The Art of Naming Your Business

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Earlier this week, fellow creator and podcaster Jay Clouse renamed his podcast from “Creative Elements” to “Creator Science.” That podcast isn’t a new project: it has been live for 140 or so episodes already. But the name needed to change to align with his other products.

That must have been quite a bandaid to rip off.

If there’s one challenge every founder runs into eventually —and after that ever so often— it’s naming. Naming a business. Naming a product. Coming up with a slogan for your brand. Names are everywhere, and finding a good one is hard. That’s because a name is more than just a label; it represents the identity of your business and will determine its growth — up or down. Today, we’ll dive deep into choosing a solid business name, explore all kinds of factors to consider and find out where you can find helpful resources to make the journey easier. While this guide is primarily focused on small businesses and startups, many of these principles can also be applied to larger, more established businesses. Also, to make things easier, I will talk about the name of your business alone, but this process applies to naming products, websites, your services, or even something like your blog or newsletter. Lots of things need names, and the principles apply to all of them.

Experience this article as a podcast, a YouTube show, or as a newsletter:

So, let’s get started!

Your business needs a domain, and it should be available.

If you want to build a business in a digitally-enabled world, you’ll need to secure a domain for your online presence. That makes the name-finding process a bit more complicated: even if you come up with an amazing name, you might be unable to grab a domain that adequately represents it.

Check if the domain is available using domain registrars like Namecheap or GoDaddy. A good domain is easy to spell, pronounce, and remember.

A word about registrars: they usually suck. People run into issues with these huge companies all the time, and their customer service tends to be slow and inept. That’s the unfortunate reality, but these companies hold and sell the most important digital real estate we have. And we have no control over those processes.

But let’s dive into this a little deeper into the things we CAN control. For interactions with registrars, this means turning on notifications whenever they email you. These tend to be either critically important or meaningless marketing, and you’ll never know which is which. So stay alert, and your problem surface will shrink.

Let’s get back to picking a domain.

There used to be a time when people typed in the domains of websites they wanted to visit. But in a world where Google and now even ChatGPT can link to where we want to go, the domain name itself becomes less of a social and more of a technical consideration.

Yeah, we’re talking about the dreaded search engine optimization. Instead of merely appealing to our human customers, we have to appease the machine overlords, as they are the gatekeepers to our work being found by real people. And then we need that stuff to work with those people as well. So what do you have to consider here?

Opt for a .com domain for strong authority.

Well, I talked to Peter Askew, a domain expert who owns and operates and a few more awesome domains. Peter has been in the domain game for a long time, and he had one central piece of advice: when in doubt, get the .com top-level domain — or TLD for short.

While many domain extensions are available, a .com domain is considered the gold standard because it’s widely recognized and carries a strong sense of authority. This kind of authority quickly turns into unconscious bias. You can tell a person a hundred times that your domain ends in .co or .io, but when they’re in a hurry, they will type .com by default. If you want to sell your product to people who use the Internet like most regular folks, the .com will reduce confusion and infuse a sense of serious business.

Because that’s what people know. Just by mere affiliation with other businesses, a .com will signal a professional company behind the website. A .net or .biz domain will alert people to the fact that there is something off. And that’s probably not what you want for your first interaction with your prospective customers.

However, don’t hesitate to explore industry-specific domain extensions like .tech or .design, especially if they align with your niche and differentiate your business from competitors. Choosing a “newer” TLD can signal a fresh approach, and that will attract early adopters. But remember that the chasm to market adoption is hard to cross even with a .com, and having a confusing domain won’t make that easier.

Choose a unique name for SEO reasons.

And the TLD won’t help you much if the name of your business itself has a major problem: being overly similar to an existing business inside or outside your niche. The Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference disaster comes to mind.

It’s vital to pick a name that doesn’t conflict with similar businesses because that will affect your search engine rankings and online visibility. As with your TLD, you want to reduce confusion and increase recognizability. Conduct thorough competitor research to ensure your chosen name is unique and won’t be mistaken for another brand.

I know all of this is a lot to ask for a process as tedious as picking a name. You’ll find that the first few ideas you come up with will likely result in something that’s already taken. That’s why I asked my Twitter audience how they came up with the names for their businesses, and I found a few interesting gems in the 350+ replies.

