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How to Name your Business


How to name your business

One of the first, and most vital, steps every new business takes is the selection of a name.

Choosing the name of your business wisely will have much to do with its subsequent success. That’s because people will make critical decisions simply based on your business name.

It is true that people make snap decisions about other people based on simple 7-second first impressions. After those first few moments, it gets pretty hard to change someone’s mind about that person later.

In the same way, people make snap decisions about your business based on first impressions. The first thing many people see is your name. With a good name, you will warrant further scrutiny. But if you chose a name poorly, the consequences can be disastrous.

An early note of caution is needed here. In cases where the business is already established, be careful about changing the name. You may lose the equity which has already been built and established. However, if you need to come up with a new company name, here are some guidelines to help you.

Reflect your target niche.

First, your business name should clearly reach your target audience. Is your offer or claim understandable? Two good name selections are the 7-11 and Hot ‘N Now stores. Your name should also fit your logo and slogan. In addition, clarity about your desired geographical service area helps people understand your business. All-City Shoe Repair tells me that they will fix shoes anywhere in my community. That’s pretty clear!

However, don’t use any geographical descriptions if that could ever become a limiting factor. For example, would a company called East side Bookkeeping ever do work for someone located downtown? In addition, geographical names tend to get overused. To see what I mean, go to the white pages of your phone book and see how many business names start with the name of your city or state.

Clarify what your business does.

Your business name should let the customer know what you do. Although Aaacme Services, Inc. may be listed first in your section of the Yellow Pages, a business card given to a new acquaintance doesn’t tell the receiver what your business does. If a person can’t remember why they have your card, they will quickly discard it. Two good names are Jiffy Lube and Fast Signs. And if you can attract your customers properly in the first place, they’ll probably never even notice that they passed three of your competitors on their way to see you.

Keep the name simple.

Keep your business name short and easy to say, spell and remember. Avoid tongue twisters like Watson, Smith, Howiczak, Elton and Elton. Imagine the poor secretary who has to write down a message from that company!

Also avoid acronyms or names using initials unless they will mean something to your typical customer. If IBM had been started using that name instead of International Business Machines, it is doubtful that they would have been as successful. Letters mean little or nothing to your customer, and as a result, are quickly forgotten. IBM didn’t begin using that name until the marketplace had already bestowed the shortened name upon them.

Keep the name flexible.

Don’t let your name restrict you to a field that you may grow out of. Make the name expandable. As an example, Canned Software Company may sound good at first, but what happens if you decide to get into the computer hardware business? Or what if Mr. Smith ever leaves or sells Smith Watch Company. If it fails, what does that do to his reputation?

Avoid trendy names.

It seems that every few years, some new naming trend makes the rounds. How many times have you seen some type of name using Something-a-Rama or Something ‘R Us? After these fads run their course, you will be left with a stale and outdated name, and that’s probably what most people will think of your company too!

Avoid amateurish or silly names.

Names like Bambi’s Secretarial Service typically will not generate the confidence of your potential customers. If I were looking for a professional service, I’d be much more inclined to call ASAP Secretarial Services. For the same reasons, avoid silly names. They will wear thin very quickly. Curl Up and Dye may sound cute now, but after six months, you and your customers will become very weary of the joke.

Is it unique and can it be protected?

You want your name to stand out in front of your customers and prospects. Avoid names that are close, or even similar to your key competitors. If all your competitors use variations of XYZ Janitorial Supply, position yourself differently with a distinctive name like EnviroSafe Products. Finally, take steps to be sure that your name is protected and preserved in your marketplace. Similarly, be sure that you are not encroaching on anyone else’s trademark or identity.

  • Easy to pronounce, understand, and spell. 
  • Restaurant names should engender trust, not create uncertainty or confusion. This is true now more than ever. Today’s consumers remain somewhat risk averse, even if the economy is improving. They’re not going to spend their hard-earned money at places they don’t understand.

Owners need to carefully select the right name for their businesses. Here are some other criteria that make for a strong brand name.

  • It should reinforce the brand positioning. A name doesn’t have to spell out the positioning—Authentic Lebanese Food would be a boring name. But it should evoke or suggest some understanding of what the concept is and communicate the brand personality. The name of another new establishment here in town, El Take It Easy, clearly tells me it’s a Mexican eatery with a laid-back environment.
  • It should be appropriate for the target audience. Restaurateurs should be clear about the type of person the restaurant is for and select a name accordingly. Provocative names may be a real draw for young singles, but a turn-off for families, for example. Fun names may attract a social crowd, but discourage a more discriminating diner.
  • It should differentiate you from competitors. Our town is filled with myriad taco shops all with the ending “-berto” in their names: Roberto’s, Alberto’s, Gilberto’s, Aliberto’s, and so on. This makes it hard to distinguish among all the choices. A copycat name may make entering a market easier, but creating brand preference will be more difficult in the long run. “Perhaps names don’t matter when you’re in love, but they matter a lot in the restaurant business.”
  • It should be able to adapt over time. A name should grow with the business as it expands into new formats, target audiences, and scopes. Popeyes invested a lot of time and money over the last few years to replace its Chicken and Biscuits descriptor with a less limiting, more culinary moniker Louisiana Kitchen. Few chains have the resources to do the same. And such an expense can be avoided with a thoughtful name selection upfront.
  • It should be a name employees and stakeholders take pride in being associated with. If your employees won’t proudly wear a uniform emblazoned with the restaurant name, your customers probably won’t like the name, either.

