Learning how to come up with a business name begins with learning naming strategies. Once you decide on a name, secure it by claiming your name legally and on social media platforms. Claiming your name costs as little as $125 for registration to more than $100,000 if you’re securing an in-demand website name.
After deciding on your business name, you’ll need to secure it within your state by registering as a legal business entity. Not only will you secure your name by registering, you’ll also protect your personal assets if a lawsuit were to occur against the business. IncFile allows you to quickly and securely register your business online. Protect yourself today for free plus the cost of state fees.
Here’s how to come up with a business name in four steps.
1. Brainstorm Ideas for Your Business Name
Brainstorming is the research phase of naming your business. You need to research competitors, study different types of business names, and do exercises that spark creativity. This phase makes it easier when naming your business because you won’t have to stare at a blank piece of paper trying to come up with a business name.
It’s important to review your competitors’ business names for several reasons. First, you wouldn’t want to have a name similar to a competitor’s. It would be confusing to your customers and Google when trying to figure out which businesses to show in the search results.
Second, generally speaking, you want your business name to reflect industry names as close as possible. You may want your name to stick out compared to competitors. While you shouldn’t create a name that reminds customers of your competitors, you do want to create a name that fits in more than sticks out. Sticking out means you run the risk of potential customers being unable to understand what it is you do.
Research successful companies in other large cities outside of your own, and if your company is worldwide, research successful companies in other countries. This helps you understand the types of names successful businesses have in your industry.
When researching competitors’ names, ask yourself these questions:
- Are they fun?
- Are there initials?
- How many words?
- Are letters missing?
- Are they easily understood?
- Are owners’ names included?
- Are there a combination of words?
- Do they provide a hint of what the business?
Feel free to take notes during this research and brainstorming stage. Take out a piece of paper and write names freely all over the paper. This doesn’t have to be a structured exercise. It’s intended to help you be creative and come up with your perfect name.
Business Naming Strategies
Now that you’ve researched your competitors in-depth, you need to learn about business naming strategies. One of the most common naming strategies for local-based businesses is adding your location to the name. Another approach is creating a portmanteau, which creates a new word by combining two words.
“Naming a business can be extremely challenging, but it should be memorable and original and shouldn’t sabotage future expansion plans or limit customer reach. It should also reflect the brand’s story, values, and key differentiators.”
―Brian Rowe, Founder & CEO, Perceivent
Here are common naming strategies for your business.
An acronym is an abbreviation formed using the first letters of other words and is pronounced as its own word. Using an acronym is a naming strategy that gives an in-depth meaning to a shorter name. For example, CVS stands for Consumer Value Stores. From a public point of view, CVS is trendier and catchier than Consumer Value Stores. However, from an internal business standpoint, the name better describes what the company provides.
If you have a long name or a name that is difficult to spell, consider using an acronym. Having a simple business name to spell is essential when someone is using Google to search for your business. You don’t want to miss out on a potential customer because they typed your business’s name wrong in Google or mispronounced a voice search.
Compound words are terms that form when you combine words. Using them makes your business name unique and conveys what your business does. For example, BarkBox is a dog treat and toy subscription service that gets delivered in a box. Skillshare is a company that provides online learning, which is a way for experts to share their skills.
A portmanteau forms when you combine similar words and sounds. This creates a unique word and is typically not found in the dictionary. For example, Yelp is a combination of “Yellow Pages” and “help.”
Your Own Name
Adding either your first or last name can instantly make your business unique. Including your name is a good idea if you’re planning on being the face of the company. Additionally, consider including your own name if your business’s origin story is about a problem you solved yourself.
“Growing up with the last name Cheek was kind of a pain in the butt (excuse the pun), but it finally came in handy. For months before launching my business, I was racking my brain about the verb that was going to finish the statement, “you’ve been _________.” and then one day it hit me: You’ve been “Cheekd!” The word is now in Wikipedia. Although my business has been through several different iterations over the years, now if our users are interested in each other on the app, they press the “GET CHEEKY” button, and they are then able to unlock further information about each other and can begin a conversation on the app.”
―Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO, Cheek’d
To give your business a deeper meaning, you can look to mythology. For example, in Greek mythology, Midas is the king with a golden touch. On the surface, Midas is a company that repairs cars. However, if you understand Midas’s deeper meaning, it’s clear that they take superior care of your car and incorporate the mythological story into their tag line, “Trust the Midas Touch.”
Drop a Letter
If you have a common company name, it is likely the domain name, and social media profiles are already taken. Consider dropping a letter from the name, like a vowel, to make the name unique. For example, Tumblr is a social media platform. If they didn’t drop the “e,” they would be competing in Google against people searching for the tumbler cup.
