How to Name Your Business
For many entrepreneurs, finally taking that first step and registering a business
fulfills a lifelong dream. Often, the business name has been an early part of that
dream. But it’s important to give careful thought to each factor so you can best
determine how to name your business.
However, when selecting your business name—or making any decisions about your company,
for that matter—while your own personal preference is important (it is your business,
after all), even more important is the effect your business name will have on your
customers. There’s no magic formula to a guaranteed successful business name, of
course. Think of these less as rules and more as factors worthy of your consideration.
Do your homework.
Perhaps the most important question involved in choosing a business name, from a
logistical perspective, is whether you’ll legally able to register using that name.
There are many different types of businesses, each potentially operating at different
levels of government, and there’s no central database that searches all of them.
Figuring out if your name is truly available is going to take a little digging.
Secretary of State; other local governments
If you’re going to incorporate your business, one place to start looking is your
Secretary of State’s office. They have a record of all registered incorporated businesses;
this includes corporations (both for- and not-for-profit), limited liability companies,
limited partnerships, and other types of entities registered with the state. In
some states, this search will even include other types of non-incorporated businesses,
such as sole proprietors; in other states, you’ll need to look to the town- or county-level
government offices to look for unincorporated businesses. Let Click and Inc take
care of this business name search
The Secretary of State’s office’s database is important to check because if your
name is already taken at the state level, you won’t even be allowed to register
your business in that state. It’s important to note that this search tells you only
if your name is available in that jurisdiction. If you want to know if a
business is registered somewhere else, you’ll need keep digging.
While this isn’t an official database, it isn’t a bad idea to run a few Internet
searches on your business name to see what pops up. If you’re going with Sarah’s
Editing Services, see if either “www.sarahseditingservices.com” or “www.sarahs-editing-services.com”
exists. Search for “Sarah’s Editing” and “Sarah’s Editing Services” on Google, and
try a few other search engines as well. If anyone’s adopted that name (either officially
or unofficially) and they’ve taken it to the internet, you’re likely to find it.
(Search engine hint: putting quotation marks around your entire business name will
help Google find sites that use the words in your business name in that same order,
rather than those with the individual words scattered all over the page.)
US Patent and Trademark Office
If someone has registered their business name as a trademark, you won’t necessarily
find a record of that by checking your state’s records; trademarks are handled at
the federal level. Try searching the records available from the
US Patent and Trademark Office for your business name, but keep in mind
that in order to be eligible for trademark protection, a business name must bear
some originality. (“Chocolate-Chip Cookies” probably won’t make it because it’s
such a commonly used phrase, for example.)
It may be the case that someone using a trademark has not officially registered
that trademark with the USPTO. These unregistered trademarks, while they do not
enjoy the full protection benefits as a registered trademark, may benefit from some
level of protection. While it’s a good idea to have a lawyer or legal advisor help
you screen the names to determine what may be considered unregistered trademark,
it’s also a good idea to avoid this issue altogether by making sure no one, registered
or otherwise, is already using your name.
Use your creativity.
There are two obvious reasons to be creative with your business name. One is that
you don’t want your customers to confuse you with another company—potential legal
issues aside, you don’t want the name recognition that you’ve worked so hard for
benefiting another business. The second reason has to do with trademarks. The more
creative you are, the more likely it is that your business name will be eligible
for trademark protection—and, of course, that a too-similar trademark hasn’t already
been registered. The more unique your business name, the less likely someone else
has beaten you to it!
You might decide to get really creative and create new words entirely—but it’s important
to be both creative and meaningful so that you’re not confusing your customer
base (see below). Many Latin word parts have morphed into English words that retain
much of the original meaning (“aquifer” from “aqua-”, for instance); prefixes and
suffixes have been used in the same way (consider words like “atonal” that use the
prefix “a-”, meaning “away from”). See if you can apply this principal by modifying
a Latin word or word part to add uniqueness and meaning to your business name. Wikipedia
has a great
list of Latin words to help you form the right meaning combinations.
Think about your customers.
Opinions vary among entrepreneurs, but a good question to ask yourself is: would
someone with zero familiarity with what your business does be able to figure it
out from your business name? Of course, there are plenty of companies out there
whose names have nothing to do with their company. (Ever heard of Moo, the fabulous
online company? Hint: they do not sell cows.) But there are plenty of other companies
whose business names do reflect their business: Aquafina probably involves water;
Coca-Cola and Tires Plus similarly reflect their product. Certainly the choice is
yours, and there are countless examples for both sides of the argument—keep in mind
that while you’d be hard-pressed to find someone today who doesn’t know what Hewlett-Packard
does, that wasn’t the case in 1939 when Misters H. and P. were tinkering with oscillators
in their garage.
Another thing to be wary of is your customers’ ability to say your business
name. If they can’t pronounce your business name, they won’t, and you’ll lose valuable
(and, essentially, free) word-of-mouth marketing. And the same goes for spelling—if
you go the uniqueness route, make sure you’re not making it impossible for someone
to sound it out and search for you online.
Think about how the name looks.
The visual aspect of your business name in print will probably play a significant
role when it comes to marketing. Will your company logo incorporate your business
name, or maybe its initials? Spend some time writing your business name down, both
horizontally and vertically, and typing it in different fonts. Pay attention to
the look of any potential abbreviations or visual variations. How will your name
look on a sign?
Think about the future.
You want your business to grow, right? Don’t limit your future options by naming
your business into a corner.
Geographic / Location names
If your business name is Midwest Trucking, are you inadvertently telling yourself
not to grow and expand? Sure, you can always file a DBA and do business as a name
more appropriate for your new location—just make sure you’re not creating any arbitrary
barriers for yourself that will limit your forward-thinking.
Along the same lines, don’t arbitrarily narrow the scope of your business by being
too specific with your business name. What if you set up a business to install
hardwood floors, only to later discover that the market is trending toward stone
tile? If your name is “Joe’s Quality Flooring,” adding tiling to your services is
a natural progression. If you were thinking too small and you registered your business
as “Joe’s Hardwood Floors,” it might more sense now to file a DBA or change the
name of your business entirely. In either of these cases, you’ll face the added
challenge of retaining any name recognition you may have built around the old name.