Choosing a good business name

Arguably the most important decision you’ll ever make in your business is your choice of business name. A good name can create the perception of integrity, professionalism or value-for-money, and can be your business’s biggest asset. A poorly chosen name can discourage potential customers by making your business appear farcical, or even offensive.

Business name basics

If you haven’t thought of any names yet or feel the names you’ve come up with aren’t suitable, the first step is to relax – hardly anyone comes up with the perfect name straight away. Take some time out to play with concepts, ideas and words to find a name that suits the business and your intended market rather than running ahead with a name that isn’t really suitable – resulting in additional costs further down the track.

There are a few handy tools to get you started.

  • A basic thesaurus and dictionary. A dictionary and thesaurus give you potentially endless options and offer good ways to gather words together to create potential names.
  • Free or low-cost naming programs.There are a number of apps that will calculate names for you based on keywords you enter from a database of common words and phrases. 

Draw up a list of words and names that appeal to you as well as a list of words applicable to your business. Try different words and combinations and ask friends and family for input and feedback, then draw up a short list of potential names for your business.

Here are some other factors you should consider before you settle on a name for your business.

Make it memorable but easy to spell and pronounce

Consider how your name sounds when spoken and whether it is easy to spell when people search for you online or in a phone directory. Short, simple names are easier to remember for word-of-mouth referrals. Remember, if your name is easily misspelled or difficult to remember, a potential customer generally won’t waste time trying to guess the correct name when trying to locate you.

Avoid SMS-style abbreviations or slang unless you are sure this will suit your target market and not discourage potential customers.

Try to invoke an image or positive connotation

This can be tricky, but try to think of a name that invokes an image or feeling, preferably related to your business offering. These names are both easier to recall and link a positive feeling with your product. If you sell skis and snowboards, a name such as Quest Snow and Skior Adventure Ski and Snowboard, for example, would be more descriptive than Dave’s Ski and Snowboard Store(unless Dave was a famous skier).

Reference what you offer in your name

For a business on a budget, having a name that tells potential customers what you offer is a good way to minimise money spent on marketing. For example, if you named your mobile coffee business Express Coffee, it’s easier to market your business than if you were named Red Yak.

Names that reference what you offer are also better for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and online advertising. If someone is searching for a product or service you provide and it’s part of your business name, your results will be more prominent in search engine results, which can give you a competitive advantage over businesses with more abstract names.

Before you start using your name

Is your chosen name available?

Make sure your business name hasn’t been officially registered by another company. Check the official companies and trademark register. You won’t be able to register your company or trademark if your name is too similar to an existing business or is deemed inappropriate.

Also check registered Internet domain names – there are numerous domain providers that allow you to check this for free. 

Search the Internet to make sure that there aren’t close variations in the words or meaning of the name that could be similar to an existing business. If your name is The Blue Lemur Café, for example, check for the names Blueand Lemurindividually to make sure they aren’t tied to an existing business.

Think about meanings in other cultures and languages

If your name has an alternate meaning or connotation in another language or culture, your business could be adversely affected. Even if your business is currently small scale, checking that your name doesn’t have an inappropriate meaning in another language could save you from missing out on new opportunities for growth further down the track. You might want to expand your reach to a local immigrant community or to overseas markets.

Should I use my personal name for my business?

Here are the main things to consider.

Positives

  • Credibility.You have attributed your own name to your business, so your personal reputation is dependent on how you conduct yourself within your business. Having your own name can show you are professional, dependable and accountable for the product you sell or the services you provide.
  • Longevity. Having your personal name could save you money changing your business name to suit new products and services down the track. If your products or services change over time or you decide to diversify your business by getting into a new market, you can still use your existing business name.

Negatives

  • Harder to sell or franchise.With your name attached to the business, it might look less attractive to buyers when it comes time to move on and sell.
  • Circumstances might change. You might decide that you want to add another partner or take on employees with significant responsibility in the future, which could be difficult under your name.
  • Less privacy and more public profile around your personal name. As the public ‘face’ of your business, you will need to think about how you present your business even when you aren’t at work.

Testing the market

If you have a name in mind but aren’t sure if it will be suitable, testing the market is a good way to gauge response before taking the plunge.

Ask family and friends to comment on the name – they might point out some potential issues you may have overlooked. Ask existing customers or a sample segment of your target market for feedback. 

You can also ask a marketing professional for advice before you make a final decision.