Every business has a name. And if you are thinking of starting a business, one of the first questions you’ll face is what to name it. There is more than one way to name a business. Here are a few approaches you might like.
This is the most obvious way to name a business: Joe’s plumbing. McDougall and Son. Alice’s Restaurant. Name it for the person. This tells everybody who the owner is, so it does create some affinity on a personal level. It works well for businesses where you will come in very close contact with your customers, so it is an approach used frequently by restaurants, garages and the trades. Often law firms and accounting services are named after their founders.
The downside to this is if ever you want to sell your business, it might look a bit silly. That hasn’t hurt McDonald’s, which was founded by the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino. Ray Kroc bought the rights to the name. After all, who would eat at Kroc’s? On the other hand, nobody minds eating Ben Cohen’s and Jerry Greenfield’s ice cream.
For branding purposes, choosing a memorable name is a great idea. You want people to remember the name so that they can search for it. A memorable name is unique. Yahoo! always jumps to mind when I think of a memorable name. IKEA is memorable (and also named after the company’s founder Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, by the way). Other memorable names that jump to mind are Google and Xerox. They are unique and short and easy to remember.
Easy to spell
Being memorable does not make a name east to spell. An easy-to-spell business name can be critical for your success. If you hear about a company on the radio or from a friend, or you remember having seen the name in a magazine or on a billboard, you will need to be able to spell the name to find it online. Best to keep it to 5-10 letters.
This website is named SmallBusinessNewz. The name works because it is strictly online. People come here through a link in social media, in an email or on Skype, or perhaps from a link on another website. If this website needed to be accessed as the result of radio ads or a mention in a magazine, the name would cause problems because of the “z” at the end.
If you want to build an affinity with your community, why not name your business after your community? That’s what Paramount Roll and Forming did back in 1963, when it opened its doors in the Los Angeles suburb of Paramount. Since then, they moved their plant to Santa Fe Springs. The name might have become very awkward if it had been the reverse, but fortunately the word “Paramount” stands on its own.
Generally, this works best for companies that are bound to a location, such as restaurants or dry cleaners or towing companies. A company like Denver West Towing, will never have to explain its name to customers in Philadelphia. I recall a tiny strip mall diner near where I grew up called Miss Pierrefonds, named after the town I grew up in.
The only major companies that typically use location-based naming are airlines. Think Cathay Pacific. Think Air Canada. Think American Airlines.
But few companies named for their location become major brands, for the simple reason that, apart from airlines, location-based naming is small-town thinking to begin with.
One of the best ways to name your company is after a concept. A great example of this is IBM, which stands for International Business Machines. Note that the concept is specific, yet broad. Had they named it International Mainframes, the brand would sound obsolete by now. If they had named it International Computers, it might soon become obsolete. Already, the “computers” we use today do so much more than computing.
Volkswagen is another great concept name. Translated from German, it means People’s Car, a car that is affordable for the masses. Eighty years later, the concept lives on.
Microsoft is another fine example of a concept that keeps on working. The name stands for “microcomputer software”. If Bill Gates was naming his company today, he might call it Microapp or Mobiapp. Or he might still call it Microsoft. As long as devices remain small and rely on software, the name won’t go out of style.
Keep in mind also that technology changes. We still call our desktops “computers”, and those mobile devices that do everything but butter your bread are still called “phones”. But already the word “computer” is fading and the term “smart phone” is all but gone. And how many readers know what a gramophone is? Or a record player? Or a cassette tape?
So be very careful not to name your company for technology that might not exist ten or twenty years from now. That is the genius of IBM and Volkswagen.
In my own experience, as I moved from a marketing focus to managing a team of eclectic writers, The Happy Guy Marketing was not as relevant for ghostwriting autobiographies, self-help books and screenplays. So I “rebranded” THGM Writers for my writing website, without changing our name.
Another great way to name a company is based on what people search for. This makes a company easy to find. This approach has worked well for Home Painters Toronto and Locksmith Toronto Ontario, two examples of companies that are searched by what they do and their location. I did a quick Google search for Toronto businesses, and they came up right away (interestingly, only one came up in the map results, implying that the other needs to work on its local SEO). These names would be really bad if they ever planned to expand to other areas.
I have a friend who sets up tourist cams for hotels and resorts, so that prospective guests can see the landscape around. This can be a particularly strong draw for tropical resorts. He has named his business Tourist Cams. This works wonderfully for people searching for these devices, but it could prove a horrible name later on if the company wants to change its focus.
If there is a recurring theme in the various naming methods, it is that you have to think about the possible futures of the company. Will you want to sell it down the road? Will you want to expand the product line beyond what your name indicates? Will you want to expand beyond your local city or town?
Canadian Tire is an interesting case study. It began as Hamilton Tire & Garage Ltd, a very limited brand that was anchored to one specific town and one specific niche. The name change was to reflect a broadening of the company’s reach beyond Hamilton – but it was still a tire company. Today, it is a catch-all store, selling everything from house paint to camping supplies, from deck chairs to light bulbs. And they still sell tires. And despite the anomaly in the name, the brand’s heavy advertising budget over the years secured its place in the Canadian public’s shopping habits
As you can see by some of the examples I’ve raised, a name doesn’t prevent a business from changing hands, changing towns or changing focus. But the best names help a brand tell its story, so the best name to choose for your business is one that will tell your story even if there is a change of direction down the road. You don’t want to have to explain to everybody that you sell more than just tires, and you probably won’t have the advertising budget to make such explanations unnecessary.
So choose a name that tells your current story and will still fit if your company makes a predictable change of direction in the future.