A simple way to make your business name unique is by adding numbers. For example, Forever21 could have used words instead of the number 21, such as young, beautiful, or love. However, 21 makes them stand out immediately compared to the competition.
Putting the name of your city, ZIP code, or city nickname in your business title can separate your business instantly. For example, if you’re opening a fitness center in Jacksonville, Florida, you could add Jax in the title to create “Jax Fitness Center,” or if your exercise business is in Miami, 305 Fitness.
“Gone are the days when using weird spelling company names was normal. Now, we live in a world where a mobile-friendly and shareable domain name is the new norm. This also puts a premium on shorter business names. From an SEO [search engine optimization] perspective, incorporating geographic words into your business name can be helpful if you want to rank for a keyword like Portland Plumbing or Vancouver lawyer.”
―Scott Fish, Chief Marketing Officer, Off Road
You may be thinking, “How do I even come up with the words in the strategies above?” Well, now that you know your competitors’ names and different types of names available, it’s time to create potential business names.
Exercises to Come Up With Business Names
Doing exercises will help you come up with unique and memorable business name ideas. The strategies above may have helped narrow down the type of business name you want to create. Start with word concepts for your industry and combine them to come up with a new name. You can also use an online tool for inspiration.
Develop Word Concepts
The first step to finding words you can use for your business name is writing down terms associated with your business industry. Take out a thesaurus, and list at least 50 words and concepts related to your industry. Don’t worry if you don’t like the words―just write them down.
For example, let’s say you’re opening a pest control company. Write down 30 words or concepts you can think of like bug, roach, insect, legs, spray, scream, scare, trap, terminate, terminator, exterminate, kill, killers, clean, be gone, and destroyed. One tip to make your name memorable is to use visual words which can be pictured in your customers’ head.
Combine Your Word Concepts
Once you have a list of words and concepts, start combining them to get ideas. Include the word naming strategies listed love like adding your location, dropping a letter, and the portmanteau. Combine words and phrases until you have at least ten potential business names. Using the words above, Buginator comes to mind as a unique name not found in the dictionary.
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t come up with an idea initially. You may need to revisit your list several times until names start coming to you. Additionally, revisiting your list the next day may give you new inspiration. Your brain will work on names while you sleep.
Business Naming Technology
If you’re struggling to come up with name ideas, consider using a business name generator software. A name generator software uses its database of words to make different combinations. Even if you don’t like the results, it may spark a creative idea you hadn’t yet thought of.
Portmanteaur is a great tool to help with portmanteaus. The tool combines words in ways you haven’t thought of to get unique and memorable business names.
2. Choose Your Business Name
Once you have a list of at least ten business names from which to choose, you need to narrow them down and solicit feedback from others. You may need to hire a branding expert if you’re struggling to come up with a name that you like or if when you say the names you chose, your friends, family, and potential customers find it confusing.
“Think of your name as a potential business partner. You need to choose the partner who will serve your company’s needs best, not just the person you like the most. The biggest mistake small businesses make is choosing a name based on individual preference instead of meaning and functionality.”
―Keneta Anderson, Owner, Keneta Anderson Consulting
Narrow Down to Three Business Names
Testing out ten names is difficult, so you should narrow the list down to three. Ideally, you want to rank your top three names from most to least favorite. To narrow your names, ask yourself a few questions. Do you find the name fun to say? Can you say the name clearly without stumbling? Is it a name you feel proud to say?
Ask for Feedback
Now that you have three business names to choose from, it’s time to get feedback from friends, family, and potential customers. Instead of asking people what they think of your business name, consider including it in your elevator speech.
An elevator speech is a 30-second speech describing what it is your business does. It should be no longer than four or five sentences. Practicing your elevator pitch is a terrific way to sell your business clearly and concisely, which displays confidence. Elevator pitch coaches recommend saying your speech every day until it is memorized.
A good business name will be catchy, memorable, and fun to say while also speaking to your target market. It’s no coincidence that some of the most successful companies―Google, Bing, and Yahoo―have fun names that are pleasing to speak as they’ve done the research on which combinations of vowels and consonants “tickle the brain” when spoken, which increases the “stickiness factor” in terms of being remembered.
―Lee Dyson, Owner, Hey Mister DJ
A test to determine if your business name is memorable is to wait a week and ask the people who gave you feedback if they remember your business name. If they do, it’s a great sign. If not, it may be smart to use one of the other two business names.
