A significant amount of thought goes into choosing a name for a startup. The brand name is an important part of the business and it leaves an impact on how people perceive the company and what it offers.

It is a good idea to make the name memorable and easy to say – you don’t want a name that will be difficult to pronounce or understand.

© iStock
© iStock

The process might sound easy, but some of the most successful business leaders in the market today had difficulty picking a name in the early days.

"Even Jeff Bezos got it wrong in the beginning, shifting from Cadabra to Amazon when an associate told him his original idea sounded like 'cadaver'. Mortifying," recalls Max Ottignon, cofounder of branding agency Ragged Edge.

To help you come up with the best name for your startup, we sought advice from business and branding experts on what it takes to get that winning name.

Make sure it describes your business

Before you decide on a name, you have to consider how it represents the business. Think about what message people will get when they hear the name. Is it likely to make them eager to want to find out more?

A good place to start is by brainstorming some keywords that relate to what your business offers and its overall mission. This can help you filter out relevant words to pick from.

"Try to avoid any name that is difficult to spell," Steve Sharp, company director at Fat Cow Media tells Techworld. "This will prove to be a continual battle throughout your company's lifespan, and is likely to muddy the waters when it comes to brand recognition if there are constantly misspellings of your brand out there.

"It's also important for your name to be catchy, but not too difficult to say aloud – you want people to be talking about you, after all, and it will help your employees when they're speaking to customers and clients."

Bhavesh Mistry, the brand, experience and design lead at Founders Factory, advises founders to go through a 'naming hypothesis' session.

This process starts with 'wordstorming' ideas, which are then adapted into names and added to a shortlist of a maximum of 30 options. Screening then whittles this list down to five candidates, which optional stakeholder testing can supplement, before legal due diligence removes any risky options. A final name is then chosen from whatever options remain.

"Essentially, at the very beginning you can see your objectives in each phase, which are [around] your brand strategy, values and principles," Mistry explains. "These are things like the purpose of your business, vision, mission and personality, and using those as the objective in order to get a name."

Do your research

It is essential to research any potential name ideas you have to ensure that they're not already trademarked. Do a Google search or look for the name in Companies House to make sure the name isn't already taken and you're not breaching copyright.

As original as the name might sound, there's a strong chance that there is a similar name  already out there in the same industry.

"Originality is a tricky one," says Mike Reed, creative director at Reed Words. "There's nothing new under the sun – as plenty of people have said before. You'll need to be ready to sacrifice your darlings to the brutal world of trademark checks. Try thinking laterally to find a name that suggests what you do in a less obvious way."

Although it might be difficult to completely avoid similarity in names, it is a good idea to make sure any business that has a name that sounds or looks even slightly similar to yours is not offering the same service, as that can cause a lot of confusion.

"Don't fear the similar," adds Christian Turner, global director of naming at Siegel+Gale. "Of course, it's best if no other entity exists with your name, but that's not always feasible, particularly when companies scale. But if brands are in two distinctly different industries there may not be an issue. Think Dove, the personal care brand and Dove chocolate. Trademarks are what should be considered here more than anything."

Check for SEO and URL availability

Every new business needs a website and social media handle. How else will people find you online?

It is important to make sure the name ranks well on Google search, so that if customers and clients are in search of the types of products and services you offer, your company website will appear high up in search results.

To guarantee this, it's a good idea to check the name isn't already used in a URL. It might not be a business, so don't just depend on Companies House alone; do a wide search as there could be a blog or website under the same URL.

"Research your desired domain name," advises Artjom Jekimtsev, founder and CEO of Adverttu. "Avoid SEO-awkward hyphens, difficult spellings or uncommon top-level domain formats. Everyone remembers unfortunate contractions like PenIsland.com."

"Finally, think long-term. Will your name resonate in several years? Longer? Could it adapt as your business grows and changes? International translations are important if you plan to scale globally – a word in one language can be something rude or offensive in another," he adds.

There is a chance you might get to a stage in your startup journey where you consider re-branding or changing your company's name. This might be because your business now offers some additional services that the original name no longer reflects, or due to legal issues emerging around trademarking.

Next steps

Once you have finally chosen a name, Founders Factory recommends paying particular attention to the following steps:

  1. Develop the brand
  2. Develop the creative direction
  3. Work out how the name fits, get a deadline and move forward

However, Mistry tells us that founders often forget the most basic step: buying the domain.

"That's something that people do forget to do, which is half the battle," he says. "If it's just renaming, then you just update the logo and replace existing assets but if it is starting a new business or re-branding, you then move into a digital identity stage."

Read next: The first 100 days of your startup: From registering a name to funding options