Yahoo Smart and Simple Guide to Starting Your Business: Naming Your Business

By owenl | Small Business

Part four of a series – The Yahoo Smart and Simple Guide to Starting a Business.

We’ve covered your business concept, ideas, motivation and ownership issues for your new business previously (see above) and we are now moving on to naming. This is a critical issue nowadays because your business needs to have customers to succeed and the two biggest sources of customers are word-of-mouth and online. For both you need a memorable name.

First, read our introduction to the topic ‘The Name Game – How To Pick a Business name that will be successful for years to come.’ Then come back here and work through this practical guide and worksheet. If you do both you will come out at the end with a killer name for your business and will also be on your way to establishing that name for your business.

The first step is not to miss anything. To do that you need to do some serious creative brainstorming.

Practical worksheet

Big corporations and consumer product companies like Proctor and Gamble take naming very seriously – so much so that they have consultants and agencies JUST to help them with naming things. Fortunately you can replicate what most of those consultants and agencies do without the $500 per hour fees. And you can have fun doing it.

The Creative Process – aka brainstorm as many names as possible. Get yourself and any trusted helpers together in a big group. Make it relaxed and fun and provide snacks, drinks, etc. There are some basic ground rules. NOTHING is off limits – at this stage all name suggestions no matter how bad are still good. The goal is to capture as many ideas and starting points as possible – record the discussion so you don’t miss things. In addition, have one person whose job it is to write EVERY SINGLE SUGGESTION down – no matter how stupid. Then go over the recording and add in anything you missed. 

Here are some basic principles to bear in mind while you brainstorm: stay positive – positive names have positive connotations and work better; avoid complicated and hard-to-say names; keep your options open by not getting TOO specific.

You can get some good brainstorming advice and ideas here:

The goal is to have at least 50 ideas at the end of this and over 100 is even better. Start the brainstorming session with a few goals and any information you already have from your ideas and business plans and any information you have about what you do and do not want the name to convey. Most important are your GOALS. You can contrast some of the following to help clarify your goals (fun/serious, witty/straightforward, action-oriented/thought-oriented, quality/value.)

Weed out the obvious Nos. Cut your list down to about 20 to 30 names. Now go over that shorter list for problems. Are there local rivals with similar names? If so, drop them. If there are moderate to large populations of foreign language speakers in your area, then get a couple of them to vet the list for any names that are fine in English but a bad idea in their language. A classic example was the Chevy Nova – which in Spanish is easy to read as No Va – or ‘doesn’t go.’ Your goal with this part of the worksheet is to get to a top ten list at this point.

Due diligence. Check for existing legal entities (existing business names that are like yours – you only have to worry about local companies if you are operating locally, however, and you can differentiate if an existing business is in a completely different field from you. For example it is fine to have Acme Pet Supplies and Acme Bookbinders in the same town. Fictitious business names – aka DBA (Doing Business As) – are kept on a county by county basis within a state, so do a search for your county and state combined with ‘fictitious business name dba’. Eliminate any obvious conflicts – there is no point trying to get the same or a similar name to an existing business in your locality. Also note that not all states require DBA filings so it may be harder to check competitor names in these states.

Then check for domain names (online website names like ‘’). You can use a site like Yahoo Small Business to search for available domains. Nowadays every business NEEDS an online presence, even if only as an advertisement to direct people to a physical location. And for the most part you really DO want a ‘.com’ rather than a ‘.us’ or any of the other alternative domain name endings.

Finally, will the name work for internet searches and result? Will people know what you do JUST FROM THE NAME? This is key and may mean that your clever short name will have to be modified by adding something simple and descriptive. For example if you really want to use your name as part of the business, at least add what you do – ‘John Smith Plumbing Supplies’ will mean a lot more than ‘John Smith, Inc.’

Top 3 choices. Take it down to your top  three choices that are left and then look at variations such as plural versus singular and adding additional simple words, etc. Use a thesaurus for alternatives to any of the words to try to find something that WORKS and is also memorable and clever. This process could take it back to six or eight choices but some of them will be very similar to one another.

Now decide. By the time you have gone through all these stages you should have a clear idea of how you feel about the alternatives. If you still can’t decide remember that all other things being equal, shorter is better. Again, make sure you can get the domain name.

Get the domain name first. This may not seem obvious, but domain names can be taken very fast and are very low cost – so grab the domain name first, before anything else. You can reserve it here: Now that you have a name and a domain name to go with it, you can file a DBA with your county small business office – if required.

For some people starting a business the name can be a real choke point – where they get blocked from progress in starting their business. For others it is easy. This worksheet is obviously designed to help the former group, but it should also help everyone else to do the best possible job they can naming their company and to do the due diligence of making sure no name conflict issues arise later and that you make sure to get one of your most important assets early on – the domain name.

For more information, take a look at our resource guide which has links to more articles about naming and places to do research including the SBA.

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