Startups: Naming your brand

Naming is hard. Some entrepreneurs may dwell on their company or product name for months, even years. Naming your startup is a crucial, early step for startups, but it is often incredibly difficult to find the right one. Choose the wrong one, and it could doom your company to disaster.

Your startup name needs to be simple enough that people will remember it. It needs to be clever or creative enough that it catches their attention, and it needs to quickly and easily communicate to others who you are and what your company does.

Before 10twelve, we were business owners who faced the daunting problem of naming a company. From our own experiences, we started to develop some steps and processes that helped us come up with better names and avoid making common naming mistakes.

Did you brainstorm using keywords?

One of the first places to start when naming your company is with a brainstorming session. Brainstorm a thorough list of words that describe your company or product. Also include words that can describe your target audience, your industry, goals and other important keywords your audience may be searching for in search engines. You may even want to include some visuals to boost your creativity.

Play with the words in different variations until you have a shorter list of viable choices. There are many ways that you can do this, but here are a few to try:

●      Portmanteau - Combine two words with a shared letter or sound. (pin + interest = Pinterest, code + academy = Codecademy, instant + telegram = Instagram)

●      Compound words - Compound words are two words that reflect your brand but could stand on their own in a sentence. (Snapchat, LinkedIn, Dropbox)

●      Rhyming words - Rhymes can produce memorable brand names. (Fitbit, GrubHub, SoundHound)

Most accelerators and branding thought leaders recommend a name that is no more than 2 or 3 syllables. Aim for short and sweet. Oftentimes, the longer the name, the more likely people will forget it. If it’s a mouthful, it’s not likely people are going to remember it.

What domains are available?

We live in a digital world in which almost every business is online, so you’ll need to decide on a domain name early on. You may come up with the catchiest name for your startup, but then be utterly disappointed when you search for your URL only to find it is taken or really expensive. Check which domains are available before you commit to a name.

According to the latest VeriSign report, there are over 334.6 million registered domain names on the Internet, and 127.5 million are .com domains. Although .com is often the desired domain extension, you’ll likely find that all of the good ones have been taken or come with a huge price tag to reserve. In fact, one study found that 46% of small business owners think that their chances of finding a $100 bill on the sidewalk is higher than finding a great .com domain name that is available.

But, don’t be discouraged. If you have exhausted all the possibilities of landing a .com domain, there are other options. Some startups are even going with .io or .me extensions, but make sure that it makes sense from a technical or branding perspective. Google has stated that these emerging top level domains (TLDs) are treated the same as .com domains when it comes to search ranking. But, you still want people to find your site without confusion.

How competitive are the search results?

When people look for your startup, you want to be at the top of the search results. Otherwise, they could end up going to a competitor’s website or question how legitimate your business is if it’s not on first few pages of results.

Even if you have an available domain, you need to check out your competition. An easy way to do this is by plugging your name options into Google search. If there are many search results with similar sounding or spelled names, in a similar industry, you may want to rethink your choices.

Is it unique?

Yes, you want a name that simply conveys what you do, but you don’t want it to be so plain that it doesn’t intrigue and excite people. The startup called TaskRabbit was first called It explained what the company did, but so does TaskRabbit. The difference is that TaskRabbit is much catchier.

Will it stand the test of time?

It is important to note that in efforts to be unique, sometimes entrepreneurs fall prey to the latest startup naming trends. Think of all the startups that add -ly or -ify to the end or mix words from two different languages together.

At one time, these additions were unique. Sometimes, these trends work out for the company. But, be careful when jumping onto current trends. The negative consequences of relying on a name trend has been heavily documented, even visually. The problem with the -ly startups is that now there are hundreds of them. At a certain point, they all just seem to blend together. A good rule of thumb is: Timeless often outweighs trendy.

Does it "fit" with the product, service or industry?

Don’t get so obsessed with being unique that you lose sight of what names are about━communicating who you are and what you do. Think about scaling. You want a name that still encompasses what your brand does and what it stands for in 2, 5 or 10 years into the future.

Sometimes it may be too late to change your name. However, if your name is hurting you or you are growing in a direction that it no longer reflects and directly opposes, be open to changing it.

Several successful startups have gone through rebranding. For example, Campus Jobs rebranded as WayUp. They wanted to be the go-to job site for Millennials and not just college jobs. Zappos was once called, which sounds a little boring and limited their sales to just shoes.

Is it legally available to form your LLC or corporation?

In order to become a legitimate business, you’ll eventually need to register whatever name you decide on as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or a corporation (corp). However, you may have an unpleasant surprise if you discover that you can’t legally register it.

There are several reasons why you may not be able to register a name. It could be already taken or trademarked by another entity. Make sure you aren’t infringing on another trademark, which could cost you thousands in fines. To do this, check with the SBA’s trademark tool. You can also learn more about registering under an LLC or corp title at the Small Business Administration website.

The name that you choose will likely be with you for the life of your company. It will be on all of your marketing and product design. It is how investors, customers and press will recognize you. So, it is important that the process you use to name your company is thoughtful and strategic. But, naming a startup is no easy challenge. You may want to seek a second opinion before going live. Contact us to learn how we can help you brand and market your startup.