How to choose a great business name

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Choosing a business name can be one of the most exciting parts of setting up a new business and if you get it right, a real sense of pride.

More importantly, a great name can be a valuable calling card and help your business build a reputation amongst customers, suppliers and your employees.

But how do you tell if the business name you have in mind is a good one? Just going with it might be the easiest route, but you’ll kick yourself if a much better name comes along or a problem emerges with the one you’ve chosen – especially if you find yourself going through a long and costly process to change it to something else. Much better to reject the wrong name now and instead choose a name that’s going to be an asset to your business.

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Chosen a business name? Check to see it's available and then start forming a new company

Check business name

To help you decide whether your business name idea is great not, we’ve put together 10 questions to ask yourself.

1 Is your preferred business name available?

There are three important things you’ll want to check to answer this question.

A. Existing company names

If the name is for a company or LLP  and is already being used by another company, you’re most likely out of luck – no two businesses can have the same legal name. Even names that are deemed too similar to an existing name are not allowed – just adding some punctuation to someone else’s name is unlikely to mean your name will be acceptable.

Even if you manage to get a similar name accepted by Companies House, that’s not necessarily the end – someone can still object to your company name because it’s too similar to that of another business and you may be forced to change your name. That’s hardly a great start for your new business.

Our free business name check is integrated with Companies House and will quickly tell you if your proposed name is available. Alongside this, you may also want to check whether the name is used by a business that hasn’t been registered as a company. To do this, you could just ask people in your industry, use a search engine like google or check trade directories.

B. Domain name availability

If your new business will have any internet presence at all, you’ll want a website domain name that’s the same as your new business name. Unless you’re a huge company with millions to spend on promotional activities, having a domain name that’s different to your business name is just inviting confusion. Ideally, you’ll want both the .co.uk and .com domains to be available, although you can get away with one.

You may be able to get around the problem of domain name availability by using hyphens or “filler” words in your domain name. Remember, though, that a domain name with lots of additional punctuation will be more difficult for you to say and customers to remember. Each time a customer fails to find you because of an awkward website address is a potential lost sale.

You can check whether a domain name is available at websites like www.names.co.uk or www.123-reg.co.uk/domain-names/.

C. Trade marks

You also need to check that your proposed business name is not the same as or very similar to an existing registered trade mark. For UK trade marks, you can search the  Intellectual Property Office’s online register. For European Union trademarks, which can be enforced in the UK and other European countries, you’ll need to search the register on the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (Trade Markets and Designs) website.

2 Does your proposed business name meet Companies House rules?

There a number of rules and restrictions on business and company names which you’ll need to take into account when making your choice. These are covered in our Why do a company name check article, but in brief:

  • You can’t have a business name that causes an offence, is offensive, is likely to cause offence or that implies criminal activity.
  • A valid company name can have a maximum of 160 characters, including spaces.
  • Only certain characters, symbols and punctuation can be used in a company name.
  • There is a long list of ‘sensitive’ words and phrases that cannot be used or which require special permission to use in a business name.
  • The name of a business must not give a misleading idea of the type of company – so, for example, a private limited company cannot have ‘plc’ as any part of its name or a partnership cannot have ‘limited’ at the end of its name. The end of a company name must reflect the type of company – so a private limited company would need to end with ‘Limited’, ‘Ltd’ or the Welsh equivalent.
  • Your company name cannot be the ‘same as’ that of an existing company – as we discussed above.

3 Is it just you who thinks it’s a good business name?

Don’t assume that, just because you love a name, that the world will agree. It’s a good idea to get at least a second opinion, if not a third.

Your first call might be to people you know – friends, family, employees and friendly existing or potential customers. The more people you ask the more perspectives you’ll have, but it’ll become more and more difficult to maintain focus. To help the following questions may be useful:

  • What does it sound like to them when it is said out loud?
  • What does it make them think about?
  • Do they understand it?
  • What does it mean to them?
  • Can they relate to it?
  • Does it relate to the service or product you are trying to sell?
  • Would they want to deal with a business with that name?

You need people to be honest and who will tell you what they really think rather than just what you may want to hear. Pertinent objections, while they may defeat the name you had in mind and mean more work to come up with a new business name, are useful in stopping you from setting off on the wrong track.

There are expert marketing agencies you can consult for opinions. A good consultant can help guide your thinking and explain both good and bad name choices – they may even suggest some form of online A/B testing of a couple of business names, to test the different response to each. The limitation of employing an agency, obviously, is cost.

4 Have you considered enough alternatives?

It’s tempting to settle on the first serviceable business name you come across – especially if nobody you’ve asked has found a good reason for you to reject it. But it’s worth really trying to explore the alternatives, since you might find something that’s so much better. That means brainstorming for business name ideas; so:

  • Write down all the words that come to mind when you think of your business however good they are – you can whittle them down and try combining different words together to form names later.
  • Use a thesaurus to identify words that mean the same as ones you’ve already thought of.
  • Ask others, whether friends, relatives or employees to do the same.
  • Look at competitors and other successful companies for inspiration.
  • Again, if your budget can stretch to it consider employing a creative agency to suggest and possibly develop particular names.
  • Use one of the many online tools available to generate web domain names as inspiration.

