Back when I was pregnant with my youngest, one of the most common questions I received, after the gender and due date, was always “What’s his name?” And my answer was always the same: I don’t know! I think people thought I was exaggerating so wouldn’t have to share the name with them, but the truth is that throughout most of my pregnancy my husband and I had a long list we were trying to decide between.
When my son finally made his debut, my husband and I had narrowed the list down to two names, but were still struggling to decide between the two. After our son remained nameless for twelve hours, I ended up downloading an app for my IPhone (Chooze, if you’re curious) to help us make our final decision.
All that to say, naming can be hard work, and it’s no wonder that when it comes time to name this new business baby of yours the pressure can feel intense. When I launched my own branding studio, it was originally under the name Aloe Creative. Obviously, that didn’t stick and after a year I ended up changing the name to Brand Epiphany.
That’s an important lesson to learn in and of itself, you can always change your business name! But whether you’re sitting down to name a brand new business, or questioning whether it’s time to change things up for an existing one, here are some things to think about.
The first thing to think about is fairly obvious, is the average person going to be able spell and pronounce your business name? Nowadays many people will type your business name into Google rather than clicking directly from a link, and being able to come at least somewhat close in spelling will go a long way.
This is also a big reason I decided against using my own name, Amanda Csakan, which is super difficult to say AND spell (thanks, hubby!)
When I was wracking my brain trying to name my business originally, I realized that the initials making up the title of my little blog about New Mexico, A Life of Enchantment, actually spelled a real word: Aloe. Aloe was both easy to say and spell, so I rolled with it. Thus, Aloe Creative was born.
Action step: Ask a few random people if they can pronounce your name. How would they spell it if hearing it for the first time? If people can get relatively close, you’re probably in the clear!
One of the first things I would do with a contender is to Google it and see what comes up. Is it taken? Is it taken by someone in your field? Is the url available? If “yourname.com” is taken, this is certainly a bummer but not necessarily a deal breaker unless the person that owns the domain name is a direct competitor of yours.
Next in importance is social media. Is the handle available on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc? Again, not necessarily a complete deal breaker, as there are ways around this, but definitely a factor to consider.
But probably one of the more important things to consider is to make sure the name you’re in love with is available legally. Head to the trademark and do a search to see what comes up with. If your name is taken, but by a completely different industry, it might still be available to use. Do your homework! You can search that here: https://www.uspto.gov/trademark
Next in line as far as legalities is to run a DBA (Doing Business As) search in your state, which can usually be found on your state’s Secretary of State website.
Action step: Run the searches! How available is your name across various platforms? How free is it to use legally? When in doubt, contact a trademark attorney.
This is where I went wrong with Aloe Creative. Ask most people what comes to mind when they hear “aloe” and words like “calm, healing, natural, healthy, and soothing” will most likely come up. If was targeting health coaches and yoga studios, and had a zen-like calmness, this might have been a great name.
However, this was working directly against the upbeat, joyful energy that I bring to my work and want to be known for. Not to mention how many times people mistakenly thought I was selling health or skin care products.
However, when I asked my past dream clients for their initial thoughts/impressions regarding the name “Brand Epiphany,” I got some great responses. For example:
“I think of that spark of an idea, when everything makes sense and you just came home.”
“My reaction to that one is Yes! It all makes sense now!”
“It speaks for itself in what you do, because I’ve literally had brand epiphanies!”
Action step: Gauge people’s reactions/first impressions when they hear your name. The book Don’t Call it That! has some great advice on this: “Instead of asking them how they feel about a name, just say, ‘I’m thinking of starting a [blank] called [blank].” Don’t ask. Just tell and gauge their reaction.”
Important: When eliciting feedback, remember that the only people that matter are the people you’re trying to attract! While you may love your dad, unless you’re trying to appeal to people just like him, his opinion isn’t as valuable here, nor is your best friend if she’s not a dream client. In my case, I went back and asked clients that I had worked with and want to attract more of.
I think this is a good time to mention that a good brand name does NOT need to be descriptive. In fact, it will probably be more compelling/memorable if it isn’t. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people ask for feedback on a potential business name in a Facebook group (which is a bad idea all around for lots of reasons) only to see people respond, “I can’t tell what you do by that name!”
To this I have to say, what does Target, Anthropologie, or Free People say about what they do? Would they be better if they were named, “Retail Store for Moms” or “Boho Clothing Shop?” I think not. So while giving a nod to your business is fine, of course (Brand Epiphany obviously does), don’t worry if it doesn’t directly reference what you do.
Now there are a ton of opinions out there about this, both pro and con. My personal opinion is that using your name is just fine, but it should be a conscious choice, not something to fall back on as a default or out of fear of doing something that’s different in your industry (photographers, I’m looking at you).
Consider Bernadette Jiwa’s advice:
“Your business or product name is the hook on which you hang your story and start the conversation with customers. It’s the mechanism you give people to identify you. And when you earn their trust and loyalty it’s the way they spread the news about you. Your brand and product names are some for the most priceless assets your business can own. They should make you stand out, not fit in.”
Naming your business can be hard work, but the right name can be a wonderful way to stand out and get the right attention. Conversely, the wrong brand name can work against you by giving the wrong impression or blending in with your industry peers. Don’t be afraid to shake things up!
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