In 2014 when I was working as a publicist for a chef based in Atlanta, I helped with the marketing as he opened his first Tex-Mex style restaurant: Superica. Think, Super Taqueria. When it comes to figuring out how to name your business, that one makes sense, right?
Well, as the middleman between the company and the venue, I was constantly talking to journalists, reporters, the media, and the public about the restaurant. And I cannot tell you how many times people told me how excited they were to eat at “Su-PAIR-ica.”
The restaurant has totally overcome that (and Wes and I go to get tacos there a good bit—you know us, we have strong feelings about margs and tacos).
BUT this showcases something not uncommon at all. Picking a name for your business or blog is one of the earliest branding decisions you’ll make! And just to free you up, it’s probably already been done and done badly. 😉 Nike was Blue Ribbon Sports. Google was BackRub. Subway was Pete’s Super Submarines, and Pepsi was Brad’s Drink.
We all start somewhere, and today, I’m going to help YOU get started picking your brand’s name!
You’re a creative small business, so you’re probably not going to hire a big firm to figure this out for you. You’ll be figuring it out, so today, I want to unpack:
- The three big buckets for business or blog names
- 8 ways you can get started figuring out what to name your business
- A quick list of the frequently asked questions that pop up in my inbox about this.
Plus, after you name your business and start working on your homepage, don’t forget to grab my 13 homepage headline swipes you can use for the ground zero of your website!
A portion of these tips I taught in collaboration with CreativeLive & HoneyBook—the post below goes into a bit more detail!
Types of Business or Blog Names
Some branding and naming experts will argue that the most informative names win because those are the ones that let customers know with zilch confusion what you do. Others will tell you that more blank-slate, abstract names work because you can build anything you want on that.
The truth is, I really think any new business name can work if the marketing strategy behind it is tight.
“At the core of it, your business name doesn’t change what you do and what you deliver.”
— Kathleen Shannon, Being Boss
Back to my restaurant publicist days: We were in brainstorm-mode for Ford Fry’s tenth restaurant: a smallish oyster shack, 70s surfer den-style restaurant in Inman Park of Atlanta. We were tired of “The ___” and “___ and ____.”
BeetleCat, he said.
Honestly? I doubted it. I told him it reminded me of Beetlejuice, and I didn’t think the landlocked city of Atlanta would get that it’s named after a training sailboat.
But it worked. It worked really well.
(For the record, I was vying for “Honey Fitz,” the name of Jack Kennedy’s sailboat. I still think it’s catchy. Maybe that’s what I should name my bike …)The more your name communicates to your target about your business, the less effort you will have to put in to explain what it is. Click To Tweet
While a solid marketing strategy can shore up a name, when you work on figuring out WHAT to name your creative business, here are the big 3 types of name buckets:
- Abstract: Slack, Target, Being Boss, Illume, Warby Parker
- Informative/Eponymous*: Katelyn James Photography, Being Boss, The Contract Shop, Rent the Runway
- Coined: Etsy, Pepsi, Xerox, Wayfaren
I’ll break down a few ideas for brainstorming below, but as you get started, pick a name that reinforces what you’ve already decided and spoken to the people you’ve already decided you want to serve—pick something that works that market gap you’ve found.
As we dig into this, I want you to never forget that your name is the first thing to come out of your mouth every time you pitch your company.
Can you say it with a straight face?
Can you say picture yourself saying it to a TODAY Show reporter one day? (Okay, stretch, but that’s a good barometer.)
The more your name communicates to your target about your business, the less effort you will have to put in to explain what it is.
8 Ways to Get Started with How to Name Your Business
Try your name* first.
Usually, a great option to think through. Especially if you’re wanting to give yourself room to pivot or likely going to be the face behind the brand (aka solopreneurlife), eponymous names rock.
Think: Martha Stewart, Melyssa Griffin, Ralph Lauren, Shanna Skidmore, Nancy Ray Photography
*Sidenote: I really like eponymous names, mostly because of the pivot-ability. The only time you may not want to go this way is if you think you may want to sell your business one day down the pipeline.
