How to Name Your Business

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penContinuing with our series on starting a business, choosing a name can be one of the most important, exciting and stressful decisions you make during the start-up phase of business ownership. You want your company’s name to be unique and memorable, but you also want people to “get it.”

You have to make sure the name is not already being used by another company…and then there comes the whole domain name issue. You need a good domain name to accompany your business web site, and that can take some creativity these days.

So where to start? I boiled down the business naming process to five general steps, but of course, this can vary. Also note that the process is based on starting a business in the U.S.

Step 1: Put It in Black and White

Your first step should be to get the most important details, guidelines and goals down on paper so you can refer to them during the process. Some questions you should consider include:

  • What message do you want to portray?
  • What do you want people to think when they see your company name?
  • Do you want a name with an available domain name?
  • Does it need to be an existing word or can it be created?
  • Does the length of the name matter? If so, do you want a short name or a longer name?

Now that you have clarity on what you want your business name to accomplish, it’s time to get to work.

Step 2: Consider Your Business Structure

Your business name may be impacted by the type of business you form and where you live. For example, some states require that sole proprietors use their own name as their business name unless they file a trade name under a “doing business as” (DBA) filing. And if you incorporate, your business name has to include the words “corporation,” “incorporated,” “limited” or “company,” the letters “Inc.”, or “Corp.” or some other phrase that indicates that the entity is a corporation.

If you’re not yet sure what structure your business will take or how to decide on one over another, stay tuned…we’ll be covering this later in this series.

Step 3: Brainstorm

This step can be a lot of fun if you focus on your creativity and let the ideas flow naturally. Break down your brainstorm into these different focus areas and see what you come up with in each:

  • Variations with spelling
  • Words related to what you do and/or how you do it
  • Synonyms
  • Made up words
  • Words from quotes or other inspirations

This step should result in several possibilities, all options you like, but keep in mind that all may not work, depending on availability. For help with the brainstorming process, review this brainstorming series I wrote last year.

Step 4: Check for Availability

Once you have a few possibilities, it’s time to determine if the name is available to use. To see if a name is federally trademarked, use USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). If your business is a sole proprietorship and you plan to use a trade name, check your state and/or county to make sure it’s not already in use.

If your business name is not available as a domain, you may need to use an abbreviation, hyphens, or an alternate top level domain (such as .net). Or, you may want to move down your list of possibilities to the next name if there is a better domain name available.

Step 5: Register It

A sole proprietor in the U.S. is required to register their DBA with either their state or county clerk (see above for a link to a state site listing). Corporations, LLCs, or limited partnerships typically register their business name when the formation paperwork is filed.

It’s not required, but you may also want to register your business name for a trademark, either at the state level or for federal registration if your business will operate in more than one state.

This post covered some of the basic actions required when you start to think about naming your business. My next post will get down to the nitty gritty and provide some tangible tips to help you find a successful business name.


Image credit: VinnyPrime

Alyssa GregoryAlyssa Gregory
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Alyssa Gregory is a digital and content marketer, small business consultant, and the founder of the Small Business Bonfire — a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.

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