The Beginner’s Guide to Business Names

A business name doesn’t just differentiate you from the competition.

It also sets the tone for your business and is central to creating a successful brand.  

So, what do you do if you can’t come with a good business name? What if it’s already taken? How do you know it’s a good name for your business?

This post covers everything you need to know when choosing a business name.

What Is a Business Name?

As the phrase implies, a business name is a title or name that a person or entity uses to conduct business. Essentially, this is your businesses’ legal name.  In the case of a sole proprietorship, your business name will be your full legal name.

It is possible to include additional words when naming a sole proprietorship. But, you will still need to use your legal name. For example, if you run a small software consultancy business, you may simply name it Jane Doe or Jane Doe Software. You’ll likely have to register a Doing Business As (DBA) if you’d prefer to operate your sole proprietorship under a different name. 

General partnerships follow the same course. Typically, the business name will be a combination of all the partners’ last names. For example, your partnership may be named Doe, Smith & Brown. Again, the business may have to file a DBA  to use a different name. 

Finally, limited liability companies (LLC) and corporations do not need to include the owner’s legal name. You are free to choose the name you want, provided it is not already registered or trademarked. However, some jurisdictions mandate that you must use LLC or Corporation in the business name. For example, your business name may be Insignia Digital LLC or Insignia Digital Corporation.

It is also worth noting the difference between a business name and a company name. These words are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Business name is an umbrella term referring to any type of business structure. This includes sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations. A company name, on the other hand, describes businesses that have been incorporated. The latter includes LLCs, non-profit corporations, C corps, and S corps.

The Basics of Choosing a Good Business Name

There are virtually endless possibilities for choosing a business name, and picking a good business name is hardly a science. However, there are a few common elements that go into choosing a great business name. A business name should be:

Short

Most experts agree that a business name should be short. Ideally, it should be one or two words. However, you can go for three words as long as one of the words is a transition word. A perfect example is Toys R Us.

There are also good reasons for choosing a short business name. The name will be easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to pronounce. The perfect business name should also be two to four syllables. This strategy also makes the name easy to pronounce.

Finally, limit the number of characters in the name. More characters make it harder for your audience to remember your business name.

Memorable

There are several practical reasons to choose a memorable business name. First, most new businesses rely on word-of-mouth. You might miss out on great opportunities if your clients can’t remember your business name. Additionally, you’ll want to use a memorable business name in your marketing materials. This will help reap maximum benefits from your advertising campaigns.

You may want to stick with existing words. However, this route will be challenging since most names are already likely taken by your competitors. Still, existing names have established meanings, making them easier to remember.

Made-up names are great for distinguishing your business from the competition. Exxon is a great example. But made-up words take a lot of time and marketing effort to stick with your audience.

Descriptive and Brandable

Business names fall into two distinct categories. These are descriptive and brandable business names.

A descriptive business name gives your audience a good idea of what your business does. Examples of descriptive names include Toys R Us and Baby Shop. Descriptive names paint a clear picture of your products or services, making it easier for potential customers to choose your business.

But descriptive names have their limitations. They can make it more difficult for you to venture into other products or services. These names are also highly competitive, especially when attempting to register a domain.

Brandable names tend to be more obscure. Some may offer a hint of what you do, but it is not always entirely clear. Examples of brandable names include Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, and Google. Without proper context, it can be difficult for customers to know what you have to offer. On the plus side, brandable names offer flexibility in terms of your products or service offerings. 

A hybrid approach combines both ideas and offers the best of both worlds. A business name like Tesla Motors is an example of a hybrid. The first name, Tesla, is synonymous with electricity and is highly brandable. The second name, Motor, is self-explanatory.

Easy to Spell

Potential clients will search your business name in directories or search engines. This can be difficult if your business name is difficult to spell. For this reason, you may want to avoid complex names, abbreviations, alternate spellings, and numbers in your business name.

3 Tools to Improve Your Business Name Selection

There are a few valuable tools that you can use to help you choose a great business name.

1. Thesaurus

Coming up with a unique business name can be daunting. Your ideal names are probably already taken. So, start with a word dump. This means writing a list of all the words that describe your business. Take 20 minutes to an hour to create your list. It doesn’t matter if the name is already taken. 

Next, use a thesaurus to find synonyms for each word on your list. This exercise will give you tons of options to choose from and inspiration. You may even discover some gems that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought up.

2. Business Name Generator

Business name generators are a dime a dozen, and most of them are free. Business name generators are also very easy to use. You only need to type in one or more keywords relating to your business. Then the generator gives you a list of potential business names for your consideration.

Business name generators vary in features and complexity. But I highly recommend Shopify’s business name generator. You’ll get 120+ potential business names less than 10 seconds after typing your keyword. The best part is that Shopify’s generator shows if the domain for your desired business name is available.

This tool is completely free to use, and you don’t need to sign up for a Shopify account unless you’d like to create your online store with Shopify.

3. Trademark Database

Finally, you’ll need to check if the name is already trademarked before committing to the business name. It will save you a lot of time and trouble when it’s time to register your business name.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a public database of registered trademarks. You can search this database for free to make sure that your business name isn’t trademarked.