Old-school, but just pull out your pen and WRITE. Word cloud. All the words that come to mind. In agency days we used a Peter Pan/Captain Hook brainstorm exercises a few times: set a timer and don’t let anything hold you back. Later, you get to be Captain Hook and call the shots on what can stay. But don’t self-edit during the brainstorm.
Oh, and try to get past the obvious words early. When my boss Ford Fry was naming St. Cecilia, a Mediterranean-Italian restaurant, he went with St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music — yes, he’s a music fanatic and guitar collector. The name vibes perfectly with the coastal, Mediterranean resto. Isn’t that great?
Something *may* have come up in the last exercise, but if not, make combinations. At a General Assembly entrepreneurship crash course one night before I left corporate marketing, we did this and it was a blast. To name a music app, we shouted about 20 words related to that topic and combined two. Here’s an example of how you’d do that:
Let’s say I’m naming a calligraphy company:
ink // well // splatter // tine // grace // pen // nib // paper // cotton // fold // line // flourish // script // curve // upstroke // swell //
And then I start juxtaposing words, like “Penswell Paper Co.” or something.
* caveat: Natural pronounceability is important when coining a word, and keep in mind. You have to state your business’s name over the phone A LOT more than you think you will. Make sure it’s pretty easy to spell.
Stay away from puns, geographical names, numbers, and letters
They’re typically not the best option. 3M is short for Minneapolis Mining & Manufacturing — quick pivot on their end, right? Even if you’re not planning on growing past your city, never say never. Puns don’t usually work well in a name, and numbers and letters work, but they’re not always as memorable—again, there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rules, but some things are an uphill battle.
Choose something your clients will like. Nonnegotiable. Your branding has to, has to, has to appeal to the people who will keep your lights on! Stay with things that give pleasant word association.
Check domain, social media handle, & competition research
After you’ve got something you like, your first stop is to the U.S. trademark office — it doesn’t matter what you pick if the name’s already signed-and-sealed. Did you pass? Great! Google the domain. If it’s taken, again, pass. Open? Cool! Check out Instagram or a handle and see what you can find. (I’ve also heard that per the magical unicorn site, Namecheckr is great! Thanks, reader Sarah!) Sure, you COULD buy the domain, but I feel like it’s easier to start with what’s available (and you may want to buy your name, and a few other similar domains, too.) This needs to priority #1!
Once you’re ready to get a website, find a hosting company.
I’ve tried a lot, and Bluehost is my favorite for a few reasons—
- If I switch platforms (like I did from Squarespace to Showit) nothing got lost in translation.
- It’s *mostly* user-friendly. Some of this stuff gets techy, but the Bluehost interface is pretty much easy to navigate.
- Bluehost is pretty cheap, which means you can buy up domains when you think of them to stick your stake in the ground, for about the price of a few coffees.
- 24/7 SUPPORT & CHAT!!! This is huge—I mean, if you’re doing a launch and you’re up at midnight, or just working late, this is really huge for being a work-from-home-small business!
When it comes to taking an Instagram handle from someone, it’s really only going work if you can prove that the name is trademarked and they’re using it … pretty sure that involves a cease and desist letter (again, I defer to my girl Christina!), but again, this argues my “make it really original” point.
Last thing here—go ahead and snap up domains and handles that are close to your name. For example, buy your name, your exact business name domain, and then really close variations so you can redirect them.
Common Mistakes & Questions
Let’s dig into some frequently asked questions I’ve been asked on this.
1. IF THE CREATIVE BUSINESS NAME IDEA IS A MADE UP WORD, SHOULD I SCRAP IT?
Remember earlier how I said that any good marketing plan can trump a weird(ish) name. My thoughts? Maybe, if it’s a made-up word. Are there plenty of businesses where this works? You betcha: Xerox, Kleenex, Aflac, Shiptt, Google, Toggl. I could go on and on. Here’s the thing: Made up words have a “sticky” factor, but you’ve also gotta play up the curveball mentality: It’s gonna be a bit of an uphill battle to educate your audience on the new word, but once it sticks, you’re set.
2. K, WHAT ABOUT TOUGH-TO-SPELL WORDS, LIKE NAMING MY BUSINESS, “IRIDESCENCE CREATIVE”?
This is completely unscientific, but when we were naming my first family bird dog, we tried to come up with a short, one-syllable name so he could perform on the dove field. Verdict? Lad. He learned it super-fast, and so did anyone that met him.
