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TheStreet Open House

Business Names Make or Break a Company

Stocks in this article: GOOG

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- For many entrepreneurs, their businesses are their babies.

And, like parents, entrepreneurs often pick names that draw criticism from the outside world or just plain sound ridiculous. That's been happening more in recent times ( Yahoo (YHOO) and Google (GOOG)) than in the past, when imaginations didn't run at a fever pitch ( General Electric (GE) and General Motors).

But names can make or break a firm, and finding the right one is a big business for those who consult on the matter. TheStreet asked five entrepreneurs to defend their company names and brought in a professional branding expert to evaluate them. Eli Altman is director of strategy at A Hundred Monkeys, a naming company in San Francisco. "All good names should be connected to a story," he says.

Milk milk: Piney Kahn and Sunny Zobel spent months naming the public-relations and marketing firm that they founded in 2007. They tried anagrams, but those weren't memorable. They tried Greek mythological names that evoked female strength, but they felt forced and absurd. They tried a combination of their last names. "ZOBELKAHN!" recalls Kahn, president of the Portland, Ore., firm. "It sounded ridiculous."

In the end, Kahn and Zobel went with "milk milk," which is short for the company's full name, "milk milk lemonade corp."

"My little sister and I are always mocking each other," says Kahn. "We like to sing that little rant, milk, milk, lemonade, 'round the corner fudge is made."

According to Kahn, the moniker's puerile roots help the company vet its clients.

"You know that if you can't really explain it to them, you probably can't work with them," Kahn says. "If they don't have a good sense of humor, we may not be able to work with them long-term. We have to be able to take ourselves with a grain of salt."

To wit: "It didn't hurt that they don't take themselves too seriously," says Mike Corrales, vice president of marketing at BillMyParents.com, one of milk milk's clients. "It didn't hurt their cause."

What Eli thinks: "I giggled, and you giggled, which means we're probably both smiling. Any name that causes an emotional reaction does a good job."

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