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Choosing A Business Name

By Elizabeth W. Gordon

Most people don't realize it, but one of your first and most important business decisions can be picking your business name. A great name is one that attracts customers and can really give your business legs in terms of starting a buzz. Do you think Google would have created the fanatical sensation it has with a name like Search Engine USA? If you are not the creative type, then bring in others to help you to name your baby. Work with a team of advisors, family or even just some business savvy friends, but don't delegate this task completely to someone else, and especially not to a stranger or some internet naming company. A naming company is not going to understand your business or know you. If it is your business it should be a name that you like and that links back to your unique value proposition and the personality of your company. People will ask you, where did you come up with your name. This can be a golden opportunity for you to say something really brilliant and memorable, come up with a name that allows you to take this opportunity. If you are conservative, don't be persuaded into something wild, that makes you uncomfortable and if you are zany, then don't go conservative just because everyone else in your industry does. Picking a name should happen over a period of time, not in a day or an hour. Forcing creativity seldom works, so give yourself and your team time to percolate on it. Hold a series of brainstorming sessions until you are comfortable and excited about saying, seeing, hearing and owning a particular business name. During these brain storming sessions you should work through these eight rules for choosing a business name:

1) Be distinctive and be memorable, but be easy to spell and pronounce.
Your potential clients should be able to easily remember your business name. However, they also need to be able to find it easily if they're looking for it in a phone book, directory or online. So choosing a business name such as "Phorgetmeekknot" is not a good idea. While we usually encourage the unique, we also suggest that you be unique without the difficult spellings. Your business name should also be easily pronounced, which is why, for instance, we discourage our clients with predominately American clientele from using French words or names.

The test: If someone were to say your business name over the radio, would people be able to remember it, spell it correctly and easily translate it into a properly spelled dotcom address for surfing at another time during the day? A good name is something that can be mentioned on the radio or over the phone, without a lot of explanation. A great name does this and is memorable.

2) An attractive business name needs a visual element.
What popped into your head when you read "Phorgetmeekknot?" Most people wouldn't visualize anything when they read this name. Generally we are hard-wired to "See" images when we read or hear language. Incorporating a visual element into your business name can be a powerful aid to customers' memory and a powerful advertising tool. So you want your business name to have a strong visual element to it.

3) An attractive business name should have a positive connotation.
Many words suggest both literal meanings and emotional meanings. A word's literal meaning can be positive, neutral or negative depending on the emotional associations that people generally make. The classic example is the difference between "Mom," which has a very positive literal meaning and "Mother," which has a neutral connotation. It would not be advisable to name your company Mother's Toffee when Mom's Toffee has a more positive underlying suggestion.

When you create your business name, you need to choose words that suggest positive meanings that people will associate with your business while making sure that these meanings are suitable for your business. So, don't name your business Dad's Cookies if you're going to be selling Tofu.

4) An attractive business name should allude to what your business does.
You need to be sure that your new business name gives your potential clients some clues about what you actually do. That's why almost all banks have the word "Bank" in their name, and bars include words such as "Pub," "Saloon" or even "Bar" in their names.

Including information about what your business does in your business name also makes it easier for potential clients to find your business in phone books and directories on and offline. Including a descriptive component in your name can help customers understand the nature of your business. However, you should avoid including descriptive elements that could quickly become out of date or inaccurate. We encourage our technology clients to not use technical abbreviations or words in their business names as those terms can quickly become archaic.

5) An attractive business name should be short, but not too short.
This is vital because you want your clients to be able to remember your business's name so they can tell other people what it is. It's also important for promotional purposes. You want a business name that will fit on a business card and stationary, look good displayed on a sign or in an ad and work well as a domain name for search engines if you choose to use search engine optimization. So, keep it as short as you can. That being said, avoid abbreviations or initials as a startup. Your name is part of your branding so it needs to convey meaning. Standalone letters do not convey meaning. This is a case where it is not wise to emulate the big boys. Names like IBM and DHL while now household names, are not good names for a startup, because they carry no meaning. You can shorten to initials after you have developed your image, but it will be easier to develop your brand image if you start with a name that have meaning built into it.

6) An attractive name should distinguish you from your competitors.
If your top competitor is Jewelry Works, you should not choose the business name, Jewelry Worx or Working Jewelry. You need to choose a name that will distinguish you from your competitors. There is a lot to be said for being the black sheep in business and targeting a market based on your unique value. Better to be bold and stand out then be timid and blend in.

7) An attractive business name in today's world has a dotcom option.
As the Internet reaches a critical mass, owning a good dotcom domain name has a tremendous value. If you believe the Internet will play an important role in the future of your business, you'll want to factor the availability of dotcom names into your name choice. It's easy to find out what domain names are available, and which ones are taken. Use free online resources that determine the availability of a particular name. While .net, and .us are other options for the most part they are not seen as having the same status as a dotcom, so keep that in mind depending on your target market and their status sensitivity.
8) A lasting business name should not violate IP rights.

You must be sure to choose a name that does not violate the intellectual property rights of another business or organization with the name you choose, which could put your ability to use the name in jeopardy. You can use the internet to research if there are other businesses with your name or search businesses by name with the State government division in charge of registered businesses. This is a state affair so the body governing business registration will not let your register an already existing name. When searching a database, try different spacing and word combinations to find all possible matches. For example, try Prairie Dog, PrairieDog, PrairieDog.Com and Prairie Dog Café.

If you want to trademark your business name you should search the US Patent and Trademark Office website before you choose your name. You can also hire an attorney to do this work for you.

One last tip: think about colors and images when you're choosing a business name. Colors and images will be an important component of your business logo and other business promotion materials and your business web site. Colors and images have strong emotional associations that you and your team of advisors should take the time to consider. You can read up on this on the internet or at your local bookstore.

About the Author: Elizabeth W. Gordon, founder and President of The Flourishing Business, LLC, is a visionary leader who has a passion for helping others achieve their entrepreneurial dreams and enjoy more of the best in life. With a vast and diverse background in many business arenas, Elizabeth regularly has the opportunity to share her business acumen with clients, large and small. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Wo

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