Additionally, look for a name that elicits an emotion in the person to which you’re saying it. A smile, laugh, or furrow that represents curiosity is a good sign. For example, Google is an odd name that doesn’t describe it as a search engine but does inspire a curious emotion.
Hire a Branding Expert
If after taking the previous steps, you can’t figure out how to come up with a business name, it’s time to hire a branding expert. Many branding experts offer business naming services. They may also create logos, develop messaging, and create an overall brand feel with fonts and colors. A freelance branding expert could cost as low as $50 for an hour of work or more than $10,000 for a professional with decades of experience.
“Our names are developed with brandability in mind. Successful brand names are rarely real words or literal descriptions of the business. They’re memorable and distinctive words with character, personality and style.”
―Dave Clark, Cofounder, Novanym
3. Check to See If Business Name is Taken
Now that you have your preferred business name, you need to determine if someone has already taken it. Remember, you shouldn’t commit to one name yet, because someone may have already taken it. Once business names registered within a particular state go inactive, you can claim them legally. You may find that claiming a social media name is more difficult because they do not expire.
State Registration Business Search
Your state has a database of all registered business names. One reason why these names are registered is so customers can find a business’s information for a complaint. Another reason is to collect state taxes if your state has an income tax. You need to search to see if a business has registered using your preferred name. You also need to check to see fictitious business names, also called a doing business as (DBA).
A fictitious name or DBA is used when someone wants to open a new business or change their business name without changing their originally registered business name. To conduct the state search, use your state’s database of registered business names. For example, Florida has an online program called SunBiz, where you can perform this search. Many of these kinds of databases combine both registered businesses and fictitious names in one place, so you don’t have to do multiple searches.
Trademark Name Search
A trademark is a legally registered name or symbol. There are two types of trademark filings, federal and state. Typically, if a business owner is concerned about a competitor using their name or logo, they will complete the federal registration. It is more expensive but provides greater protections. The state registration is only enforceable within the state in which you register.
To search for a federal trademark, go to the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) website, and conduct your search. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to interpret how close a business name or logo is to another and if there is any infringement. If you are unsure on if your name infringes on another business name, it is wise to seek the advice of an attorney.
To search for a state trademark, look for the trademark registration on your state’s official business registration page. Typically, the state registration doesn’t provide you with additional enforceable protections. By using your name in public, you have enforceable copyright. However, if you believe there may be a legal dispute with a competitor, the registered trademark will have a stronger standing in your state’s court.
“If you already have a business name in mind, conduct a name search to see if the name is available or if someone else already has a pending trademark application for the name. If the business name is available, claim it by filing to register a trademark.”
―Deborah Sweeny, CEO, MyCorporation.com
Website Domain Name Search
Your business’s website domain is the name of the site, like www.yourcompany.com. If you have a common business name, it may be challenging to find an available domain name. A common strategy for local-based businesses is to add the city or state they’re operating into their domain name. For example, if you operate a lawn care business in Charlotte, North Carolina, instead of www.lawncare.com, which is already owned, you can register www.charlottelawncare.com.
To search for an available domain name, you can go to a website like Bluehost and search for available domain names. If your name is already taken, consider using a different domain extension. For example, .co is gaining popularity, especially among trendy, tech-related companies.
Local Online Name Search
You may find that a local business has a similar name to your business. It can get confusing to potential customers if they search for your new business’s name and another populates; more established business websites show in Google. Google tries to understand what a searcher is looking for but doesn’t always get it right. To get an idea of the Google search results for your proposed business name, type your business’s name in Google with the ZIP code.
For example, let’s say you’re opening a coffee shop called Lilly’s, registered as Lilly’s Coffee Shop. There’s another business called Lilly’s that operates as a noncompeting boutique store. If your customers search for “Lilly’s” in Google, you will be competing for that search term. If you ever find yourself in this situation, it may be smart to change your business name, especially if the other business is established within Google. It will be hard for your business to outrank them.
Social Media Handle Search
The final name search you need to conduct is on the social media platforms you will be using. Some platforms like Instagram require you to register what is called a handle. A handle is similar to a domain name for a website and begins with an “@” symbol. For example, a handle could be @charlottelawncare or @lillyscoffeshop. Other social media platforms like Facebook require you to claim both a page name and a handle.
You don’t have to claim your name for every single social media platform. For example, if you are opening an accounting firm, you most likely won’t need a Pinterest account. In our current social media landscape, every business should claim a Facebook page and an Instagram handle. Even if you won’t use those platforms initially, it’s wise to claim them before someone else does.
