Career & Business

How to Choose a Name for Your Business (and 14 Fun Ways to Generate Ideas)

February 12, 2013

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“OMG… why can’t I figure this out!?! It should be such a simple decision, but it’s freaking killing me.”

That was me when I started my business. The issue I was wrestling with? Deciding what to name my business.

I couldn’t figure out whether I should name my business something catchy, descriptive, and memorable, or name it after myself.

Sweet mother of cookie dough! I circled around in this creative cul-de-sac for longer than I care to admit.

In my mind, this was BIG — a make-or-break business decision for my new enterprise. Plus, not having a name was holding me back from moving ahead on everything else.

The name of my business would determine what my website’s domain would be, my email, logo, what I’d write on business cards, the legal company name, whether people would remember me, whether they’d take me seriously (or so I thought), and yada, yada, yada.

As a young and totally inexperienced entrepreneur, I investigated this sticky issue from every angle I could think of — for way too long.

It’s such an easy place to get stuck when you’re starting a business, and I don’t want you to face this same fate. You’ve got work to do and people to serve!

In this quick guide, I’ll explain why I finally chose to name my business after myself (and why that might not be right for you). Plus I’ve got some practical tips for naming your business, so you can… get back to business.

How to Name Your Business — Your Name or Something Else?

When I was starting my new business, this was the big question.

Through research and soul searching, I came up with at least 25 reasons why my own name was the best choice for my business.

Of course, I’d research even more and search the nooks and crannies of my soul to find another 25 reasons why naming my business something catchy and descriptive was definitely better.

The worst part about deciding what to name my business was how deeply I tortured myself, my friends, and the people I love trying to figure it out!

And I’m not alone. This is one of the trickiest questions entrepreneurs face.

In this MarieTV, I answer this popular question from Tamara, who wrote a book for teen girls.

“I don’t know if I should do a website with or [name of the book] I’ve heard you should use your name but I’ve seen both. How do you know when to call your business your name versus a name that describes the business?”

Keep reading below the video for 14 fun exercises you can use today to generate a brilliant business name that hits the hearts and sticks in the minds of your ideal customers.

Figuring out what to call your business comes down to three things:

  1. Your industry. What’s common among businesses like yours? What will your customers expect and understand?
  2. Your vision. What does this business mean to you? What do you picture when you imagine yourself running the business — today, in a year, in 10 years?
  3. Your long-term game plan. Where will this business go in the future? How can the name grow with it?

Naming Your Business After Yourself

If you’re looking to build your business around being an expert, like an author, speaker, coach, or consultant, and the main commodity is YOU, name your business business after you.

If you plan on being around for a long time, you’ll probably launch many new products, write many books, and take several directions in your business. The only thing that’s not going to change about your business is who you are.

When you name your business after yourself, you can launch different brands under your name, but never get stuck with something.

For example, I started my brand Rich, Happy & Hot back in the day, but I was pretty clear I didn’t want to stay with that for my entire career. I named my company Marie Forleo International, and I use my name for my website, so the company can grow and change as I do.

Afraid you won’t be able to scale or sell your business if it’s named after you? If you think you may want to sell your company one day or duck out of the limelight yourself, naming your business after yourself won’t stop you.

Think about Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, or even Orville Redenbacher. They all successfully built and sold name-based empires. There are countless examples of long-standing brands named after their founders.

Don’t want your business brand to be all about you? That’s A-OK. You can still do business under your name, but you may benefit by making up a new one.

Making Up a Business Name

If you’re starting a business that’s based around a product or service, especially if your goal is to sell it someday, you may want to choose a name that’s related to the business. Think Whole Foods or Instagram.

A great business name is memorable, understandable, and communicates the essence of your business in as few words as possible. Does it need to be perfect? Absolutely not. Use these fun naming exercises to get started.

14 Fun Ways to Come up with a Creative Business Name

No idea where to start with naming your business? If you’ve opted out of using your own name, try these exercises to find something unique, descriptive, and creative.

