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Branding 101: 7 Business Name Traps to Avoid

naming-business-brand

Today’s post is about seven pitfalls to avoid when naming a company.

Your company name is an important element that’s directly linked to your ability to grow.

Your company name can make your brand or it can break it.

Don’t hinder your progress by painting yourself into a corner with a name that will hold you back.

Learn what to avoid and what to do when you create a brand and company name by avoiding the seven traps here.

1. Avoid initials or acronyms

The first thing we aim for with a company name is communication. Ideally, your name says what you offer in an instant.

Acronyms and initials may not make much sense to someone who comes across them.

Avoid them. Instead, aim for a name that says what you offer in clear language.

2. Steer clear of similar-sounding names

Picking a name that’s similar to something that’s already known in your market may seem like a good idea. But why spend your marketing dollars trying to differentiate your business from your competitors’ businesses because your names are so similar?

Don’t be afraid to come up with a name that’s unique and will stand out from what’s already out there.

3. Stay away from your own name

If you’re just starting a new business, selling it and handing it over to someone else might be the last thing you’d think about.

But it happens every day. People build a profitable business they name after themselves and suddenly they’re fielding offers from interested buyers.

Part of what the buyers look at when valuing a company is “brand equity.”

If a business has laid the groundwork for a strong, recognizable brand over many years, that’s worth real money.

If you’ve used your personal name as your brand name and you plan to exit from the daily operations of your business, that brand equity will go with you.

Your company won’t be as valuable if your name is on it — but you’re not around.

There are exceptions, of course. If you’re a counselor, attorney, life coach or artist, for example, it might make sense to use your name as your business name. You are your business, so stating your name and crafting a tagline that explains what you do may be all you need.

But those businesses aren’t easy to sell or hand over to someone else: they’re very dependent on the work of one person. Keep this in mind and choose carefully.

4. Don’t get too specific

One of the most difficult aspects of naming your business is that it happens so early. When you’re just starting your business, you may not know exactly what you’ll focus on yet, or who your ideal customer will be.

That’s why it’s best to avoid ultra-specific names that are tied to a particular product or service, like Rattan Rockers Inc. (what if they want to offer wicker furniture?), or Just Desserts Deliveries (what if they decide to expand into delivering sandwiches?).

5. Don’t be generic (and forgettable)

I know, I know. I just told you not to be too specific, and now I’m saying not to be too generic!

It’s important that either your company name or your tagline explain what you offer. For more on this, read How to Write a Terrific Tagline.

It’s best to avoid names like Fernstone, Inc., Marvin & Sons, and The Gilberton Company. These names say nothing and mean nothing. Using a name like this means you’ll have to spend valuable time establishing what you do before you can move on to building trust and comfort.

6. Avoid made-up words

Xerox.
Google.
Kodak.

They could afford to pour their money into establishing the meaning of the made-up words they used for brand names. Can you?

If you’re running a small business and your marketing budget is tight, chances are you can’t.

Don’t be too clever: stick to using words that already have a meaning rather than making up words and having to explain yourself.

7. Steer clear of trends (they guarantee obsolescence)

Allied Carbon Paper.
Dave’s VCR Rental.

United Ice Block Home Delivery.

These businesses may have existed at one time, but not anymore. They built names around specific technologies, and those technologies disappeared.

Be aware that this may happen to the business you’re building right now. Focus on the benefit your product or service will offer and don’t mention the technology you’ll use to offer it.

Bonus pro tip: Check the availability of a URL

The website you create for your new business will be one of your most important marketing tools.

Before you commit to a business name, be sure you can find a website address that uses that name. I use Namecheap for this — and have for years.

Domain names ending in .com are the industry standard, so don’t plan to grab the .biz version of the name you want if the .com isn’t available. Doing that is a sure way to send lots of visitors to the website of the owner of the .com URL.

Instead, keep searching until you find a name that meets the criteria in this post and is available for purchase.

Keep learning: Get my FREE Branding 101 course

Take full advantage of my 30+ years of branding experience with the FREE, quick course I put together. You’ll get a process to follow and lots of extra resources to help you along the way. Register for Branding 101: It’s FREE.

This post was originally published on March 21, 2012. It has been updated for today with additional information and resources.

Stuck trying to find a memorable business name for your company? Don't let your online business name ideas paint yourself into a corner! Click through to read about 7 traps you should avoid, and grab the FREE Branding 101 course, too! #branding #onlinebranding #websitename #startup

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24 thoughts on “Branding 101: 7 Business Name Traps to Avoid

  1. Great tips Pamela. I’m really happy with my company name and domain name, but I did struggle with using a space or a hyphen in between Image and Maven. In the end I chose to go space-less and hyphen-less for consistency with the incorporated name and the url.

    • With so much business being done on the Internet now, it makes sense to leave the space out. Luckily you have vowels before and after the “M,” so there’s no pronunciation issue. I think it works great!

  2. Good tips Pam,

    I wish I would’ve read this years ago. One of the reasons I had to tweak my company name in order to get the domain name. People have problems remembering the two t’s. Yes, I broke tip #6, it’s a made up word lol

    Verttix. We recently added Apps so people get a better idea of what we do, Verttix Apps.

    • It must have been tough to choose a name and then have to change it.

      I like the addition of Apps: even though it’s a made up name, you’re saying what you do.

      Thanks for the comment, Santy!

