Laying the Legal Groundwork: Naming Your Startup

Plane spelling out 'Your Name Here' in the sky

Tips for Naming Your Startup

Naming your startup is undeniably difficult and, unfortunately, many entrepreneurs can often do a terrible job of it. With legal issues like trademarks and copyrights in the mix it can be difficult to find a name that meets your needs without stepping on another company’s toes. Thankfully, we have some tips and tricks for naming your startup effectively.

Literal or Evocative

While there are many different ways to come up with a catchy new business name, a good starting point is deciding whether you wish your name to be literal or evocative. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type, so deciding which to choose isn’t always simple.

Having a company name that is literal often means finding one that speaks directly to your business’ purpose or what your company offers as a product or service. Companies with literal brand names include Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Fisher Scientific, and a bevy of others.

Evocative naming is targeted toward making those who see your branding feel something. While in some cases—like Yahoo!—this is extremely apparent, in other cases—Google, Apple, Amazon, or Kleenex—the name will not mean anything until it does.

Simply put, literal naming allows people to immediately have a rudimentary understanding of what you do, while evocative naming can allow you to grow your brand into something completely unique and distinct from any competitors. 

Word Selection & Spelling Choices

Once you have landed on an idea or theme for your company’s name, it is time to find a word to use to encapsulate that meaning. Start with a brainstorming session or use a site like onelook.com to find the word or group of words that you want to pursue as your name.

Once that is completed finding a spelling that isn’t taken or already in use is extremely important. Dropping a letter from your word of choice can make it viable as a name where the proper spelling may not work. Flickr and GDGT Deals are perfect examples of this. 

Part of success in this space is having the confidence to make your site name work for you. Paying a large amount of money to purchase a domain name is not necessarily the best investment for a startup.

Having an “ugly” domain name that costs you little is often more attractive to investors than having a “perfect” domain name that costs you significantly more.

Don’t be afraid to play with prefixes and suffixes during the naming process as well. If you have the word you love for your company name, try appending or prepending little words until you have a domain name that you can use.

The last and most important piece of advice regarding spelling is that changing your name in a minor way is fine, but too many misspellings can cause problems. Having a double letter or a dropped letter is reasonable and easy enough to understand, especially with Google helping customers or clients find your company.

However, having a name that is misspelled so severely that even Google can’t assist is a problem. The end goal is a name that is direct, intelligible, and clean. Make certain that whatever name you end up with is one that you could effectively convey to another person even if you both had a bad cell phone connection.

Top-Level Domains

Once you have a name that hasn’t been used or trademarked by others selected, domain availability becomes your next priority. It’s time to see what domain names you can actually acquire, and for how much.

Obviously, finding a free .com domain name with your exact spelling is ideal, but with over 25 years of people buying domains, it can be somewhat difficult to find the one you want for a price that is reasonable.

Among top-level domains (.com/.net/.org), dot com is often perceived to have the most value for companies. This is true, so finding a company name that meets the legal and creative criteria while also having an available dot com address is ideal.

However, it is not always possible to get a dot com address, so ending up on an alternative top-level domain is not the end of the world. Don’t forget, you can change your name later if needed.

One of the easiest ways to check if a domain is available or not is to use a site like GoDaddy.com, Name.com, or Google Domains.

Trademarks & Multi-Vertical Branding

Filing a trademark on your domain name and the name of your company is an excellent way to protect your investment into your brand. With the sheer number of business verticals available today, having someone encroach on your trademark in an app store or other area is not uncommon. Having a trademark on your name allows you to protect your investment effectively.

Trademarks allow you to protect your name and intellectual property in a single vertical or in several verticals. Something to note is that you cannot easily get a trademark for a vertical that you are not active in.

Additionally, the more generic the name you have chosen, the more others will be able to use it, as long as it is outside of the category for which you registered it. For example, if you managed to trademark the word Home you would not be able to prevent Home Depot and Home Goods from using it, assuming neither were in your category.

A good thing to remember is that the company with the best domain name and the best Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will win the lion’s share of customers in the end.

Business Name Generators

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with a good name on your own. You might find it even more challenging when deciding between different names with your cofounders.

When it seems impossible to land on that perfect name for your business, or you’re running out of ideas, it might be worth looking into using a free business name generator. These generators can help you expand on your list of business name ideas. Some of the most commonly used generators include Shopify, Oberlo, FreshBooks, Business Name Generator, and Namelix.

To use a name generator, you simply enter a keyword you’d like to use in your company’s name, hit search, and the site generates dozens of results for you. Having pletny of options to consider can often help you find the right name for your company when you’re struggling to come up with something on your own.

Final Considerations

Finding your startup’s name isn’t a simple process. It has long-lasting impacts on your branding and how you portray yourself in the market. Following these tips can help alleviate some of the pain points when searching for the best name for your early-stage small business.