How (Not) to Name Your Business
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Disclaimer: This article is anectdotal and reflects my opinions
When I was 11, I took a cartoon class at the local art association in Springfield (Yes, it really is where the Simpsons is based despite Matt Groening naming the real one here) As part of the class, we were tasked with creating six frames of our main characters interacting. Not surprisingly, given my age and precociousness, my main character was named Alexandra and she was opening her own clothing store named Shazam.
Let's unpack why that name and many other names are problematic.
Varying Pronunciations = Frustration & Confusion
Shazam could be pronounced three different ways: Shay Zam or Shah Zam or even She Zam.
It's kind of like the A&W commercial from the early 90's.
When your business name has different pronunciations you can rest assured that potential customers will try any or all of them. One way this can hurt you is voice assisted speech tools like Alexa and Siri and Google Voice. If these programs can't match someone's pronunciation to a business, customers will have difficulty finding you.
Your Name Doesn't Describe Your Business
Shazam is an app that provides the name and album of a particular song after only a few seconds of audio. Perhaps its' name is inspired by the feeling you get when you make a correct guess without the app. "That's Cher on her Heart of Stone album singing If I could turn back time." Shazam! Other synonyms include "Boo Yeah and "That's what I'm talking about."
One word business names are pretentious enough. What about Apple, Amazon or Microsoft you argue. Don't get ahead of yourself. Yes, their names don't lend themselves to understanding what it is they do, but you can't skip all the steps and try to come up with something abstract for your own business.
You've Selected One of Those Trendy Names Joined by an Ampersand
Do you live in a Lumineers video? Didn't think so. I am sure it is worse in trendier places like Portland or Austin but take for example two Denver area restaurants that have fallen for this naming nonsense. Colt & Gray and Beast & Bottle. I have no doubt their trendy interiors would make me woefully out of touch and out of place as a Gen X-er but I digress.It doesn't stop with restaurants. Even my local coffeeshop is Mint & Serif and my hair salon - Fern & Ivy.
One main exception to this rule? It is perfectly fine if your name aptly describes what you offer. Hops & Pie is a delicious beer and pizza place in the Highlands and you can remember it even when Denver is awash with trendy names.
Our Mountain Scenery Spilleth Over
If you enter the words "Summit" into the name availability database on the Colorado Secretary of State's website, you will get 310 results and I can guarantee most of them are related to finance. As for "Apex" the results list is too long to display. "Apex Solutions" yields 129 results. Also stay away from 5280 and Mile High and Cow Town. No one thinks your mountain logo is unique. But if you disagree, there is a website with ready made mountain logos.
Go For The Laughs with Your Business Name
One of my favorites is "Hello Sharpness" which is a local blade sharpening business. Their van is red and is emblazoned with "Hello Sharpness My Old Friend" I loved it so much I took a picture of it and will never forget to call them for my knife sharpening needs. The only caution is that most people under 40 will not get the reference but do you want clients who are not Simon & Garfunkel fans?
Sheets and Giggles is also local and they're renowned for their super luxurious bamboo sheets. You can have so much fun with a name like that because sleep does not have to be so darn serious.
Other Loose Rules:
Cutesy is Fine if You are a Doggie Daycare or a Coffeeshop
Waggin Tails, Rover Retreat, The Sugar Cube (it's a drive thru in Arvada, CO)
If you are a writer or coach, you should use your first and last name. It's your writing and your reputation so saddle up put it out there. If your name is common like Melissa Smith then use your middle initial or your alphabet degree or certification after your name.
Don't use a name generator you found online. You can poll your friends and family that know you best to help you narrow down multiple ideas. One step removed from that is asking other business owners what they think. The drawback to that is that they don't really know your personality and they don't have anything invested in your success.
If you are in a very traditional field such as law, accounting, banking, play it safe. Lately, many online banks have gotten into the habit of using names better suited to a erectile dysfunction pill: Azlo, SoFi, Ally.
If you enjoy an irreverent take on bad business names, Huffpost has even more.
What are some examples you have seen? Or naming quirks you have? Drop them in the comments.