There are also some practical considerations to keep in mind when selecting a name. For instance, it should be the right length for the most common uses.

  • Printing – Pick a name that works well on the business cards, websites, packaging, signage, and promotional materials you plan to use, not to mention one that’s available for trademark registration and URL.
  • No Drama – The name should be free of inappropriate associations or connotations.  Case in point: You might want to promote a distinctive feature of your establishment, but it’s best to think about how a name like The Golden Stool might be construed.

The naming experts at Landor, an international branding firm, explain the importance of getting a name right. They say that a name “acts as the primary handle for a brand; it’s a recall and recognition device, it communicates desired attributes or specific benefits, and, through time and consistent use, it becomes a valuable asset and intellectual property.”

So deciding on a restaurant name shouldn’t be made hastily, or as a matter of individual preference. I recommend using constructive and creative brainstorming techniques to produce a robust list of possible names that you can then evaluate against the above criteria with the wise counsel of your internal stakeholders and target audience members.

Selecting the right name is one of the most important decisions you can make. Perhaps a different Shakespeare adage should be followed when choosing a name: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

COMMENTARY:   The above advice and tips for naming a restaurant can apply to all industries. Apple Computer became the name for a highly successful personal computer company.  The brand drew computer geeks.  On the other hand, computer companies like International Business Machines (IBM), National Cash Register (NCR) and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) attracted businesses, and were appropriately named.

Apple is a great example of company that is easy to pronounce, spell and understand.  Even its products have been reduced to one word:  iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.  It also helps to have quality products that are head and shoulder’s ahead of everybody else.  Apple has done this and in the process now dominates the mobile consumer electronics and entertainment device markets.

The high fashion industry is full of examples where the fashion designer’ name becomes the brand–Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Channel, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Gianni Versace, Valentino and Vera Wang, just to name a few.  The name is everything in the fashion industry.

Some of the best technology brands meet the easy to pronounce, spell and understand: Facebook, Groupon, Google, Apple, eBay, Amazon.com, Monster.com, Microsoft, Oracle, Sony, Hewlett-Packard (HP), General Electric (GE) and BlackBerry, just to name a few.  All of them are well known internationally and lead in their respective industry spaces.

To consumer packaged goods, restaurant, entertainment and retail brands that reflect the above qualities include:  Proctor & Gamble, Best Buy, Walmart, Nordstrom’s, Kellogg’s, Sears, NestleUnilever, Disney, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Nickelodeon, Starbucks, KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King, just to name a few.

The great brands of the world all reflect one common attribute:  they are lovemarks.  These are the first brands that consumer’s think about.  Their names are ingrained into the subconscience of the consumer.  Some great examples include: Coke (soft drinks),  Apple (consumer electronics), Walmarts (low priced retail chain), Neiman Marcus (luxury retailer), Sears (department store), Tiffany’s (jewelry), Rolex (luxury watches), Louis Vuitton (hand bags and accessories), Nike (active footwear), United Airlines (passenger airline), Barnes & Noble (book retailer) and Facebook (social network), just to name a few.

It is very important that your brand name can last the test of time.  It must be ageless.  Some of the oldest and most successful brands have been around for 100 years or more:  Sears, Samsonite, Quaker Oats, Colgate, Listerine, Levi’s, Heinz, Hershey, Heineken, Del Monte, Chateau Latour, and Chateau Lafitte, just to name a few. These brands are still around and popular as ever.

Companies spend many thousands of dollars developing a brand name.  Here is an excellent listing of brand naming firms.

However, most businesses don’t have that kind of money, but there are a number of tools that might help:

  • netsubstance – online intelligent brand name generator.
  • Online Name Generator – The Online Name Generator make cool online names with a single click. Find your favorite name generator and get a cool name for your self, your friends and your projects.  Names are generated at random.
  • koK’n-fizZ – A professional strategic software for brand name creation.
  • ParaMind – Brainstorming Software for Name Generation, Name Branding, and Brand Success.
  • WordMaker – A brand name generating software which allows you to quickly, efficiently and inexpensively find the best names for your products, services and domains.
  • NamePro – Software for quickly generate unique and exciting company names, brand names or product names! Designed by leading naming consultants to Fortune 500 companies.


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