By Alyssa Gregory

How to Name Your Business

By Alyssa Gregory

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

  • … and don’t forget to check what is sitting on the domain name you wanted, if you are considering a near-match. I originally bought my domain name for a friend, so I wasn’t thinking too deeply at the time, but have since started using it myself. The nearest match is a porn site, and sometimes I wonder how many people have ended up there looking for me and been too afraid to mention it …. !

  • W2ttsy

    concatenation is also a good way to create a name. consider myspace or facebook… neither of them are really words in their own right, but they are made up by joining to words together. Truncation is another way to go, such as Microsoft.

  • Better advice would be to look very carefully at the best domain name you can afford, even if that means an initial outlay of a few thousand dollars or so. After all, it’s a one-time expense that will help put the business on a very solid foundation.

    The right name will continue to pay dividends forever, in the form of easier SEO, cheaper PPC advertising, greater memorability (especially important if you plan to do any offline advertising), simpler word of mouth, and greater credibility (faced with 2 business listings, one at ACMEInc.com and the other at Keyword.com, which one do you think inspires trustworthiness?)

    If your business provides “X” service or sells “Y” product, you’re going to be a step ahead of the competition if you can set up your website on X.com or Y.com.

    Naturally, it’s possible to find plenty of counter-arguments to the above, but only starting from the flawed perspective of looking at the “winners” and working backwards (e.g. Facebook, Google, Digg etc.) Sure, they didn’t need a memorable generic domain name – but we only know that because they survived where thousands of other businesses failed. It’s like asking millionaires to write books about making millions – by definition, the way they did it worked FOR THEM as they’re millionaires… but it certainly doesn’t automatically mean that their way was easy to replicate, efficient or indeed advisable if you’re starting from scratch.
    Combine a strong name with a good website, and you’re well on the way to a 1+1>2 situation in that people will be able to find the site easily, it will seem more “reliable” or trustworthy than competitors (you own the niche they’re just sharing with you) and you’ll need to spend less on advertising and promotion than anyone else, all other things being equal.
    If you’re competing globally, you’ll want to go with a .com name if at all possible. If you plan to do business regionally or nationally but are not particularly concerned with traffic from outside the country you live in, you may be better served by getting the ccTLD of the country you’re based in (e.g. .co.uk for the UK, or .de for Germany) Not only is it likely to be a cheaper option than the equivalent .com, but you should also get a nice boost from the relevant regional version of Google or Bing as they favour the country code extension as a relevancy factor when ranking the sites shown to visitors from a particular country.

  • JimMacLeod

    Something else to take into consideration is a name that is available on additional sites that you’ll use. I grabbed a good .com domain name a few years ago, and just recently I wanted to use it. Unfortunately, other people have already taken Facebook.com/CompanyName and Twitter.com/CompanyName. So I’ll continue to sit on the good domain name and try something else.

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