4. Claim Your Business Name
Now that you have done the research and know that your name is available, it’s time to take action and claim your business name. Several of the steps to claiming the name will have a cost. Depending on what you’re registering, registration costs can vary. It may cost $150 to a complete a basic business registration, $10,000 for a complicated trademark, or $100,000 for an in-demand website domain name.
Register Your Business Name
To register your business name, go to your state’s official business website. Typically, it costs around $150 to register your business entity and name with the state. Unfortunately, your state’s website may be confusing and challenging to operate. If you find your state’s business registration website difficult to navigate, you can go to an online legal service, which is more user-friendly.
IncFile is an online legal service that makes the business registration process simple and user-friendly. If you’re unsure about the type of business entity you want to register, it can help with that as well. Register your business today for $49 plus state fees.
Which Legal Service is Right for You?
File a Trademark
If you’re registering your business name on your own and without the assistance of an attorney, you need to submit an online application at the USPTO website. Go to the USPTO’s official page for trademarks, and follow their application steps. The cost to apply for a trademark is between $275 and $400, depending on the type of trademark application you file.
Purchase Your Website Domain Name
Use a domain name company, like Bluehost, to purchase your domain name. Typically, the cost of a domain name varies from $10 to $15 per year. If you choose a different domain extension like .co or .biz, you will pay an additional cost of up to $100 per year.
You may find that someone has already purchased the domain name you’re looking for but does not currently have a website. In this scenario, you may be able to purchase the website at a negotiated cost. This cost can range from $50 for a domain name that isn’t in demand to more than $100,000 for a domain name that is in demand.
“One thing a lot of small business owners overlook is the domain that will accompany their business name. I’d advise small business owners to think about domains before settling on a company name rather than vice versa. That’s one mistake my business partner and I made. We settled on a name first and even got logos and media finalized before we even thought about the actual domain. It turned out the domain we wanted was gone so that we had to settle for a slightly different URL. We’re obviously still kicking ourselves over this gaffe, but it was a nice lesson to learn.”
―Matthew Ross, Co-owner & CEO, MySlumberYard.com
Claim Your Social Media Profiles
To claim your social media profile page and handle names, visit each social media website, and start an account. We recommend claiming social profiles on the computer rather than on the mobile phone for ease of use. Remember to write down all of your login names and passwords.
You may need a personal social media account before creating a business account. For example, before you claim a Facebook business page, you need a personal Facebook account. However, your personal account will never show as associated with your business Page.
Claiming your social media profiles won’t cost money. However, you may find that your preferred profile name has already been claimed. If you find yourself with this problem, you can alter your social media page name by adding your location or description. For example, CoffeeShopReno or ColdBrewReno.
If someone has already claimed your desired name on a social media platform, and you don’t want to alter your name, you could offer to purchase their name. Some pages and handle names are inactive, and people will gladly sell them for the right price. In some cases, if a page is inactive, you could appeal to the social media platform to give you the page name. This is rare and most likely won’t be handed over until your business is a well-known brand around the U.S.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Naming a Business
This section includes the most frequently asked questions about how to come up with a business name.
How do I create a unique business name?
The easiest way to create a unique business name is to combine words or numbers in a new way. You could combine two words like BarkBox, which is a dog treat and toy subscription service, or you could combine words to make a new word, which is a portmanteau. Netflix is an example of a portmanteau because it’s a combination of the internet (net) and movies or flicks (flix). These types of words require thinking and creativity but will likely be original to your business.
Can I have the same name as another business?
For the average small business, you can have the same name as another business. However, if you serve customers in the same location or if it’s within the same industry, you cannot have the same business name. You can only register one specific business name in a state.
However, if there is a similar business name in another state, and you start to sell your products or services in their area, you may be infringing on their copyright. If you find another business in your industry or location that has the same business name, it’s best to talk to a business attorney.
How do I know if my business name is already copyrighted or trademarked?
Any business that starts using a name has copyright protection. However, to receive additional legal protection, it’s best to register a state and federal trademark. To search for a state trademark, you need to go to your state’s official trademark search website. To search for a federal trademark, go to the USPTO website and search. If you’re unsure whether or not your business name infringes on a brand, it’s best to ask a business attorney.
Naming a business doesn’t have to be difficult when you follow our step-by-step guide. Make your business name memorable and unique because it’s typically the first thing a potential customer learns about your business. Research your competitors and use techniques to come up with business names that aren’t already in use. Naming a business can cost as little as $125 or more than $100,000 for an in-demand name.
Once you have your business name, you need to register it with your state. This is called filing your business as a legal entity. A legal business entity protects your personal assets if a lawsuit were to occur against the business. IncFile is an online legal service that secures your business name and protects your personal assets. Register with IncFile today for $0 plus state fees.