The Painfully Practical Side of Naming Your Business
Naming a company is one of the trickiest and most time consuming services we offer our clients because the concept and creativity must be balanced by the practical and prudent. If you’re like most people, you want the name of your company to mean something—to you personally (after all you’re building something great) and to the important people (clients, customers, constituents, not to mention employees, team members, etc.) you serve. It is also incredibly practical—and many a good name have been scrapped due to such practical, technical issues.
Through our experience naming and renaming dozens of organizations (including our own!) we’ve discovered a few “practical” tips to think about as you move through the process.
Know Your Industry, Know Your Audience and You’ll Know Your Name.
There are several different directions that you can go with a name, right? There are the “name” names—using a portion of your name or some combination of your name and your business partner’s name (if you have one). There are the “made-up” names—combining two or three words into one or creating a “new” word. There are names that speak more directly to a particular industry or service (think healthcare organizations). There are simple “word” names that refer to a thing or concept or essence but not necessarily what your business does. There are location-based names (red flag! What if you move?). There are clever names. There are straightforward names—you get the point.
In deciding which direction to go, consider your competition. Is there a particular naming trend among your competitors? Given your industry and audience, maybe you should follow that trend or maybe it would behoove you try something different to set yourself apart.
What is your industry? Are you in more of a conservative field or more progressive? Are you more corporate or casual? Are you a generations-old family-owned business or a new startup? Those factors should affect how you go about brainstorming and choosing names.
For a “made-up” name, consider how much of a word purist you are. Does a made-up name feel unique and exciting or contrived and cliché given your industry and audience? Would a made-up name confuse or intrigue your target audience? Furthermore, would you be able to explain “the why” behind the name if someone asked?
Think About Design.
Is your name design-able? Sounds weird, but it’s worth it to talk to a graphic designer to get their take on how the name might translate visually. Your name will be on signage, letterhead, ads, your website—literally everything. Essentially, will it “look good in lights,” and will you be proud to put it out there?
Check the URL—But Not Through Google!
It may feel premature to search URLs before you even have an official name, but consideration of your domain name should be part of your naming process. Your future website is going to be your number one marketing tool. Finding a URL to match your new name that is intuitive, easy to type, and not too long is critical. And you might have to think a little creatively when it comes to choosing the right words in your URL because your first choice will have most likely already been taken. (See our upcoming blog from W+W Digital Strategist Kayla Quesnel on how to search and register a domain. Spoiler alert: don’t Google it!)
Do a TESS Search, Not just a Google Search.
Google will help you find other companies who are using the names you’re considering—if any. Know that it is almost impossible (unless you create your own word or have a very unique first/last name) to find a name that isn’t already being used. And that’s okay. What’s most important, however, is that you find a name that isn’t being used in your specific industry.
As annoyingly practical and expensive as it may sound, trademark and intellectual property law should definitely come into play when choosing a name. The last thing you want is to start using a name and have some other company come after you with a cease and desist letter claiming they had the name first and you have no right to use it. That happens. But It won’t happen if you protect yourself. A TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) search is a good first step. Go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, click on the Trademark button, and run a simple search of your name. It’s not going to be totally conclusive or comprehensive, but if there are companies in your industry that have trademarked your name, there’s a good chance they will show up.
Call a Good Trademark/Intellectual Property Attorney.
So let’s say you’ve run a TESS search and your name appears to be clear. Good. If you’re serious about the name, you should make absolutely sure that there are no other companies in the US that have trademarked your name in your specific industry.
According to trademark regs, every type of business falls into a particular class. And each class has its own number. You want to be the only one in your class with your specific name. If someone has already trademarked the name you want and that company is in your class, you’re going to need to find another name. Believe us, your new name is incredibly important, and it’s worth it to protect it. Trademark it.
Depending on who you choose to work with, it will cost around $1,500 - $3,000 to do a comprehensive trademark search and apply and file for a US trademark. A trademark attorney can run a comprehensive search for the name and walk you through the steps necessary to get your mark. Your name is an important part of your brand and your intellectual property. Your name is worth a lot. It’s worth it to protect it.
If you’re daunted by all the practical here, remember, you can’t say it all in a name (let your Key Messaging do that), and your name is just one element (albeit an important one) of your overall brand. If you have to scrap a couple of great name ideas due to these irritating practical issues, you won’t be the first. We’ve definitely been there. But we’ve also learned that in most cases the best name—the one you were meant to have—is the one that emerges when you start over, go back to the drawing board, and think about your company in new and different ways. So, with that, happy naming!
–Jennie Malloy, Owner + Director of Strategy
*This information is for informational purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice or intended to take the place of legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice or guidance.