How to Name a Business: A Creative Guide
This post was last updated on November 30, 2022.
When starting a business, you may have found that coming up with a name is a difficult task. According to Josh Brentan, a brand shaper who has named many Wix products and features, iteration is the key to successfully naming a business. He says to do multiple rounds of brainstorming—and only start to narrow down once you have a long list of potential names. To start, use a free business name generator to come up with a list of catchy options that will work for your branding goals. In this article, we’ll go over the best tips on how to go from brainstorming to deciding on a business name, plus how to register yours.
Once you nail your name, create a business website and register your brand name as your domain name.
Why is a business name important?
A good business name can shape how a customer perceives a brand. Therefore, a business name also has practical implications: It can help protect your brand reputation over time. A 2022 study found that “fun” business names—or those that used creative linguistics like playful fonts, symbols and unique spelling—protected against brand transgression. The researchers showed that “fun brand names create hedonic value for consumers by playing with language and creating brand names in inventive ways.”
Types of business names
There are many types of business names, each designed to have a specific impact on consumers. Choose yours according to your target audience and brand identity.
Descriptive business names
Descriptive business names are utilitarian and specific to the offered product or service. These names leave little room for interpretation and may benefit a business entering a new market. They could also be harder to trademark or register since they contain generic words or phrases.
Bank of America
The Weather Channel
Abstract business names
Non-descriptive names are interesting, inventive and instantly grab customer attention. They strike a specific tone, whether playful, formal, motivating, optimistic or humorous.
Acronymic business names
These short and sweet business names are easy to remember and spell. Science and technology-related companies commonly use acronymic business names. These names do not transfer emotions or creativity to their customers.
Geographical business names
Geographical names link the business to its location, making it easier for local customers to identify them or to provide context for those outside of the region. However, these straightforward names can often make it harder for companies to grow outside their locality.
California Pizza Kitchen
Compound business names
Compound business names combine two different terms to form a new, memorable and often friendly word. They may comprise a descriptive and abstract word, two descriptive terms, etc.
Founder business names
If you want to create heritage and legacy for your brand, name your business after its founders. This business name type can also help customers emotionally connect with your brand. Businesses like law and accounting firms commonly use founder business names to evoke professionalism and trust.
Ben & Jerry’s
The Walt Disney Company
Johnson & Johnson
How to name a business
First study your industry and competitors to know which type of business name is most effective for your market, Then, use the following steps to brainstorm a list of potential business names.
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.”
Once you type in the words, the tool produces many options. To further narrow down your choices, perform market research and draw inspiration from the best company names among your competitors.
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 business 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 select 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.
You also want to consider how your business name will visually appear in your logo, which is key to your brand identity. Create your own logo using your business name.
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? 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 using a domain name search tool.
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: 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.
Register your business name: Lastly, if you choose to register your business name, you’ll need to first file legal paperwork for becoming a business entity. You may select to form an LLC, C-corp or partnership. Your entity name will be the legal name for your business and you’ll have to sign every official document under this name as required by state laws. Register your business name with the secretary of state’s office, local or county agencies.
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