The process of naming your startup is similar in a way to choosing a name for a baby. You’re going to be very emotionally invested, have very strong opinions, and it will be near impossible to take an objective approach. Just like you would with a child, you will also want to keep friends and family out of the debate — unless you have a penchant for masochism.
In many ways though, landing on the perfect name for your startup can be somewhat straightforward if you stick to five principles that we have relied on over the years with dozens of startups. Having some guidelines keeps you focused on the end game, and can help reel you back in if you go off on an emotional tangent.
1. Don’t be too literal.
Putting too much emphasis on having the name convey exactly what your company does typically results in uninspiring names that are not memorable. Your brand name is an introduction to the brand, always shown in context — whether it’s on your product’s label, on your website, on a business card that you hand out a client. It’s part of the brand, not the entire experience. So don’t shy away from being creative and exploring different paths that don’t necessarily focus on functionality. Think about your brand personality, your audience, your brand story. Those are good places to start playing with different ideas.
2. Stay away from gimmicks.
This is the extreme at the other end of the spectrum. Successful made-up names are few and far in between. When you’re a new player, it’s not helpful having people type in your brand name incorrectly, or constantly having to spell it out to new partners. While your brand doesn’t have to tell your entire story, there should be some connection, an important piece of the puzzle that people can engage with and remember. Made up words are often spelling hazard zones with no personality. If you justify a weird made-up name by saying “well, Google was able to pull if off!”, you should take a seat and reconsider your strategy.
3. When in doubt, shorter is better.
People often make the mistake of equating their brand name to their domain name, and think “I can’t have abcd.com, so I can’t use ABCD for my brand name”. Naming is tricky enough as it is, don’t give yourself additional hurdles by forcing yourself to snag a short dotcom. Most people will likely come to you either by clicking on something, or typing your brand name on google — it’s not as common for people to type in your URL directly. Modifiers can be added to a URL to help you navigate the crowded and chaotic domain landscape. One of the pioneers of this trend was Oscar, the health insurance provider that disrupted their industry and has been hioscar.com since their launch in 2012.
4. Scan the competition for opportunities.
You’ll want to do this throughout the branding process, but it’s helpful during naming as well. Take a look at your competitive landscape. Are there similar patterns with the names of the main players? Is there an opportunity to stand out with a type of name that goes in a different direction, and shows how you’re unique? In many industries, there is a certain status quo that leaves room to distinguish yourself with a name that goes against the grain in a good way. Think about what sets you apart from your competitors, and how you can convey that with your brand name.
5. Check for trademark conflicts early.
The absolute worst feeling in a naming process is to land on the perfect name after weeks of brainstorming and research, and finding that you can’t actually use that name. I’ve met many entrepreneurs who didn’t even realize they had a problem until after they had launched their company. Don’t wait to think about trademarking until you have settled on the perfect name — check for potential conflicts throughout the process on trademarkia.com. It’s a free tool that lets you do a high-level search. Once you have a name that you’re ready to move forward with, be sure to work with an attorney as soon as possible to get all your name ducks in a row.
As you brainstorm and go through your brand name ideas, ask yourself — is this memorable? If I say it to a friend, will they spell it correctly? Does it communicate something relevant and positive about my brand? Is it clear of trademark conflicts? If you answer ‘yes’ to all those questions, you have a true front-runner.