Choosing a name for your startup

Startups by definition start from scratch, with little more than an idea and some people. One of the most important assets that they need to build is their brand.  But it’s no easy feat to establish a compelling new brand from a standing start.

There is a wide range of issues to consider in establishing your startup’s brand – so today let’s focus on creating a name for your business.

In choosing a name, it’s worth considering at least the following issues:

  • Impact
  • Function
  • Meaning
  • Availability
  • Relationship

Impact

The power of a brand lies in its ability to connect with customers, suppliers, employees and people in general. The strongest connections have an emotional resonance to them – we feel both strongly and positively about them.

The words, sounds and letters in your name often evoke an emotional response from others. Be it good, bad or indifferent, you need to be aware of the likely effect on your audience. Test it out with a few of them!

Function

Everyone wants their business name to perform some function. At the very least, it is the label by which people refer to it. Ideally, it should also be memorable and easy to say. You may also want your name to describe what the business does.

My own startup Trigora recently introduced a new brand name for its website, namely SoftwareShortlist. We decided that a simple, descriptive name that people could easily say and remember was more important than the abstract meaning of the company name (i.e. Tri + agora = meeting place for three groups: customers, vendors and service providers).

Meaning

Brands are inherently about meaning. While you can invest a neutral name with meaning over time through your marketing and service efforts, by choosing your name carefully you can build on the associations or roots of particular words. People like stories, and being able to explain the meaning of your name can make it a lot more memorable.

For example, “Nike” builds on Greek mythology via the goddess of victory, “Google” is a mispelled version of googol (i.e. the number 1 followed by 100 zeros), while “Zoho” is a play on SOHO, i.e. the ‘small office home office’ market.

Availability

There are few things more frustrating than coming up with a killer name, and discovering that it’s already taken. As you brainstorm ideas, it’s a good idea to check whether they are already in use as a:

  • Domain name  (any decent domain name registry will tell you this)
  • Trademark (search the IPAustralia database, or your country equivalent)
  • Registered business name (search the Australian Business Registry, or equivalent)
  • Well known product (via a web search)

It’s not a show-stopper if someone else is using the name for something unrelated, but if they are in the same or similar line of business then you may have an issue.

Thanks to cyber-squatting, choosing a domain name is a very frustrating business, particularly with .com names. Be creative and you may find some still available. Alternatively, you could opt for a different domain (e.g. .com.au), or come up with a memorable variation of your business name to serve as your domain – they don’t necessarily need to be the same. For example, ICT Distribution has the domain http://www.ict123.com.au, which plays on their proposition of making things easier.

Relationship

If you have multiple businesses or brands then you will need to consider how they relate to each other. This is a big enough topic for a post of its own, but suffice to say you can indicate they are linked, keep them totally unrelated, or any of a host of in-between options. To decide, think about whether there are positive reasons for wanting to demonstrate the linkage, such as cross-sell opportunities, endorsement from an established brand, etc

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What have been your own experiences with choosing a name? How long did the process take, and why did you end up choosing the final name?

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One thought on “Choosing a name for your startup

  1. Thanks for sharing this article. A lot of companies are going with simple, short names. That said it’s increasingly difficult to get the domain names, so sometimes you need a little creativity (ala google). Here’s an article that provides inspiration as readers create a new brand name.

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