Naming a business is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done

Scott McGready, founder of the Onnya Group

Starting and running a business is tough. Having been through the process several times myself, and with others, I’ve got the scar tissue to testify to that. That being said, I’d gladly relive all the challenges I’ve faced than have to name another business or product.

Naming a business or a product is tougher than you might think and there’s a lot of outside factors that can influence what your company name is (or even how it’s pronounced). Growing up, we’re taught that it’s rude to judge or make fun of people based solely on their names. Unfortunately though, that is not the case with businesses – everyone will absolutely judge you based on your name alone. What you chose as your business name speaks volumes about both yourself and the attitude of the company you’re creating. While I might not know the perfect steps to take when naming a company, I certainly know the things to avoid.

Staying legal.

Trademarks and disallowed names are easy to check but still one of the last places entrepreneurs or business owners look before registering their business. There’s many reasons for this although it really boils down to two things – excitement and a sense of ownership. A tendency to get “lost in the moment” when naming leads to us setting our hearts on a specific name that would be perfect for a product/service only to find out much later that it’s actually a registered trademark. Of course when I say “finding out”, that’s usually after buying a domain name, getting business cards printed, and receiving a cease and desist letter from their lawyer. Costly.

Unintentional double-entendre.

I really like portmanteaus but you’ve got to be careful when creating a new word or indeed mashing up two that already exist. Let’s say I sell pens and I’m thinking of a company name that involves that word. Ideally, I’m looking for a double-barrelled name, beginning with “pens” that gives the customer the feeling of being the only place to go for pens. House, boat, place, palace? Nah that’s too weird… Island? Hmmm, when we think of an island we usually think “isolated”, meaning the only place to go – that could work! Let’s go register “penisland”! Oops.

That example isn’t a bad one these days as the company in question picked up on the joke and ran with it (which, if you ask me kind of kills the joke) but there are others out there blissfully unaware (or indeed embarrassed) that their company name has a rude word in it. Don’t think you’re safe in creating a completely new word either, it could already mean something else to the French, German, or indeed other native English speakers. Informal/slang versions of words makes it so much harder too… unless you intentionally chose the name and want the press of course.

Keyboard mashing.

Businesses are increasing their online presence almost daily and I’d say that one of the most important things to bear in mind when naming a business is the domain name. It’s so important to me that any names I come up with are immediately discarded if they are already registered. I’ve never understood it but there are those who try and shoehorn as much information into their domain name as possible. It sounds like a good idea in principle but in practice it leads to so many complications.

For example, let’s say that I’m starting up an office furniture business that sells chairs, desks, tv-stands, and stationery to the consumer market online. Naturally I’d attempt to find a domain that relates to the items I’m selling that’s short and easy to remember without sounding too tacky- but they’ve already been taken. Over days, weeks or even months I’m starting to lose patience as the only thing that’s holding me back is a “silly domain name” and I decide to run with Looks okay doesn’t it? Partially it’s because each word is capitalised (something which is ignored in domain names) and partially because I just want to hurry up and start my business. I don’t know about you but answering the phone with “, Scott speaking. How may I help you?” is a bit of a mouthful – not to mention horrendous on the eyes.

Backing yourself into a corner.

Having a relevant company name is great (as long as it’s not 500 characters long of course) but sometimes, that can be damaging too. Taking the same example above, let’s assume that the business is successful (even with that horrendous name) and wants to start selling home electronics, textiles, and kitchenware along with their other products. That’s a logical jump but it’s still slightly confusing as a consumer buying a DVD player or blender will be thinking “why is an office furniture website selling a blender?”. Taking that example even further, let’s imagine that the company is selling more consumer electronics than furniture and decides to abandon the furniture side of the business. Now their name is not only a nightmare to type, but also not relevant to their core business.

Don’t overcomplicate it.

Similar to the “keyboard mash” name generation techniques, over complicated names can be clever but they’re something I try and avoid. Names that are difficult to pronounce or spell can be disastrous when trying to explain your email address over the phone, at conferences, when people google your company, or even to your friends and family. Having an interesting name is a great conversation point – if you can provide a decent backstory. Can you imagine responding to “that’s a very interesting name, tell me – where does it come from?” with “It was the only thing available”?

What I do.

When trying to think up a name for a business, product, service, etc. I have a few tricks that I call upon. These might not be applicable to everyone but they certainly help me out:

1. Phonetics
If it’s not spelled as it sounds – throw it out, it’s too complicated. Two syllable onomatopoeic names are perfect.

2. Keep it short, where possible
Staying under 7 – 8 characters makes it short and sweet (Virgin, Google, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

3. Run searches on every possible name
When coming up with names, do a trademark search and domain name search to avoid setting your heart on something that’s already taken.

4. Don’t settle for anything less than “.com” or “”
There’s a load of TLD’s (top level domains) available. If isn’t available but is, don’t buy it. Assume the customer will always use “.com” or “” as they’re fairly common. Plus, brand dilution may occur if the owner of .com realises what’s happening and tries to steal your business (it’s happened).

5. Continually come up with names, even if you don’t plan to use them.
I constantly will come up with names for products, companies, or services in the hope that one of them may be useful in the future for something. I might not have an idea of what exactly they’d be useful for but at least I have a name stock to choose a few from.

Of course, it’s your company, so it’s up to you in the end. If you’re proud of it then that’s all that matters.

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