Not to compare you to my bird dog, but I’ve said it a hundred times: our brains are wired for two things: survival & conserving cals. We don’t buy things that are too hard to understand. Takeaway? Go for ease. Don’t scrap it, but think about ease for your customer — and you, ’cause you’re gonna be typing it 500x a day and spelling it over the phone a lot.
3. WHAT IF IT’S TAKEN BY A COMPANY IN A SIMILAR BUT NOT IDENTICAL INDUSTRY … CAN IT BE USED?
Yup. Call in your friendly attorney, but technically you can get a trademark for different industries. This is why there’s Delta Air Lines and Delta Faucets. No one’s getting those guys mixed up!
4. WHAT IF IT’S SIMILAR AND IN THE SAME INDUSTRY, IS THERE A WAY AROUND THAT?
Don’t do it. Be original.
5. SHOULD THE NAME BE RELATED TO WHAT I’M DOING OR WHAT I LOVE?
Sure! It can … but it can also be out of the blue, and sometimes those are the absolute most hard-to-forget brand names. Don’t get too philosophical. Maybe try one personal word and one cut-and-dry descriptive word.
I’d steer clear of fluffy adjectives in your title … those have a tendency to be forgetful. And definitely, don’t use puns.
6. OK, SO I’M INTRIGUED BY THE MADE-UP-WORD THING. BUT I’M ALL ABOUT SPELLING THINGS CORRECTLY. IS THERE A WAY TO DO THIS THAT MAKES SENSE FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME?
Look up above where I talked about combining words. Think about brands like Dropbox, Evernote, HoneyBook, Periscope, and more. Technically, they’re spelled just how you’d think they were. Try combining two really short words to make a compound word that’s actually not a word at all — your Type-A heart will rest in the phonetic perfection.
7. REGARDING ADD-ONS LIKE STUDIO, DESIGN, CREATIVE, CONSULTING, ETC. DO YOU HAVE TO DO A CERTAIN THING TO DO THOSE? I THOUGHT ABOUT CONSULTING, BUT I’M NOT A CONSULTANT PER SE … SO I SCRAPPED IT.
To be honest … I think a lot of creatives add words like that to sound more professional or legitimate, and it’s not ALWAYS mandated. Now, I’m not saying it never is: there are plenty of designers that truly work in a “studio” fashion (definition? Place where an artist works). Just check yourself. Are you tagging on an extra word to sound more legitimate, or is it appropriate for how you work?
I’d go back to keeping it easy. If you don’t consult, don’t put it in the name. If you don’t design, don’t use the word.
8. WHAT THE HECK IS THAT WEBSITE THAT CAN CHECK SOCIAL MEDIA HANDLES AND WEBSITE NAMES BEING USED FOR THE NAME YOU’RE LEARNING TOWARDS? I THOUGHT I HEARD THAT THIS WAS A THING BUT IT SOUNDS SORT OF LIKE A MAGICAL UNICORN AT THE SAME TIME, HAHA
Again, this needs to priority #1! After you’ve got something you like, your first stop is to the U.S. trademark office — it doesn’t matter what you pick if the name’s already trademarked. If it passes that test, Google the domain. If it’s taken, again, pass. Open? Check out Instagram or whatever social media handles you’re planning on using and see what you can find.
Note that you CAN buy domains from people or get handles, but it’s a process of proving that you own the trademarked name … pretty sure that involves a cease and desist letter (again, I defer to my attorney Christina!), but again, this argues my “make it really original” point.
Keep in mind that professional naming firms devote anywhere from six weeks to six months to the naming process.
- I really, really, really like one-word names. Shoot for 2 syllables max.
- Skip acronyms.
- Give a CLUE to what you do, if possible.
- Be relatable to your audience. Test it on 4-5 IDEAL target clients before you decide.
Bottom line, while, yes it feels like getting a tat, I sincerely believe that if you’re ready to rock it and go, a name won’t hold you back.
Ok, your turn! What other questions do you have about naming your business or blog? And if you’ve found one that you ~think~ you’ll stick with, don’t forget to snag it using a hosting tool like Bluehost! 👇👇👇