One of the most common approaches was mixing a piece of personal information like your own name —or the name of your partner, child, or pet— with a term from the industry. Some people even play around with numbers like parts of your street address. That’s a pretty reliable way to create something unique.

Something that people seem to like a lot is a mix of an animal name and an industry term. I can’t blame them: that’s how we named our online teacher SaaS business FeedbackPanda. We were serving teachers who taught for Asian online schools. The “Panda” was a sure bet, and the “Feedback” made it absolutely clear what the product was all about.

Rarely do you find a good single-word name. Composites work just as well and allow you to be both unique and clearly indicative of the industry you’re serving.

If you’re a non-native English speaker, picking a (safe) slang term from your language can also work. Those tend to be used only in the geographical regions they originate from, giving you a decent chance at grabbing a .com domain that uses that term. You can also look into languages other than your own for this.

Ultimately, name inspiration can come from anywhere: song lyrics, mashing together random words and reorganizing their letters, or just using an industry term with a few numbers added.

Essence & Evocation

What matters is that a good name should represent the industry you serve and the outcome you hope to achieve. Consider brainstorming ideas and concepts that capture the essence of your business and resonate with your target audience. What works with them already? What are the key terms of success and expertise in your field? I tend to make a big list of the themes and phrases used by competitors. It’s like a word cloud of evocative names, which gets my creative juices flowing. And a list like this can easily be fed into AI systems that come up with variations and alternatives.

Tools and resources to simplify the process

Since we’re talking about tools, let’s make this absolutely clear: conversational AI systems such as ChatGPT are incredibly useful for the process. They might lack the ability to reliably check for existing domains, but they are amazing tools for brainstorming. One thing I love to use ChatGPT for is to give me alternative versions of something that already exists. So take all your name ideas, throw them into ChatGPT, and ask it to expand the list with 20 new ideas. ChatGPT is conversational. You can (and should) ask it to rephrase things, change the tone, make names longer or shorter — whatever you would do with a team of real people around a whiteboard.

Beyond that, there are several tools and resources available to help you find the perfect name for your business, such as:

Language, Culture, and the Law

One thing that most tools like that don’t understand is subtlety. And you will need to think of a few things that are very specific to your business and how its name will resonate with the people you choose to serve and empower.

Linguistical traps

When choosing a business name, it’s imperative to consider how it will be perceived across different languages and cultures. Some phrases are perfectly acceptable in one language, only to be horribly insulting in another. When Coca-Cola moved into China, it was first read as “Kekoukela,” which means “Bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax,” depending on the dialect. It took them a while to find a pronunciation that actually worked.

Select a name that translates well and avoids potentially offensive or negative connotations in various markets. This will ensure that your brand appeals to a diverse audience and maintains a positive reputation worldwide. This, again, means extensive research ahead of time.

Legal aspects

To protect your brand from infringement and potential legal disputes, it’s crucial to trademark your business name and domain. Consult with an attorney or use online resources, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, to ensure your chosen name doesn’t conflict with existing trademarks and secure legal protection for your brand.

Beyond Domains

Securing social media handles that match your business name is essential for maintaining a consistent online presence. Check the availability of your desired handles on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and claim them as soon as possible. Consistent social media handles will make it easier for potential customers to find and follow your business online.

Future-proofing your business name

This will be an ongoing process. When new platforms and services come around, you will need to claim those names. The same goes for newly released top-level domains: ICANN announces new TLDs on their website, so I recommend checking that out every now and then. Their gTLD program suggests thousands of new TLDs are in the making, so stay tuned.

All of this serves the name recognition of your business. It’s a long-term investment in what is top of mind for people when they think about you and your services. That’s why so much research and deliberation go into finding a name. Aim for a name that will remain relevant and appealing as your business grows and evolves over time. Be prepared to reevaluate and possibly undertake a rebranding process if your business’s direction changes significantly or your target audience’s preferences shift over time.

Naming things initially is hard. Staying true to your name or changing it when your business direction changes is even harder.

While choosing a fitting business name and domain is crucial, remember that your brand’s overall success relies on you providing the value you promise. Don’t forget that your name is precisely that promise, and when people hear it —or, even better, speak it— they will consider whether that promise has been fulfilled.

Happy naming!

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