How to choose a name for your startup
Naming your startup can be exciting but also a serious headache. From the moment you realise every name you ever wanted is taken as a domain already, the process can wear you down. But do not fret! The aim is to find something memorable and unique without sounding too pretentious, and there are many approaches to take and names to choose from to achieve this.
If it feels as though it might be getting overwhelming and the same wishy-washy ideas are cropping up again and again, then there are a few steps that you can take to make the process feel less stressful:
1. Stay away from lengthy and complicated
Keep it short, keep it succinct. There’s a reason why hugely successful startups have names that are 2, maybe 3 syllables max. Take the social media giants as an example – Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter (even Instagram is often shortened to ‘Insta’). You don’t want your name to get lost on the tip of a tongue as someone goes for a Google, so making it short and snappy will keep it in the forefront of people's minds.
Lesson learned: make it easy to remember and quick to say so that your customer won’t forget it by the time they get home.
2. Get to the crux of your business
What is your business trying to do? Figure out some keywords that explain what you are all about and have a play around with them. Try working out the words that concisely define or relate to your business and then look for associations with those. For example, if you are a flower delivery company you might start with flower, petal, bouquet, florist, bloom, and then veer off into wedding, romantic, botanical, elegant, beauty, etc.
From here you can either start playing with two-word combos that roll off the tongue well (SkyScanner, Birchbox, Headspace) or go one step further and create a new word altogether (Pinterest, Wowcher, Quiqup).
Whip out your thesaurus to find alternative words and just feel out what sounds good together. Say everything out loud and play with alliteration and rhymes. Be mindful of making it easy to spell and say.
3. Avoid misunderstandings
For example, you might be inspired to name your business after the city it was born in. The danger with this is that your customers may not know your backstory and simply assume you only serve that area. As you (hopefully) grow, you may want to expand out of your origin city so you really don’t want your name to hold you back.
Similarly, remember that a few places in the world share names, which can cause confusion and diverted traffic – your customers might be searching for your Scottish business PerthPainters in an effort to hire your services, and keep getting results from Australia.
Another thing to think about is, if you plan to sell globally, to make sure that your name translates well and will not alienate any international customers. For example, if your product is baby accessories and you're planning to sell under the name 'Babi Bibs', it's important to be aware of translations that can misconstrue your offering - did you know that 'babi' in Indonesian and Malay means pig? So unless there's a market of eccentric pig farmers out there, you may need to reconsider your name or limit your reach.
4. Make sure it has meaning, but not too deep a meaning
Plucking a made-up word out of thin air is a risky business for startups, as it requires a lot of targeted marketing to ensure your consumers link it to your industry. At the other end of the spectrum don’t try to be overly clever, to the point that you find yourself at every social gathering explaining the reason behind your obscure Latin reference.
5. Experiment with domain names
One of the trickiest obstacles to a great startup name is having your dream domain name already taken. This can be incredibly frustrating if you have gone through a long process of elimination already and found something that feels perfect. Nobody wants to choose their name purely based on what’s available.
If, after copious trial and error, you find a variation of your name which is available (for example containing a hyphen or with ‘UK’ in the domain) don’t just settle for it. Remember that if people are searching for your brand name you don’t want to be on page two behind toptraders.com, top-traders.com, toptradersuk.com, etc.
For SEO purposes a --.com domain is still the best option. This is mainly because --.com is thought of as the ultimate authoritative domain extension and most people will simply type it in assuming your company has one. Lately though, other extensions are becoming more popular and widely used (for example vsco.co) and can sometimes even serve a level of creativity. For startups, -.tech and -.biz are explanatory enough to work, but if you want to go really out there you could use something that matches your industry, such as --.photo or --.fashion, or even complete your company name with the domain (musical.ly - now TikTok).
6. Test it out
Bypass friends and family (who have probably heard a lot about your business idea already) and go for potential customers and investors. Find out whether they like the sound and look and get the right impression when they hear it. Go in with a few choices and let them pick their favourite.
If they don’t love it, don’t stress. Keep mixing up words and try again, and be prepared for small tweaks along the way. Remember Facebook was originally TheFacebook, and they have done alright.
7. When in doubt, just add ‘ly’, ‘ify’ or drop a letter
BrighterBox connects smart graduates with great startups in London. Check out our employers page to hear more about hiring through us.
*Editor's note: This blog was originally published in 2016 and has since been updated.