How to come up with a business name

Starting a new company takes energy, passion and courage. You’ve written your business plan, or at least a one page version, you’ve talked to some potential clients and other small business owners in a similar field and you’re ready to go for it. The only thing missing? A name.

A good business name can make your customers remember you easily, it could mean free publicity or it could help you and your future employees to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. There are specialised naming companies that charge thousands of pounds for finding a name that’s new, trendy, industry-wise, memorable and isn’t trademarked. However, if you are starting a small business, you might have other priorities and a budget that doesn’t allow you to spend that money on coming up with a company name.

In this post we’re going to give you a few ideas on how to name your small business, by looking at some of the most well-known brands from around the world.

1. Acronyms

Try using the first letter of every word in a phrase or parts of words or names. Some real world examples are AOL (America Online), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and BENQ (Bringing Enjoyment and Quality to life).

2. Mash-ups

Mix two or more words that are meaningful for you and your business. Some examples are Compaq (from “computer” and “pack”), Evernote (from “forever” and “note”), Groupon (from “group” and “coupon”) and Lego (from the Danish “leg godt”, which means to “play well”).

3. Get inspiration from mythology and literature

Do you have a passion for literature or history? Look no further than your Greek and Roman legends! For example, ASUS (from the mythical winged horse Pegasus) and Nike (the goddess of Victory). A character, place or object could also be a good start for a name; like Samsonite (from the Bible character Samson) or Starbucks (from Starbuck, the young chief mate of the Pequod, in Moby Dick).

4. Use foreign words

Even if your audience is based in one region, a foreign name (or foreign-sounding name) can be very memorable in your customers’ native language. Just look at Audi (the Latin translation of the German name “Horch”), Altavista (Spanish for “high view”) or Daewoo (“great house” in Korean).

5. Use your own name

If you’re not convinced by any other names, why not use your own? Many of the most well-known brands were actually their inventor’s or their owner’s name, like Bayer (Friedrich Bayer was the founder of the company), Boeing (After William E. Boeing) and Grundig (named after the founder Max Grundig) and Cadillac (after the French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac).

6. Take a look at a map

Use a world map to get inspired, just like Adobe (after the Adobe Creek, running close to the founder’s house), Amazon (named after the largest river in the world, by volume of water) and Fuji (named after the highest mountain in Japan) did.

7. Mix things up

Another way of finding a new name for your business is trying various word combinations, such as your name and where you live. Some examples are DKNY (Donna Karan New York) and IKEA (from the founder’s name Ingvar Kamprad and where he grew up: Elmtaryd Agunnaryd).

8. Partner with another company

If you’re going to partner with another entrepreneur or merge your company with another one, instead of a completely new name, make up a name using fragments from both names, just like Ben & Jerry’s or 20th Century Fox.

9. Use nicknames

Using your kids’ names or nicknames might sound a little strange, but just look at companies like Mercedes (named after the daughter of one of the founders) and Danone (named after the founder’s son’s childhood nickname); they don’t sound strange anymore, do they?

10. Use a symbol

Another way to come up with a business name is to take a symbol or an essential element of your work and create a new name starting from that word. Pixar, for example, is a combination of the word pixel and the initials of one of its founders, Alvy Ray Smith.

11. Make it descriptive

If you think of your business, what is the one word, or pair of words that could describe what the business does best? Now write all your options on a piece of paper and visualise your new logo or a banner with your new name on it. An example of a brand using this technique is the supermarket chain 7-Eleven, where the name tells you straight away what’s special about this business: it’s open from seven in the morning to eleven at the night, every day.

12. Use Latin

If you had a Latin language class in school and ever thought that you’d never get to use this in real life, you were probably wrong. Latin is a great source for business names, take for example Acer (Latin for “sharp”, “able”) and Volvo (Latin for “I roll”), two of the most well-known and easy to remember names. You could also use a Latin word as a start for your new name and add another word to it, like Verizon (from the Latin “veritas”, which means “truth” and “horizon”).

13. Look at your product from another angle

Does your product remind you of something else? Look at it from different angles or ask your friends and family to tell you what your product looks like. Blackberry and Caterpillar are just two examples of names created using this technique.

14. Abbreviate

Take a word that has a strong meaning for you or your business and extract a short art of it, just like Cisco (from San Francisco, where the company was founded) did.

15. Make a grammar mistake on purpose

This way of coming up with a new name could be a bit risky, so do consider the possibility of spending the next five or ten years listening to people correcting your brand name. Quora, for example, could be seen as a fake plural of the Latin quorum (public assembly).

16. Invent an alternative spelling

Take a word that’s symbolic or essential for your company and invent a new spelling for it, like Reebok (alternate spelling of “rhebok”, an African antelope).

17. Tell your story

Does your new business have a great story behind it? Why not tell it with your business name? Names such as Kenvelo (unable to decide on a name, the company was called Kenvelo, “yesandno” in Hebrew), Virgin (the founders' way of saying they were completely new to business) and Mozilla (created as the Mozaic – an internet browser-killer) were born the same way.

18. Talk about what you believe in

If you don’t like the story idea, you could use the name as a way to remind yourself – and anyone who works with you – about what you believe in and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Minolta, for example, means “your principle, what you believe in”.

19. Remove or add an extra letter

What if you have a really good name for your business, but can’t use it as it is? Why not do as Flickr and Tumblr do and drop the last vowel? You could also duplicate another letter or change a letter in your word in a way that still makes the word recognisable.

20. Pick a word from the dictionary

If by the time you read through this list with a pen and pad in hand, you still don’t feel inspired, then you could do like Blizzard and Twitter did and just pick a random word from a dictionary.

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