  3. Great article.

    In my seminars I suggest that ‘Bob’s Barber Shop’ is the very best name for Bob the barber. It tells it like it is and there’s no mistake about who is selling what.

    But Bob will never expand outside of his neighborhood — doesn’t want to!

    He could have used ‘Follicle Extension Trimmers’ and never survived in the same neighborhood.

    Shakespeare’s ‘A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet…’ just doesn’t apply to the world of business!

  4. So i guess miss evil kitty – Vintage {Inspired} Jewelry & Accessories is a good name after 😀

  5. Hi Pamela, I’ve just been through this process for my new website.

    The tagline was easy: business and technical document know-how. But I wanted a quirky title. I wanted to use document in their somewhere and came up with The documentalist.

    I thought I’d made it up; I couldn’t imagine it being a real word. Turns out it is a real word, although not used much these days.

  6. I think that we need to keep in mind that there are different purposes to business and the name needs to relate to the business, I have one corporate identity and lots of product brands. I have no intention of selling the company and it will be handed down until there are no more family members. But the different brands can come and go depending on the needs and the market

  7. Hey Pamela,

    Great tips and information.

    Right now I have a site name that does describe the core of my business but I added ‘mx’ to the end, so it’s keywordmx.com and people are having a difficult time with the last two letters now.

    ‘MX’ stands for Mexico in domain names but it was clearly a bad choice, I’m already considering to name this differently and your guidelines are going to help so thanks in advance!

    Sergio

    • De nada, Sergio. Is your target market Mexican citizens? Or will the keywordmx.com site specialize in keywords that work well in that market? In those cases, having mx in the domain seems like it might be a good idea.

      Good luck with it: it’s tough to find a really great business name: especially one with a common word like “keyword” in the title!

  8. Hi just launched my business Web site yesterday and am so grateful for the many helpful tips you have given and are giving. The one thing that I somewhat regret is the name I have chosen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the name, but there is someone with a similar business name. I am not quite sure why I missed that since I usually am thorough about things, perhaps I was looking in French mostly (since I work in French).

    In any case, I do not think I will change at this point and hope that somehow this will not be a big problem.

    I am not sure if I will blog yet and what other media I will use, but I love to see how people use their creativity in business.

    The advice you gave on color, on where to get photos, on branding, on fonts… I hope it all came together nicely, and luckily I know a very tech savvy guy who was able to help me where my skills failed me.

    Thanks again!

    • It looks wonderful, Johanne! Congratulations. That first website is always the most difficult. After this, you can just make changes and improvements, and it should be much easier.

      Good luck! 🙂

  9. Great points, Pamela. My own challenges with a business name concern what I offer and what I want to offer in the future. I’m a copy editor of books, website copy and other documents, but I also eventually want to offer writing services as well. I don’t offer them now only because there are many professional fields I simply have no experience writing about.

    For several years I’ve considered ExpertWebEdit but I’m also aware that an actual web editor does much more than copy edit. So I’m back at square one.

    • Ana, is there anything your customers say about you consistently that you could use to position your business? For example:

      “You’re so easy to work with!” becomes “EasyWordsmith.”

      “You always hit your deadlines” becomes “On-Time Word Works.”

      Does that make sense? (Neither example is good by the way … but hopefully you’ll get the idea!)

      • It’s so helpful to think in terms of what customers are saying, or what solution they need! I think the customer-focused approach can help you find some appealing names. I think it’s also important to have a positive and curious mindset as you brainstorm. Especially for a writing service. You don’t want to come across as the sour English teacher with the red pen. If you are an editor, you provide a much needed service in helping ideas flow easily from one mind to another. Maybe try to have fun with it as you brainstorm, so the positive vibe can shine in your candidate names!

        • Love the idea of approaching this as a fun process, Joanne. It should be! And in a perfect world, it’s also not rushed. Great names happen after you’ve exhausted all the boring options. 🙂

  10. This was very timely for me, so thanks Pamela! 🙂 I’m trying to decide on a business name for my email marketing services (strategy, writing, implementation). I was going to use Email Essentials, because one of the angles I’m taking with this new biz is to simplify email marketing for consultants and service professionals. But I wonder if it’s too specific? I see myself helping clients also with funnels and marketing automation, which some folks call email marketing and other folks consider it something separate, so I worry that using “email” in my name will limit me – though, in the short-term, I think it’d be great for identifying me easily. Also, though “essentials” fits for the simplifying angle, there are other angles or “big ideas” that I’d like to tackle as well. Ah, such dilemmas!

    I haven’t even started thinking about a tagline… my head hurts now! 🙂

    • What about “Marketing Essentials”?

      That’s a more broad name. Then you can get specific with your tagline: “Email, funnels, automation, and more”

      Something like that! The nice thing about taglines is they’re easily changed. So it’s smart to be rather broad with your business name and then spell out specifics with your tagline.

      • Thanks, Pamela! Yes, I think you’re right (of course!) about going broader with the name and specific with the tagline. I like knowing I can change the tagline depending on where I go with the business. Hmmm… The other problem is finding something with a domain that’s available!

        (And I do love the alliteration with Email Essentials! 🙂 )

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Pamela Wilson

Does Your Online Brand Really Make You Successful?

I believe every business can benefit from going through the online brand building process. It’s one reason I remain passionate about branding after all these years! Here’s the thing … Building a successful brand requires you to answer some thought-provoking questions. If you want your online brand to

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