineer
  • a music composer
  • a PHP developer
  • a photographer
  • a personal coach
  • a business and marketing consultant

If you’re like me and you like doing many different 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 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 run.

How to fix this:

  • Unless you have a good reason to use your personal name as your brand name (like an actor, musician, athlete, …), go for a business name instead

10. Don’t Use 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. (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 minds (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?

That’s what I thought 😉

11. Don’t Put Your Location in Your Business Name

Does the name Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining ring a bell?

What about 3M?

Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining, Kentucky Fried Chicken and many other businesses 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 how your business will expand in the future.

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

How to fix this:

  • Don’t put a location in your name, it’s that easy!

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!

12. Make Your Business Name Future-Proof

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

Let’s say you sell 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? What about lighting or furniture?

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. Blazing Spaces seems like a way better name for the example above!

13. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s imagine these startups:

  • WebBnB
  • YouVid
  • MarsX
  • Transporteroo

I bet you know exactly what these companies 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.

14. Check 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 where your business will expand, so you really can’t make this kind of mistake.

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!

15. Don’t Settle For The First Good Idea

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

I get it.

Now, don’t confuse speed with haste.

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 weeks.

So make sure you take the time to find the perfect name for your business before you have to stick with a name that is not perfect for you.

How to fix this:

  1. Make sure your name uses bold words and is future-proof
  2. When you have found a name that seems okay, wait at least 3 days
  3. If after 3 days you still like it, ask for feedback

If the feedback is positive, then you’ll be able to better judge if a name is a home run… or an option you can safely discard.

BONUS: Pick a Name That Makes You Proud and 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 3 days 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 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.