Coming up with a good name for your startup is both an objective and subjective exercise. The right name can be the foundation from which you build a loveable brand and company.
The wrong name, however, cannot only fail to resonate with customers, it can result in challenging branding issues and even worse, insurmountable legal hurdles.
Here are seven naming mistakes (deadly sins, if you will) that can sabotage your startup:
1. Picking a name that’s hard-to-spell or say.
One of the most common problems you can face is that your customers simply cannot spell your name correctly. This is especially the case if you’re doing business in the international market. In addition, if your name has an odd spelling it’s likely difficult to pronounce.
In the age of Alexa and Siri, a difficult-to-pronounce could make it difficult for people to find your business on and offline. And of course, if your name is hard to say, you’ll drive yourself crazy constantly correcting people.
But picking a name that’s easy to spell and say doesn’t mean you have to pick a boring one. A good tip is to choose words that include rare letters. Rich Barton, the founder of Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor recommends doing this in an interview with Axios.
“You get more points if you use rare letters,” said Barton for Axios. “Because we rarely use those letters, when we read, see and say them — they jump out at us. And they stick in our heads.”
2. Choosing a name that limits your business.
When you choose a name, be sure you don’t pigeonhole yourself into a specific industry, niche, product or feature. This will limit your company’s extendibility, making it harder for you to expand into other markets or perhaps pivot like many startups end up doing.
If your name is too specific it might have to be changed so your business can grow, which can be an expensive proposition and a giant waste of time and resources.
A great example of an extendible brand name is Amazon. It started as just an online bookstore, but over time, it grew to offer a wide range of products. If instead of Amazon, Jeff Bezos named it “OnlineBookStore”, it wouldn’t make sense today.
This is why you should avoid choosing a specialized name, even if you’re forgoing a name that “tells people what you do”. It just leaves no space for the inevitable growth or change your startup will experience.
3. Using a name that someone else already uses.
Before you say “Eureka” to yourself, do a detailed and thorough search online. It’s likely someone already owns the name you came up with which could get you into trouble.
If you’re a US-based company, the first thing you’ll want to do is a search at USPTO.gov to get an idea as to whether you can get a trademark or service mark for your name.
And since you will likely want to structure your business as a corporation or LLC, you should do a search of the Secretary of State’s records to make sure your name won’t cause confusion to a business name that’s already registered.
If it is too similar to an existing name, the Secretary of State may not allow you to register it. Hiring trademark lawyers could be an altogether good idea right from the start to protect yourself from someone doing the same to you.
4. Choosing a name that has no meaning.
Your name is part of your brand story. Choosing a name that has meaning will help your customers form a connection with your company.
As a young business, building a brand can be an expensive undertaking. Having a well-formed brand identity from your logo to your name will help you gain early traction and tell your story more efficiently.
And there’s a difference between choosing a name that limits your business versus one that has meaning. For example, Google is derived from GOOGOL. Googol is the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros.
Larry and Sergey named their search engine “Google,” as a play on the word “googol,” the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros.
Another trick is to try and blend two names into one like Pinterest did by combining Pin and Interest.
5. Using a name that isn’t catchy.
Every company wants a name that will resonate with customers and help your company transform into a memorable brand. That’s why you have to avoid the mundane and create something catchy.
Catchiness is a feeling. It’s subjective. But you’ll know it’s catchy if your name is easy to remember and rolls off your tongue naturally. A catchy name has the potential to be something big. You’ll feel more confident pitching it and your customers will feel more comfortable recommending it.
Remember to run it by a wide range of people or even do an online poll.
A truly catchy name can help you win business over your competition and cost you less in marketing. If you have a forgettable name, you’ll have to spend more on advertising.
6. Thinking you have to have “the perfect name”.
The biggest mistake you can make is thinking you need the “perfect name“.
No name is perfect. It often comes down to how well you market it. Names, like logos, become better after you’ve invested time and money into building a cohesive brand message.
For example, Apple is a company that makes computers, notebooks, and phones, as well as other gadgets. It is a worldwide famous brand and most people on the planet would connect the fruit to the device manufacturer.
This “perfect name” took time to develop into a multibillion-dollar business and their marketing team had to be creative with messaging and design to build the brand into what it is today.
7. Using a name you’re not personally happy with.
If the name doesn’t feel good to you, then it probably isn’t the one you should use. You’re the business owner and the name will represent you and vice versa. It’s a really a hard thing to do if you (personally) are not happy with the name or don’t feel any connection to it.
Give yourself some time, sleep on it and then see what you can do to make it better. Say it aloud several times and use it in full sentences with your products. That way, you will really get the feel how it sounds to your customers and what precisely makes you unhappy with it. And it’s totally normal to instantly love it and then hate it two weeks later. Give it time, but remember there’s no such thing as perfect.
Naming a business is a demanding task and while some may come up with one quickly, others may struggle. Avoiding these seven sins will help you find an approach that will be beneficial to you and your company.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of the startup tools blog series Start Your Business brought to you by Media Gurus and the marketing team at UniTel Voice, the virtual phone system priced and designed for startups and small business owners.