What’s in a Name?

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Visual ThesaurusOne of the things I struggle the most with in getting my business started is what on earth to call it. The easiest way to name a new business is to use the owner’s name. Well, when your last name is practically unpronounceable, not to mention difficult to spell, that doesn’t seem like the best option.

As soon as I knew I wanted to own my own business, I started thinking of ideas for names. As I traveled for the last half of 2007, I took my business planning notebook along and brainstormed name ideas on long road trips. Now I have a few pages of ideas, and I’m as lost as ever. So I decided to seek out tips on naming a business, and although I haven’t made a final choice yet, I feel like I have a road map to guide my naming process.

Start by simply brainstorming. This is the fun part. At this stage, no idea is a bad one. Keep a list and write all your ideas down, leaving room for variations. You can use tools like visual thesaurus or a good ol’ dictionary to help if you get stuck. Once you have a long list of choices, you can start narrowing it down.

The most obvious point to consider when naming a new business venture is that the name has to be unique. Not only does it confuse customers when similar businesses have the same name, it’s asking for legal trouble.

Once you have a list of possible names, you can narrow it down by checking if there are other businesses using those names. Though not all business names are registered as trademarks, a good place to check is the Trademark Electronic Search System. An online business directory like ThomasNet and your local phone book are other good places to start. Rule out any names that are in use in your area (you may want to broaden your search if you’ll be doing business online, nationally, or internationally) or any names used by businesses very similar to yours. Usually, similar names in completely different industries aren’t a problem, especially in a large market. You’ll also want to check if domain names for your business are available, which you can do through a web host or Whois.net. A dot com web address is preferred, so if you plan to do a lot of business online, domain name availability is a biggie.

There are many schools of thought about what business names work best. My best advice is just to go with your gut and choose a name that fits you and your business, and be sure to share your thought process with others and gather their input. Of course, there are also plenty of sources for tips on business naming. The SBA provides a little general information about naming a business and the legal process involved. Entrepreneur.com has a lengthy article on the subject, as does Nolo.com. Key points: make sure it’s unique, memorable, meaningful, and not too hard to spell or pronounce.

As an eco-conscious future business owner, it’s important to remember your niche market and your commitment to sustainability when thinking of business names. With all things green gaining more attention from consumers, mentioning your greenness right in your name may not be a bad idea. After all, a green business owner considers sustainability at every step of the planning process, and a commitment to sustainability will help you stand out from the competition.

After you have a handful of names picked out, run them by friends, family, and colleagues. When you’ve been focusing on the same few words for so long, it’s a good idea to get insight from others. You may also want to consult your lawyer, who can help you do a trademark search to be sure you’re not infringing on existing businesses, and help register your trademark if needed. If you’re a sole proprietor, your state may require you to file a “doing business as” or fictitious business name application through your county clerk’s office. Laws vary in each area and I’m no lawyer, so do your homework!

If there’s one thing I have learned during this process, it’s that it’s hard to force creativity. Often the best names have come to me when I’m not trying to think of them at all. So don’t let coming up with a business name stress you out. Sometimes the best thing you can do to jump start creative ideas is to focus your energy away from the task at hand for a while. That said, it’s time I enjoyed some California sunshine and stopped staring at this screen!

Resources and Links in this article:

  • Small Business Association: Name Your Business
  • How to Name Your Business on Entrepreneur.com
  • Pick a Winning Name for Your Business on Nolo.com
  • Whois.com Domain Name Registry
  • Visual Thesaurus
  • US Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Electronic Search System

Image: a screen shot of the word “green” in Visual Thesaurus.

Now that you’ve read about naming a green business, why not see the other steps on the path? My Green Dreams series follows my journey starting a green design studio. Read about my business dreams, resources for business planning, inspiration from other green design businesses, and writing a business plan. Thanks for reading!


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