One of the first big challenges you will face when starting a business is figuring out what to name your company. Many people believe that picking the right name will make a significant difference in whether they succeed or fail. They believe the right name will create "buzz." and the wrong name will make it difficult for people to remember them.
Large corporations that are going through a name change or are naming a new division will hire marketing firms that specialize in developing names. One of my clients spent more than $100,000 researching names and testing them on prospective buyers.
I believe that choosing a bad name can cripple or kill a business, but spending a lot of money on developing a name is not significantly better than simply making a list and selecting one that you and your advisers, friends and potential clients find acceptable. No matter what your name is, you still need to deliver results.
Before you put pen to paper or strike a key in your quest to find the appropriate name, keep in mind the following:
Audience: Many companies have made mistakes by picking names that are culturally offensive. The last thing you want to do is to insult an ethnic group.
Length of Name: Make sure the name is easy to spell. You don't want someone going to an Internet search engine or calling information and misspelling your name because it is either too long or so unusual that they can't get it right.
Meaning: Pick words that convey a positive image.
Service: Think about words that best describe your service. You don't want to pick words with meanings that have little to do with your service or that will confuse potential clients.
Most people don't have any scientific process for developing a name, or can't afford to hire a marketing research firm to develop a name. Most names of companies come from the following 14 origins:
Animals: Some people choose names of animals, such as tigers (Tiger Consulting, a software-consulting firm in Thailand), to show that they are aggressive and hard-driving.
Children's or Parents' Name: Many people have used family members' first names to honor them.
City: I don't think there is a city in America whose name hasn't been used in the name of a consulting firm. People use city names because it makes them seem bigger than they are, the name of the city is easily memorable, or the name of the city will show up higher on Internet searches.
County: Consultants who focus on a specific county use the name of the county for the same reasons people choose cities.
Country: The reason a consultant chooses a country is to convey a sense of reach and because the name is usually memorable.
Descriptive: Using a descriptive word tells people what you do.
Full Names: The most famous company I can think of that is based on a full name is JPMorgan, the bank named for the investment banker that is now part of JPMorgan Chase, a combination investment and commercial bank.
Home or Business Address: Some people use their street addresses as their business name. There is a marketing firm in New York called Broadway Associates. The Wall Street Journal chose its name so it would be memorable to the stock traders and investment bankers who populated Wall Street.
Last Names: Use your name if it is well known so that when you walk into a room or speak with people, they can identify you easily. I use my last name in my consulting practice because I ran a large trade association in my region and have served on many regional boards. Some of the greatest business leaders, such as Disney, Ford and Trump, have all used their last names. Be careful if your name is long and unwieldy. You don't want prospective customers to become frustrated because they can't spell your name and therefore can't find you by telephone or on the Internet.
Mythological: There is a German information systems consulting firm that named itself after the Greek god Zeus. Using a mythological name suggests an intellectual foundation.
Plants: People will select plants to convey a certain image. People use certain types of trees and plants such as cacti, maples, sunflowers, roses and so on. A commercial real estate company in Chicago is called The Rose Group. The image of smelling like a rose is one that appeals to a lot of companies.
Service/Product Names: A client of mine used as his company name the name of the software he developed, ReviewNet, which evaluates information technology professionals' skill levels, to boost the name of the company. One of my ventures is called Bizlaunch; the name tells you that the service helps people start businesses.
Wealthy-Sounding/Historical Names: Some people like names because they sound upper-class or sophisticated or are connected with a president, such as Rockefeller, Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson.
Unusual Names: A friend of mine chose the name Antiphony for his consulting practice. The unusual name triggered a call from me to ask him what he does. The downside of an unusual name is that sometimes it's hard for people to remember, or they can't mentally file it.
My preference is to choose names that are easy to remember and for the most part identify what you do, such as ExpertSpeakers.net, which provides business professionals as speakers. A good name can keep your company in the mind of existing customers and make you more appealing to prospective clients.
Kramer is the author of five business books on topics related to venture capital, management and consulting. He is a faculty member at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the veteran of over 20 startups and four turnarounds.