For many budding entrepreneurs, coming up with a business name is often the first thing they tackle, as it's exciting and sounds relatively simple. But, naming your business involves a lot more than just picking a name you like. The business name should reflect your brand's vision, help build an identity and keep you out of legal trouble.
Your business name will remain for a long time, so it’s important to invest time in doing the process right.
How to Choose a Business Name
You have a business idea, but is selecting a name causing you stress and anxiety? Don't worry. Below, we've rounded up our top tips for naming your startup business that'll lead you to a name that is unique, legally appropriate and suited for your business.
1. Brainstorm Business Names
According to the Small Business Association (SBA), there are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S.; having the right business can set you apart from the competition. But you're wondering, "I am not the most creative person, so how do I come up with a catchy business name?" We understand, and the following brainstorming ideas will surely get your creative juices flowing.
Grab a piece of paper and list out all words/phrases you associate with your business within a time limit (we recommend 1-2 minutes). Use different categories — words, feelings, verbs, people and aesthetics — without worrying about correlation or continuity. This strategy will help generate a ton of foundational ideas that you can further hash out using one of the other strategies.
Hooked on a word but feel it's too common or doesn’t sound right? Try searching for a translation in a foreign language (Latin, Spanish, Japanese, French). This could be tricky because not everyone is familiar with the foreign language, but here are a few tips on doing this right:
Run the name translation through someone who is fluent in the language to make sure the name doesn’t have any alternate meanings.
Ensure the name is easily recognizable and easy to pronounce.
Do a test run with those who aren't fluent in the language to ensure the idea doesn't sound like gibberish.
Use a Thesaurus
Using a thesaurus will help you uncover a jackpot of synonyms and related words. However, we do caution against starting with a simple word, running multiple searches and landing on one with a drastically different definition.
Create a Mood Board
If you're a visual person, then a mood board might be your tool. Get magazines and newspapers and start cutting out images, quotes and pictures that resonate with your business. You can also create a virtual mood board via Pinterest.
2. Narrow Down Your Choices
Like all the names you’ve brainstormed? Here’s how to narrow down your list to a winning name that is strong, distinguishable and accurately summarizes what your business stands for.
Keep it simple: The name should be easy to spell, remember and pronounce. This is becoming increasingly important with the use of voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa.
Avoid Puns: Everyone doesn't have the same sense of humor — something you think is funny or cute can easily backfire. So, it's best you avoid using any puns.
Determine if the name fits the business: While many companies have whimsical names (e.g., Apple), as a small business owner, it might be in your best interest to have a name that describes your product or tells the customer what you are about.
Cross-check with domain name availability: Before setting your heart on a name, we recommend checking if a domain name is available on GoDaddy or HostGator. If it is, get it. Why? Because in this digital age, having a domain name that is an exact match to your business name is a game-changer for SEO.
3. Follow Federal and State Naming Rules for Business Structure
Now that you have completed the creative part of brainstorming and selecting a name let’s tackle some practical “to-dos.” Did you know there are federal and state naming laws you need to follow?
Yes, once you’ve narrowed down a business name, you need to make sure it meets your state’s legal requirements. How you intend to structure your business will also impact which naming guidelines you need to follow. LLCs and corporations have stricter naming requirements and restrictions than those of a sole proprietorship. For instance, most states require LLCs and corporations to have some sort of identifier, like “LLC” or “Corp,” as a part of the name.
4. Determine If Your Business Name Is Legally Available
You have made sure your business name meets your state's requirements, but you aren’t quite done yet. You must find out if your business name idea is legally available at the federal, state and county levels.
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to find this information. To check your business name at a federal level, go to the U.S. Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) and enter your desired name. Remember to search for alternate spelling and abbreviations — it'll help you avoid trademark infringement lawsuits, which can cost between $375,000 to $2 million.
Next, perform a business name search on your state’s Secretary of State’s website. Don’t forget this step because if you try to file for a name that is already taken, your filing will be denied.
Just because a name is available with the state doesn’t necessarily mean it's available locally. Many LLCs, corporations and sole proprietorships choose to operate under a DBA or “doing business as,” which can be hyper-localized. For this reason, the final check we recommend performing is contacting your county’s clerk and going through DBA registrations.
Investing your time in conducting a proper name search will save you a lot of hassle, time and money in the long run.
5. Register Your Business Name
The last step is registering your business name and there are two ways to go about this.
The second option, suitable for those thinking of starting a sole proprietorship under a name that isn't their legal name, is to file for a DBA online. Some states list a DBA as an application for a fictitious or trade name.
All of the above options are pretty straightforward if you’ve followed all naming guidelines and performed the relevant searches.
Start Naming Your Business
As a new business owner, before forming an entity or investing in marketing, it's vital to ask yourself, "Is my new business name distinctive and appropriate? Is it taken?" Following the correct process of naming your business will pay off in the long run.
Ready to start naming your business? Incfile can help you brainstorm and secure a creative name that is legally sound and a perfect match for your business.
Swara Ahluwalia is a freelance content writer with experience in the technical, B2B and SaaS domain. She also has curated content for various lifestyle brands. In her downtime, you will most likely find Swara training for her next marathon or spending time with her two daughters.