What’s in a company name?
In ancient times, before the age of high tech start-ups, Google and the internet, naming your business was a breeze. It might have taken you an hour to scribble down a couple of dozen options, show them around to your business partners and come up with a shortlist.
You’d have captured names like some of the older firms that are still with us today: International Business Machines (IBM), Independent Television (ITV), Bavarian Motor Works (BMW), Smiths Industries and British Airways.
If you’re planning to start a business that you know is likely to stay small, like a family law firm or a book-keeping service, it’s okay to fall back on the partners’ names – Finkelstein, de Rouen & Wilder – or even geographic names if you’re only ever going to serve a specific region – West Coat Bus Services, for example.
But, if you have dreams beyond tomorrow, you’re going to need a name with a unique flavour and impact that can be adapted for your domain name and that search engines will find easily, its own built-in SEO facility almost.
There are scores, if not hundreds, of highly successful new generation firms with names that fit these specs: Accenture, Tencent, Airbnb, Pixabay, Nvidia and so on. Just check Google for the top performing companies and you’ll find plenty more.
So what principles should you follow when choosing a name for your company?
Simple and memorable company name
It’s not really important where you find your name – and we’ll give you some tips on where to look shortly – simplicity and uniqueness are its most important qualities. We live in a global economy so ideally your name shouldn’t trouble the tongue of non-English speakers, nor of those who don’t have a university education.
Twentieth Century Pictures (now 20th Century Fox) still works because it has more than seventy years of world-wide fame behind it. You, however, have to build your reputation quickly and, unless you’re in the antiques business, you’ll want a name that will sound as fresh in ten years as it does from day one.
Keep away from allusions to a particular time or you run the risk of your business sounding old before it has reached its adolescence.
Meaning is not as important as sound and appearance
Very few people know, or care, that Nike is the ancient Greek goddess who personifies victory. If you have a classical education you’ll know and this will undoubtedly add some depth to its simple appeal. For the majority, though, the four letters and two syllables feel right without the need for explanation. Just like the shoes.
Equally, Starbucks is a crisp sounding, good looking word that appears to have been made by joining two smaller words. Actually, it’s the name of the chief mate of the Pequod, the ship that plays a starring role in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. For the vast majority of its customers, the name’s literary heritage will remain unknown.
Next time you’re sipping your latte have a closer look at the Starbucks logo. It’s styled as a woodcut of a double-tailed mermaid, a 7th century Italian (not Norse as the company claims) symbol of the mythological sirens, creatures the ancient mariners believed would lure unwary sailors to their doom.
It was chosen by the company’s founders as a subtle nod to one of literature’s most famous novels of the sea.
So where do you start?
It’s probably best to start with temptations to avoid.
- Unless your name is Aaron Star and your partner’s name is Billy Bucks, it’s seldom a good idea to look at mashing up names as your first option. Neither of your names is likely to have any stylistic value nor that elusive quality so loved by search engines. One that works spectacularly well is Lego which was derived from the Danish phrase leg godt which means play well. It’s astonishing to think this product was named in 1934 when the temptation to opt for Leg Godt Danish Toy Brick Company must have been overwhelming.
- Avoid temporary names. There’s a good chance that when you find what you believe is a better one, your family and friends will prefer the first one.
- On the subject of family and friends, choosing a name is not a democratic process. Only the key individuals in a company should be involved. If the grandmother of one of the partners doesn’t love the name you choose, so be it. To seek broad consensus is the road to madness.
- It’s not always possible to closely align your brand or company name with your domain name. The one you want may not be available or it may come with an eye-watering price tag. So don’t let the domain name become the primary concern. The real value should be in your brand.
Where to look
There are plenty of free name generators online. One has over 7 million names you can choose from, including BlueWazzu International. Good luck with that. Of course, you can have a professional consultant come up with recommendations or, like us, you might find choosing the name an essential part of the feeling that the business is really yours.
Start with the type of business
If it’s an Italian restaurant, you can do the obvious and look for cool sounding names of Italian cooking techniques. This will give you Aromi, Scarpetta, Al Forno and plenty more.
You’ll probably find there are a million restaurants with similar names, so now you’ll look at a map of Italy and find Vicenza, Gran Paradiso and Salerno and perhaps you think they all sound great. Then you go back to Google and find, once again, many have been there before you.
You have two choices for a company name
Do you keep looking in this way, working your way through Italian villages, artists, composers, poets, movie stars and the like, or do you branch out in a different direction? This depends on you, but if you’re looking for something unique, you’re unlikely to find it in such obvious places.
You could try a little mash up. The Italian phrase meaning warm heart is curore caldo which quickly gives you Recaldo and Orecal, both completely meaningless but probably unique and definitely with an Italian feel.
Best of all, don’t go the Italian route at all. There’s no rule that says just because you serve Italian food, your restaurant has to have a Mediterranean name. Call it Lazin because you like the look and the sound of it and it’ll work. It appears vaguely foreign, can be pronounced LAR-zin or LAY-zin and resembles lazing (which, at a distance, it means).
Looking for neutral or meaningless names
If you have no ethnic or other underpinnings in your business you need to capture, begin your search close to home. Look for opportunities here:
- Your own name, your address, your nickname
- Foreign words and phrases, especially French and Latin
- Art and literature
- Alternate spelling of common words – shuze and boox for example
- Take a common word and drop or change a letter – lettr and tulyp
- Try a phonetic spelling of a suitable word – brylyant and play with the styling – Bril-Yant
The range of sources is close to infinite so take your time, create a shortlist and put it aside for a day or so before deciding on your favourites. Even then, you don’t necessarily have to make a choice from what’s on your shortlist. You could simply choose a few that have the right look and feel and confine your further searches to others of a similar style.