What’s in a Name?

Making Your Business Memorable

Originally published on YouLaunchit.Org (an AIGA Innovate project) in 2017, and updated here with additional thoughts in 2019.

Shakespeare says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While this is certainly true, how likely are you to go smell a patch of, let’s say for giggles, “Big Ugly Trash Rats?” Your business name makes a difference. It’s the first thing people hear and it’s how they reference you in their mind. So let’s get down to it. Where do you even start?

Step 1 – Initial Brain Dump.

Start here. Put the computer away, seriously. Hit that little power button and turn it off.  Break out the Sharpie and some sticky notes. Paper will work too, I just happen to have an unhealthy obsession with sticky notes. A Sharpie (or pen) is key; you don’t want to erase any thoughts, not at this stage. Personally, I prefer a sharpie, it prevents me from writing too much—you can only write so much with a wide sharpie and a moderately sized post-it, and that’s the way you want it!

Ask yourself some basic questions about your business and its personality. Here’s just a few:

  • What do you want to be known for?
  • If you could leave people with one thought about your business what would it be?
  • Why are you doing what you are doing? What’s that ‘why’?
  • What personal stories in your life drove you to where you are and what you are doing? 

Turn those answers into keywords or phrases and write them all down!

Step 2 – Go Wide!

Now, let’s do some mind mapping. Take those keywords, and EXPAND. Power Thesaurus is your friend! Look for similar words, phrases that express the same feeling. Have fun with it.

Figure out new combinations. Try some mashups – make new words out of smashing two other words together. This is where your post its help move them around, see what looks good together. Write more, add more.

Look outside—outside your industry. Is there a word that is really over-used in your industry that you wrote down? What’s another way to say it? What do they call it outside of your industry bubble?

Step 3 – Focus.

You have this beautiful big mess of sticky notes scattered across your floor, wall, or whatever other space you have taken over with your variety of office supplies. What next? It’s time to focus, to narrow down your choices to some top contenders, about 2-3 to move onto the next step. Let’s narrow down that list. Keep in mind your final choices should be:

  • Simple– It should roll off the tongue, not too long. Aim for about 15 characters or less and 3 syllables or less. Shorter names work well on social media. Keep in mind there are character limits on things like usernames.
  • ScalableThink about your name in a strategic way. For example, if you plan to expand your business beyond the one service you are offering now, make sure your name is inclusive enough to grow with you. Did you tie your name to a geographic location? If so do you plan to expand outside that location, will the name still make sense? Can it move with you if you add services, will you have to rebrand? Don’t get me wrong, re-branding isn’t a bad thing, and you want to niche down your business, but just make sure to think strategically about your name. With any guideline there are exceptions, but if you know the guideline you also know why you are breaking it—this is strategic thinking.
  • Available – You don’t want to fall completely head over heels in love with a name only to find out it’s taken and you have to start all over. Make sure to check:
    • Trademarks – You can search to see if there is already a trademark on your desired name. First, do a search on USPTO. You can also search on something like Trademarkia.
    • Domains – When searching for your domain, use a tool like Domize. This tool provides a private search, unlike other sites which can be monitored. A public search can be used by domain purchasers to snatch up your domain and try to resell it for more money! Believe me, this has happened to me.

      • Social Media – Are your social media handles available for the name? If not are there variations you can try? A tool like Knowem can help you search social media names, and even domains and trademarks!

    Step 4 – Test it Out.

    Take the names out into the world! Use it out in the wild, this is the only way you can really tell if it works for you. Say it out loud, use it as you are networking. How do people respond?  Pay attention to people’s reactions as you use the name. What does their body language say? If they just grin ear to ear the first time you say it, is that the reaction you were hoping for?

    How does it feel for you to use it in conversation, does it roll off the tongue? Are you confident about using it?

    So there you have it: after you test you should have a good idea of which name really represents the personality of your business. Do you have a Rose or a Big Ugly Trash Rat? And don’t worry this is an iterative process If you have a Big Ugly Trash Rat, that’s ok we have all been there, go back to step one, dress the rat up a little or dump him and start over.

    What techniques did you use to name your business? Share your stories in the comments!