It’s like Shakespeare said: “A rose by any other name would not sell as well.” Finding the right name for your business, one that will attract customers and speaks to the brand identity you want to build, is one of the most crucial steps when starting a small business. Pick right, and you’ll win customers and influence your industry, a la Dale Carnegie. Plus, you’ll avoid the costly process of a rebrand down the road.
For every business name that comes to an entrepreneur in a “Eureka!” moment of brilliance, there are many more businesses that required careful consideration, brainstorming, and polling any number of family and friends to see what they think. Major corporations have the benefit of relying on expensive consultants to help them come up with the best name for a new cereal or prescription drug, but what about small businesses? The field of linguistics offers some interesting theories to consider when looking for a new business name.
Did you know that sounds have meanings? According to a linguistics theory called sound symbolism, it’s true. Sound symbolism posits that different sounds convey different meanings. “B” sounds, for example, often connotate aggressive actions. Think of works like blast, burst, and bombard. If you want your consumers to think of safety, and home, consider “h” sounds, which are found in words like home, hearth, and heart.
In brainstorming, there are no bad ideas. The best way to come to the right business name is to consider as many possible names as you can think of. Write lists, make word clouds, poll friends and family about the words they think of when you describe your business. Say yes to everything, write it down, and then see what sticks with you.
Trademarks, the legal protections for business and product names, protect other companies from using the same business name as you—assuming someone else isn’t already using it. Follow these 2 simple steps to utilize trademark law to your advantage when naming your new small business.
Once you think you have a name idea for your business, the first step you should take is to run it through the trademark search database with the US Patent and Trademark Office. There are a few different ways to search the database. For our money, the new user function is the simplest and will meet most small business needs.
Simply search the name you’re interested in giving your brand to ensure another company isn’t already using it. If a result comes back indicating that someone in your industry is already using the name, then you may want to select a different option. At best, using the same or a similar name as an existing brand may prevent you from securing a trademark and protecting your business. At worst, it may lead to legal action against you.
The loophole: if a name, or word mark, is already trademarked in an unrelated industry, you may still be able to use it and secure a trademark. Even though it’s legal, it still may not make business sense to do so. Consider what confusion this may cause your potential consumers and difficulties it may add to marketing your business.
There are 2 key types of names you’ll want to avoid. The US Patent and Trademark Office will not approve trademarks for generic terms, which basically means that you can’t use your product name to name your business. So, as much as you may be tickled by the meta-humor of naming your construction business “Construction,” your restaurant “Restaurant,” or your healthcare office “Healthcare,” best to choose a different direction.
The second category of un-trademark-able names is what’s called “geographically misdescriptive” names. While this term can certainly impress people when you throw it out at a cocktail party—and you can trust us because we’ve done it—it can be a confusing mouthful, so let’s break it down. Geographically misdescriptive names refer to cases where a location has a specific meaning for a product class, like Champagne for sparkling wine or Italian for shoes. The US Trademark and Patent Office bans the use of these locations in product names when the product does not originate from that region. You cannot, for example, name a sparkling wine made in Spokane, Washington “Spokane Champagne” or a shoe designed in California and manufactured in China “Italian Stallion” because each name suggests to the consumer that the item was produced in the Champagne/Italian region, respectively.
Trademark searches are an important step in researching whether your business name is already in use, but you shouldn’t stop at “legally in the clear” when naming your business… or probably ever.
Search engine marketing is an asset for most businesses unless your business name makes you really hard to find. Try searching your business name to see what the results are. If there are already other businesses that come up, a historical event, or something else of the same name, it may make marketing your business more difficult. This issue matters because it will make it more difficult for your customers to find you, in turn reducing your business.
Is someone in your area already using a similar business name? Check the yellow pages to ensure that your business name will be as unique as the services you plan to offer.
While you may not have plans to launch a website right away if you are starting, say, a food truck, you want to know you have the option. Check domain registration sites like GoDaddy or Google Domains to see if the URL for your business name is still available. If it is, that’s a great sign! And be sure to snag it right away. Even if you don’t have plans to use it right away, you’ll want it later. And once you build a valuable brand with that name, which we know you will, the domain may be more expensive.
Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. The best way to get the word out across channels is to stay consistent with naming. Search your business name on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and any other social platforms you may use. If the business name is still available, lock it down. If not, pick a username that works across all channels so your loyal fanbase can easily find you on every platform.