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How to choose a business name

Without doubt, choosing a company name is one of the most enjoyable tasks when starting a business. That said – it’s also one of the most important. Get it right and your business name will be one of your most lethal marketing weapons. It will set you apart and help to attract customers. Get it wrong and you may not.

In his BBC News website piece – The dark art of choosing a company name – Kabir Chibber likens new businesses to newborns. “And just like children, the wrong name can scar for life,” he cautions. “Imagine if Google had been called BackRub as in its first incarnation,” he wonders.

Legal restrictions

According to government website GOV.UK: “Your name can’t be exactly the same as another registered company’s name [it recommends searching the Companies House register to check].”

In addition: “Your name can’t contain a ‘sensitive’ word or expression unless you get permission; or suggest a connection with government or local authorities; or include a word that could cause offence.” Companies House provides more detailed guidance on legal restrictions (PDF).

You can’t use the word ‘limited’ unless you’ve registered as a limited company, nor suggest national importance (eg by using British), patronage (eg Royal), special status (eg Association) or function (eg Trust – unless you are one.) And using swearwords isn’t big, clever or allowed. The Law Donut website features answers to frequently asked questions about choosing business names.

Naming rights and wrongs

Phil Davis runs a business naming and branding consultancy called Tungsten in North Carolina. He’s named 250-plus businesses and in his piece (8 Mistakes To Avoid When Naming Your Business) for Entreprenuer.com, he likens a business name to a building’s cornerstone. “If it’s off, even just a bit, the rest of the building is off, and the misalignment becomes amplified,” he writes. He advises against asking too many people for their opinions, while making sure some have a more creative outlook, otherwise “your name will most likely end up too literal and descriptive”.

He dislikes one-word business names that result from putting part of an adjective in front of a noun (eg “QualiWidgets”), and words that don’t provide distinction or personality. Tying yourself too closely to a geographic location can limit your ambitions (as can using your own name). Clichés (“like Summit, Apex, Pinnacle, Peak and so on”) should be avoided, Davis says, as should “making your business name so obscure [that] customers will never know what it means”.

Deliberately misspelling your business name to get the web address you want is ill advised, he says, because it can affect your search engines visibility when people input words that are spelt correctly. And if you pick the wrong name, be prepared to change it. As Davis says, the problem won’t “magically resolve itself”.

Short and simple

In his www.123-reg.co.uk piece – 6 top tips for choosing a business name, Tim Fuell expresses a widely held belief that simple is best when naming a business. “Long-winded names are unlikely to become big hitters,” he writes. “Apple, Dell, Google, Amazon, etc. Short, sharp and simple wins every time. It’s more memorable, easier to write or type and simpler to engage with.”

When thinking of business names consider how easy they are to say and spell over the phone. Having to repeat a name over and over can soon have you regretting picking unusual words and spellings. And if you plan to export, consider whether a business name sounds offensive or amusing to people overseas.

Going for a “funny” name works well for some businesses, but it can backfire. Not everyone might laugh – or take you seriously. Choosing previously meaningless or invented words has worked fantastically well for Kodak, Google, IKEA, Sony and others.

Passion or indifference?

Finding a name that you and others like is fine, but as with most things in business, customers are the most important consideration. In his Mashable UK piece – Why Your Startup’s Name Matters – creative marketer and growth strategist Cezary Pietrzak says businesses names are a “conduit to an emotional connection”. Bad business names, he writes, “can be a big distraction to important conversations”. He adds: “Good names – like good logos – evoke strong passion for your brand, while bad names elicit distaste and indifference.”

  • Blog written by freelance business journalist and SME content writer Mark Williams.

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