How to Come up With a Business Name: A Creative Guide
This post was last updated on July 6, 2022.
A good business name can shape how a brand grows and how customers perceive it. A 2018 academic study found that investors more highly value concise, memorable and easy-to-pronounce company names. When starting a business, however, you may have found that coming up with a name is a difficult task. And while you can hire an agency to come up with a catchy name for your new business, you could also use the free business name generator alongside our guidelines to come up with a name that works on both a marketing and semantic level.
In this article, we’ll go over 10 tips to generate a great list of potential business names.
Expert tip: According to Josh Brentan, a content creator and brand shaper who has named many Wix products and features, iteration is the key to coming up with a good name. He says do multiple rounds of brainstorming—and only start to narrow down once you have a long list of potential names.
How to come up with a business name
01. Use a business name generator
A business name generator can help streamline your brainstorming. To start, write down three simple things: type of business, a catchy word to include in the name, and how you would describe your brand.
As you come up with descriptive terms, ask yourself what your business name should communicate. Check for terms associated with your product or service. For example, if you launch an online store that sells natural products, consider words like “raw,” “green,” “fresh,” or “organic.”
02. Create a mash-up
Combining two existing words can result in a fun, distinct and captivating business name. Mash-ups (also called portmanteaus) work surprisingly well for a business name since they can creatively communicate your company’s greater mission. For example, Groupon combines “group” and “coupons,” and “instant camera” and “telegram” for Instagram.
To create your own, jot down words associated with your brand. If your business has two or more concepts, use a portmanteau to ensure your name reflects both ideas. Then remove the first word’s last syllables and the second word’s beginning syllables. Write your frankenword on paper and read it. Ask yourself, “Is your newly invented word unsightly, or does it have character?” Consider playing around with spelling for a more polished name, like Netflix (internet and flicks).
03. Appeal to your audience’s interests
An effective name should create buzz around your business and its offerings. While your business’s name doesn’t have to convey an obvious meaning, it should evoke a particular interest, memory or feeling for your audience. Take Whole Foods, for example. Its name suggests health and wellness to its target market yet is broad enough to appeal to all food shoppers.
Whole Foods rolled out its private label brand—365, signaling a clear message: customers can expect fresh food and a unique shopping experience every day of the year. Jeff Turnas, senior vice president of global culinary at Whole Foods said: “For the past 37 years, we have built our company by leading with high quality standards and continuous innovation. We are now excited for the next evolution to extend our offerings to a broader audience in a way that complements our successful Whole Foods Market brand.”
04. Pick a scalable name
As a rising small business owner, you’ll need to plan for your future while getting your business off the ground. Although you can’t predict what your company will look like in the coming years, choose a business name that won’t limit your entrepreneurial growth.
Imagine if the skateboarding shoe company Vans picked a name focusing on footwear alone, like “Sneaks.” It could have prevented the company from becoming a household name for much more, such as clothing, fashion accessories and backpacks.
In turn. don’t choose a highly specific business name. For instance, the hypothetical Nonna’s Gnocchi small business could easily offer other pastas, thus the word Gnocchi in the name could inhibit business growth. Likewise, names based on a geography may not always work if you expand to other cities, countries and continents.
05. Consider acronyms
Along with keeping it short and simple, consider the acronym that will follow before you choose a business name.
An acronym is a term formed from the first letter of each word in a phrase. The public better recognizes the acronyms of several multi-billion dollar companies than their full name, including IBM (International Business Machines) and CVS (Consumer Value Stores).
Though you might not want to abbreviate your business name, your customers or other companies might refer to its initials anyway. Properly investigate your acronym’s meaning before going to market to evade an embarrassing result.
06. Beware of trends
Businesses that have successfully evolved over time share one thing: They’ve avoided trends. Take the case of the “drop the vowel” trend and which led to brand names like Flickr, Grindr and Scribd. While it might have seemed hip or cool to do at the time, the names now sound dated and aren’t easy to say, spell or recognize worldwide.
07. Tell your story
Great storytelling evokes certain emotions and creates personal connections. A good business name can do the same for its customers.
Ben & Jerry’s global ice cream takeover exemplifies a perfect brand story. Today, the name celebrates the grassroots success of its founders who never gave up on their dreams. “With a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of it borrowed), Ben and Jerry opened their first ice cream scoop shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont,” says its website. While the company scaled to a larger corporation owned by Unilever, the name Ben & Jerry’s evokes the industrious story of the owners behind it.
08. Make sure it flows
Pay attention to how your business name sounds in conversation, video and audio recordings. Start with speaking it aloud as a test, then progress to using it in sentences and speaking about it with your acquaintances. Does it roll off the tongue? If a person can’t easily pronounce your business name, then they might avoid talking about it altogether.
09. Test it with an audience
Reach out to friends, family, partners and investors to get their insight and validate your business name. These conversations can further inspire you or cause you to rethink your name choice.
During these conversations, ask questions like What feelings does the name give you? and Do you find it easy or difficult to spell? Guide their attention to these aspects to receive more constructive feedback.
If you catch yourself explaining a long and complex story about your name, consider this a sign to go back to the drawing board. You want your business’s name to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, so it should be snappy, memorable and stand on its own.
10. Check that it’s available
Make sure that you can own your chosen business name and that another company doesn’t already use it. This will come in handy when you register a business name. To do so, check out the following places:
The domain availability: As a business owner, you must maintain an online presence. When you create a website, your domain name should be closely associated with your business name. Check that this domain hasn’t already been taken.
Search engines: See what comes up when you search your name. If you do business internationally, check for cultural references across the countries.
Social media platforms: Search social media to make sure that the name is available. Your Instagram handle, Facebook Business Page, and the other social media branding aspects can be just as important to your business as your domain name.
Your local business registration service: Lastly, check that someone else didn’t already register a business name similar to yours. If you live in the U.S., you can check with Uspto.gov. If you are located elsewhere, go to the host country’s government website and familiarize yourself with their business registration process.
Let the idea marinate overnight or even for a few weeks. Can you see the name splashed across a billboard or in the news? This will allow you to truly see if it fits. You can always operate as a DBA (doing business as) before making it official. However, changing your official business name later on—in legal documents and branding assets—might be more complex than doing it right now, especially if you’ve built brand recognition.
After all is said and done, no matter how you come up with a business name, make sure you’re personally happy with it.
By Cecilia Lazzaro Blasbalg
Small Business Expert & Professional Writer