5 Tricks for Choosing the Perfect Business Name

A lot more goes into choosing a business name than merely picking one that you like. Below are five tricks to help you choose the perfect business name.

1. Refer to Your State’s Naming Guidelines

For the most part, you won’t be able to choose a name that another business in your state is already using. Additionally, you’ll be restricted from choosing a business name that’s deceptively similar to your competitor. Other common restrictions include not using a business name that may mislead the public about your company’s entity type or purpose. Finally, some states mandate that your business name must indicate what type of entity it is, such as an LLC or corporation.

These common restrictions can vary from state to state. For example, what is considered a deceptively similar business name in New York is very different from North Carolina. Business names such as Capital Productions and Capital Production aren’t considered similar in North Carolina because of the pluralization. In New York, however, you’d need to choose a different business name.

Things can get even more confusing if you’ll be doing business in multiple states. Delaware, for example, doesn’t have fully restricted words. California is far stricter and limits the use of words like Incorporated, Bank, Insurer, or Corporation. It’s worth referring to your state’s Secretary of State website to get the complete picture of business naming guidelines. The same applies if you’ll be doing business in multiple states.

2. Choose a Web-Friendly Business Name

Having a web presence is all but mandatory in the information age. So, you’ll need to make sure that your business name is web-friendly. That’s why a business name generator like the one offered by Shopify is so useful. You’ll immediately discover if the domain name associated with your business is available.

The ideal domain name should be short, memorable, and easy to spell. Most experts agree that the ideal domain name length should be 15 characters or shorter. A longer domain name is harder to remember and prone to errors when typing.

A .com extension tends to work best for your online presence. Again, this is because it’s a credible extension. Furthermore, most people assume that the .com extension will follow your business name. 

It is tempting to include a hyphen in your domain name. This idea is incredibly alluring when your ideal domain name is already taken. But most spam domains tend to include a hyphen. Besides, potential customers who forget to include the hyphen may be directed to a competitor’s website or an error page.

Take some time to choose the perfect domain name. Then, you should find the right domain with a bit of creativity and a solid business name generator like Shopify.

3. Think of the Future

Many small business owners make the mistake of limiting their potential by choosing a restrictive business name. Of course, it’s natural to want to name a company after yourself. But it’s hard to brand your name. Additionally, a name doesn’t tell a story, such as your business’ history or what it’s about.

Using your name can also give the impression that you are a solopreneur. This impression can limit your target market, especially as you expand and grow your capacity. Lastly, using your name can make it challenging to sell your business in the future.

Similarly, choosing a business name relating to a product or service can be limiting. You may want to venture into new product lines, which can be challenging if you’re already locked into a particular product’s name.

For example, you may be selling leather shoes. But say you want to expand into other leather products such as couches and belts. This transition can be difficult if your business name is very descriptive or literal.  

4. Test Your Business Name

Where possible, it pays to test your business name. This is especially true if you are having a hard time deciding between a few prospective names. You can conduct surveys with your target audience to see which one they prefer.

Consumer research platforms like PickFu can help you source opinions about your business name. The platform allows you to crowdsource opinions from the people who matter most for your business.

Some of the questions to consider asking your audience include:

  • Is the name easy to spell?
  • Does it read clearly and quickly?
  • Is it easy to pronounce?
  • Does it spark interest?
  • Does it imply a desirable message?
  • What do you think this business sells?

A focus group can also be a great source of feedback for your business name where time and resources allow.

5. Choose a Name You Can Trademark

Trademarking a business name can be a lengthy and complicated process. But, some names are easier to trademark than others. Nevertheless, there are general guidelines that can help to guide you in the right direction.

Made-up names are straightforward to trademark. These names do not have prior meaning before acquiring a trademark. The USPTO particularly likes these kinds of words. These names refer to your business as the source of goods and services. Some examples of made-up business names include Xerox, Exxon, and Kodak.

Arbitrary names are also fairly easy to trademark. These names include common English words whose meanings don’t directly refer to the goods and services you sell. Think of Apple Inc., the multinational technology company. The company had an easy time trademarking this name since it doesn’t sell fruit or related products. 

Finally, suggestive names also have good trademark potential. Such names indirectly refer to your business’s goods and services and require some imagination from your customers. Greyhound is an excellent example of a suggestive name. The name doesn’t necessarily imply a bus company, but it does imply speed and travel.

Next Steps

The next step after choosing your business name will be to make sure it’s available. First, you’ll need to do a business entity name search. You can typically do this on your state’s Secretary of State website. This is important since your registration will be denied if it’s already taken. You’ll also need to do a domain name search and federal trademark search before you can register your business name.

The next step will be to reserve your business name. Although not necessary, it is a precautionary step. It will ensure that your business name will still be available when it’s time to register your business.

Then, you’ll need to create your business. The business may be an LLC or corporation. The process for forming an LLC is straightforward. It includes naming your LLC, choosing a registered agent, filing the Articles of Organization, and getting an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Be sure to refer to the Secretary of State website for complete details on how to go about this. You will register your business name during the filing process.

Finally, consider registering a trademark. A trademark will give you exclusive rights to ownership for the business name. Trademarks are invaluable for marketing and creating a brand identity. We have a great post on how to trademark a business name for you to use as the next step in your brand’s journey.

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