You still might end up with your original name but it’s a useful exercise. It might, for example, help you better understand why you like that name above the others you’ve now considered.

5 Is it easy to remember?

A good business name is one that it is easy for potential and actual customers to remember.

There are a few practical tips that can help make a business name more memorable:

  • Keep it short – short names tend to be more catchy and therefore easier to remember. A short business name is also more likely to fit well on a business card and look good in printed advertisements.
  • Use words that are easy to spell – if customers can’t spell your business name, they’ll find it harder to find you – especially online.
  • Avoid using initials in the name – initials are particularly difficult to remember.

A further useful exercise is to read your proposed business name to a few people and ask them to write it down. If they get it wrong, and particularly if they get the first letter wrong, it might mean it’s going to be hard for customers to find your business online or in a business directory.

Abstract business names can be distinctive but may be prone to being spelt incorrectly. You’re also more likely to be asked what the name means and why you chose it.

6 Does it convey the information you want it to?

Experts disagree on whether your business name should say what you do. An abstract name can give you great flexibility to build a brand without tying you down to specifics. But for every success story like Amazon or Apple, there are dozens of businesses  who’ve struggled to make an abstract name work. There are, however, several good reasons to include details of what the business does in its name including:

  • It’ll be easier for prospective customers to find your business in business directories or phone books.
  • By using related words in the name you’ll have a better chance of your website appearing when people type those words into a search engine.
  • The more the name tells customers about what you do, the less you’ll need to do to explain.

The related words you want to use will depend on what marketing message you want to get across.

7 Does it give the right impression?

This is all about feeling. Customers will make immediate judgements about your business based on its name. Just as you’d be unlikely to engage the services of Lazy Window Cleaning Limited or A Bit Slapdash Painters Ltd, you need to think about the first impression that your business name gives your potential customers. Try and see things from their perspective, thinking about:

  • What type of people are they?
  • Do they have anything in common with one another and with you?
  • When and how are they likely to come into contact with your business?
  • What type of company would they expect to be dealing with?
  • What impression do they get from other companies that they like dealing with?

Some customers will expect and connect best with a serious, professional tone. Others might relate best if the company name inspires warmth and friendliness. Still others would appreciate a brand that’s fun and different. The product or service you’re selling will also influence the tone. You’ll also want to consider your competitors. If they all seek to create a particular impression with their business names, there’s likely to be a good reason behind that.

8 Does the business name lend itself to marketing?

If you’ve used some words in the business name that help describe what the business does, you’ve already gone some way to making the name marketable, particularly on the web. There’s a few more things to consider here:

  • Will the name work across different media – on your website, in printed marketing material and on signs, for instance?
  • Does the name lend itself well to newspaper headlines?
  • Can you think of good marketing phrases that flow from the name?
  • Does Google AdWords offer up any similar words that people search for online more than the ones you’ve selected?
  • If your business will feature in any product comparison tables where companies are listed alphabetically, is it worth choosing a name that will appear high up the list?
  • Give some thought to how you intend to market your business and your products and consider how your business name can be a tool to help you implement that marketing strategy.

9 Does it fit with the vision for the business?

Don’t just think about what your business is doing today – when choosing a name for your business, look beyond where you are today to where you intend to be in the future. This may be particularly important if:

  • You intend to offer more products or services in the future. If you call yourself “Canterbury Carpets”, the business name may be limiting if you then choose to expand your offering to tiling, blinds and curtains.
  • You expect to expand the geographical area the business serves. While “Canterbury Carpets” will assist your business’s visibility in Canterbury, if you want to expand to a wider area, a name that’s so tied to a particular location will be more of a disadvantage.
  • You’re thinking about trading overseas. If so, you’ll want to avoid using a name that means something offensive, controversial or just plain embarrassing in a language used where you want to be doing business.

As a good rule of thumb, a good business name should see you through the next 10 years. While events may always take over, think about where you expect to be in 10 years and make sure your name supports rather than inhibits your ability to get there.

10 Can you live with it?

Despite everything we’ve said about putting your own business name preferences in perspective, looking at it objectively and getting ideas and opinions from other people, it’s you who will have to work with the new company name. So, for all we’ve said, to some extent you need to “go with your gut”, while taking care not to ignore valid opinions. You’ll potentially be saying the name dozens of times each day and people will associate you with the name, and the name with you.

Try standing in front of a mirror and imagine you’re introducing yourself and the business to a potential client. Does it just feel awkward (well, more awkward than talking alone to a mirror ever feels)? How does it sound? Do you feel confident standing behind the name or just embarrassed? Most importantly, do you feel enthusiastic about it?

 

We hope all these tips and tricks we’ve shared will help you in naming your business. If you have any other ideas, tips or experiences you’d like to share with others, do get in touch! If you’ve already found your perfect name, you can check if it’s available and incorporate your new business today with our quick online company formation wizard.


If you've found a perfect name, check if it's available and incorporate your new business today with our quick online company formation wizard.


A previous version of this article was originally published on 4 March 2013.

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