  1. Look for inspiration outside your industry. Understand your competition, but don’t imitate them. When searching for ideas, look beyond your competitors for creative angles from elsewhere. For example, we use medical terms to talk about copywriting throughout The Copy Cure, and the brand naming agency Eat My Words taps into the culinary arts.
  2. Say the name out loud. Even if it looks great on paper, it might not translate easily into speech — and that makes it hard for happy customers to spread the word.
  3. Role play. Get a little kinky, and talk about your business in different characters — like a baby, cowboy, or southern diner waitress. What unique words and phrases spring to mind? Use those as inspiration for generating names.
  4. Tell it like it is. Write or talk about your business, your audience, and the problems you solve using the phrase, “I’m not gonna sugar coat it…” Note the authentic language that comes out.
  5. Explain it to a blockhead. Get really basic. Describe your business as if you were talking to someone who’s just not gettin’ it. Rephrase and further explain as much as you need to get to the simplest words that describe what you do.
  6. Free associate. Write down the words that describe the core of your service and the problem you solve. Then write down any words or phrases that come to mind when you think of those words.
  7. Mix and match. Mash together two or more words that describe your business to create a brand name. Netflix (“internet” and “flicks”) is a popular example of a mash-up name.
  8. Use words from literature or mythology. Can you connect your brand with a character or place? For example, Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, a good fit for an athletic shoe brand.
  9. Use words from a different language. Would the inflection of a foreign language fit your brand’s voice? Borrow words to name your business, like Au Bon Pain, a company with a French name that was founded in Boston. Au Bon Pain translates to “the good bread.”
    Be Aware: Anytime you borrow a word from another language, culture, or religious tradition, be mindful that your choice doesn’t cross the line between appreciation and appropriation. Cultural appropriation is defined as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, or ideas, of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”
  10. Consider your vision for the company. Even though it’s smart to start with one product or service, naming your business after that one thing could tie your hands. If you imagine growing and expanding in the future, make sure your name can grow with you.
  11. Think about your domain name and social handles — but not too much. If you have a perfect name in mind, and the dot-com domain or the Twitter handle aren’t available, don’t fret. Use something else memorable for now, and you might be able to buy the domain or handle it in the future as you grow.
  12. Google it, and do a trademark search. To avoid confusion, make sure a competitor or similar business isn’t already using your name. You can check for trademarks on your desired name through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That’ll help you avoid a lawsuit and name change in the future.
  13. Use a business name generator. For some inspiration, get business name ideas from a generator like Naminum or Shopify’s Boutique Name Generator. Name generators can be a fun jumping-off point, but don’t get stuck here. Use your own creativity, smarts, and instinct to make the final call.
  14. Consider SEO. Just like your domain and social handle, you need to think about how your business name works in search engines. But be careful not to lay it on too heavy with the keywords, because Google’s algorithm is constantly changing, and you want your business to live on.

These ideas will help you find clarity and direction to choose a name for your business. Once you decide, consult with pros for legal issues like trademarking and registering your company name.

The Small Business Administration also offers some guidance on how to register your business name. If you’ve never registered a business name before, don’t worry! The process varies from country to country and state to state, but every other business owner out there has done it, and so can you.

Let Your Business Name Serve You

Choosing your business name is a lot like getting a tattoo. You can always remove it or change it later, but it might not be worth the hassle. Once you’ve settled on a name, relax and get back to doing the work. Your company’s name *won’t* make or break your business, even if it feels that way sometimes.

How well you’re serving people — not your name — is the most important thing in your business.

Think of all the wildly successful businesses that break common rules: Google uses an obscure word. Flickr uses a hard-to-remember spelling. Amazon doesn’t describe the product or service at all.

Don’t let the details derail your mission.

Remember, to decide what name is best for your business you first need to understand your industry and long-term vision. Be clear about what you want and where you’re going, first. The name will follow.

Most importantly, don’t let yourself get stuck on this step! You have plenty of room for growth and change in the future. For now, pick something good enough, and focus on your work.

Now, let’s turn this insight into action.

Grab a notebook, and brainstorm what to name your business in two steps:

  1. Make a list of words associated with your product or service — a thesaurus or OneLook Dictionary will come in handy. Think about the objects, feelings, and ideas people associate with what you do. Use the exercises above to reach deep!
  2. Then, use those words and the ideas they spark, and write down at least 20 potential business names. Push yourself to get to 20, even if you start getting silly — let’s be real, especially if you start getting silly! Push your creative muscles to get to something that speaks to your soul.

I know, it might never feel perfect. But that’s okay. Starting and succeeding in business is about progress, not perfection. Let customers come to love your business name because of the wonderful spirit and service it represents. That’s how you’ll know it’s juuust right.

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