What’s in a name? A lot! Like a fantastic logo, a well-chosen company name is so effectively simple that it seems like it was effortlessly created. But we all know that naming is far from effortless—especially if you’re looking for matching domain names, social media accounts and more. A good name is unique, easy to spell, simple and usually short and phonetically appealing. Sometimes, it just comes to you – Mozilla (which is a blending of “Mosaic and Godzilla”) came from a small group of employees. But if you’re trying to find that perfect idea and you feel you’ve run into a wall, or are tired of banging your head against one, we’ve got some helpful hints.
Clearly outline your criteria. At some point in the naming process, compromise will almost inevitably rear its ugly head. That’s why you should list your goals and non-negotiables before delving in. This will also help settle disagreements between team members because you’ve already stated what you can and cannot budge on. Some things to think about while you’re doing this: Do you need to differentiate yourself from close competitors? Does your name need to resonate globally? Are you set on having a .com domain? How much are you willing to pay for a domain if someone’s willing to auction it?
Look everywhere for inspiration. Some of the best company and product names have come from myths, completely random happenstances and crafty wordplay. Wander around wikipedia, rhymezone, thesaurus.com and dictionary.com, check a favorite poetry website, or dig into books you love for ideas. Also try free name generation/domain research sites like wordoid.com, bustaname.com, impossibility.org, namestation.com, domai.nr and panabee.com, and seek out the naming stories of some of today’s most successful companies.
Don’t limit yourself. As a startup, your business model can change at any time; you want a name that can flow with you. If Google had named itself “Searchable,” its foray into e-mail, e-storage and self-driving cars would have necessitated revamping. This is why descriptive names, like Airbnb, can be great, but aren’t always the best idea (More on name categories here, from Blake Garrett). Sometimes looking to different languages for inspiration can help. Atari comes from the Japanese word for when an opponent’s pieces are in danger of being captured in the game Go. Lego is from the Danish leg godt, which means to play well.
Choose your words wisely. Google your potential candidates. The fewer results you get, the more you can dominate the SEO of your chosen name. And don’t fall in love with the .com—you’re better off with an alternative suffix than a compromised name or one that cost you an arm and a leg. Robert Carter advises that if you have to do this, it can help to snag a .com version of the suffixed name to catch any stragglers who can’t find your original URL (like feed.me and feedme.com). Square used squareup.com for years and Box didn’t acquire Box.com until seven years after it’s founding.
Leave it alone for a while. Don’t forget to walk away from your naming process every once in a while and go do something else or start to use the name with friends or internal team members to see how it feels. You can also take this time to circulate a simple survey of some of your candidates among a selected audience.
Do your homework. Check trademark databases to make sure you’re not infringing on someone else’s name or coming close enough that you might cause customer or client confusion. If you make up a word or dabble in some foreign lingo, do a little research to make sure your name doesn’t have any unintended connotations (you don’t want to bite the wax tadpole).
For a more in-depth walk-through of the naming process, we check out The Igor Naming Guide, suggested by Krassimir Fotev, which takes you from competitive analysis all the way to name and tagline. Just remember, knowing these guidelines inside and out is more important than following them to a T. Then your best resources are lots of wordplay, feedback from your team and of course your gut instinct. Happy Naming!
What’s your experience with finding the perfect name for a startup? Join and get in on the conversation.