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7 Rules for Choosing the Perfect Small Business Brand Name

As we said in How to Name Your Business, your business name should be something you come up with fairly quickly in order to start setting up the foundation of your business.

However, once you get to the point when you want to create a brand, you can afford to spend some serious time on coming up with an appealing name.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet was completely wrong when she said those words–at least with regards to small businesses. Your brand name is the first impression you get to leave on your customers; so it’s no surprise that people spend a lot of time and money on selecting the right brand name. A bad name can make you the butt of people’s jokes, or worse, it can scare customers away.

Make sure you choose the best name possible by following these seven rules:

1. Choose positive words.

The first rule of creating an appealing business name is to choose words that have a positive connotation and invoke positive feelings in customers. When brainstorming, you’ll notice the difference between warm and fuzzy words and words that fall flat. For instance, there’s a self-service dog wash here in Austin called Mud Puppies that is rather popular.

Consider the difference between Mud Puppies and Mud Dogs. The place services dogs of all ages, but the word “puppies” is infinitely way cuter than “dogs.” The denotation is the same, but the connotation is different. Mud Dogs has a dirty connotation, while Mud Puppies has a cute, playful connotation.

2. Don’t be offensive.

Sometimes, a business owner has the zany idea to create an offensive name. Perhaps they think that they’re pushing the envelope and giving off a racy, exciting image. But in reality, offensive names are never a good idea. For instance, there’s a food trailer here in Austin called MeSoHungry that riffs on the offensive phrase “me so horny.” Although the place gets some business, I’m betting that most people would think twice about eating at a place that calls to mind such a negative phrase that has nothing to do with food.

Another local example is Pho (pronounced “fuh”) King. Doing a pun on four-letter words is never a good idea. It just doesn’t make you sound classy. You could have the best food, product or service in the world, but if people don’t think you’re professional they won’t bother setting foot in the door.

3. Appeal to what people already know/like.

This is in the same vein as choosing words with a positive connotation. There are plenty of trends out there for you to draw inspiration from, such as the Do-It-Yourself movement, eco-friendly/green trend or health conscious trends. A business name I really like is Sushi-a-Go-Go, which is the name of a food trailer here in Austin that serves to-go sushi. It’s a peppy name that appeals to people’s love of fast food and gives them a sense of urgency.

Again, you’ll have to sit down and brainstorm ideas that appeal to consumers, but you (hopefully) won’t be reinventing the wheel. In addition to trends, music, movies, popular websites and even celebrities offer a source of inspiration. An exercise you could to would be to list your own favorites/likes and see if you can find a gold nugget somewhere.

4. Think local–or think global.

If you’re a local business, try getting inspired by landmarks, popular spots and familiar locations around town. For instance, the company 360 Partners here in Austin was named after Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway), which runs right by their office. However, beware of picking something ubiquitous or cheesy. (In Texas, you’ll see Lonestar [Something] anywhere you go.) You want to sound familiar, but you also want to stand out from the crowd.

Perhaps you’re not a local business. Maybe you have an e-commerce business that serves customers around the country and/or the world. You can still use a locale-inspired name, but you may want to try broader terms that have more universal appeal.

Amazon is a great example of a brand that references a specific location but also has universal appeal. JetBlue is an example of a company that bucks the trend and doesn’t incorporate a location like competitors American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others. Their name works, largely because it paints a lovely, serene picture. Think about what you want your business to say. Is it important for you to emphasize something local and familiar or to have widespread appeal? You decide.

5. Be punny.

Never underestimate the power of the pun. Puns are cheeky; their entertaining and memorable. A great example of a punny business name is G’Raj Mahal, which is the name of a popular food trailer in East Austin. It’s a play on the famous Taj Mahal that gives an edginess and humor to an otherwise cliché Indian restaurant name.

Puns require a bit more creativity than the average business name, so you might want to pull together some creative people to help you come up with the perfect pun. And remember, puns can bomb very easily and not be as funny as you think they are (see Rule #2 above)—so, beware!

6. Be memorable.

This might be the hardest thing to do when thinking up your business name. A lot of companies struggle with the balance between uniqueness and accessibility. Google is now a household name, but virtually nobody knew what a google was until the company made the word famous.

A very special or esoteric name may be great for trademark purposes and online search purposes (less competition), but you’ll probably have to do a bit more work educating people about what your company actually does when you start out. The choice between specific and generic is yours to make, but keep these things in mind:

  • Keep it short and sweet. A lot of companies go with the one-word name, which is very memorable. Brands like Ebay and Etsy are short, but very effective. If you go with the one-word name, be sure that people will be able to easily relate your business to that word. Don’t pick a word that doesn’t relate at all. (For example, every day, I pass by a building here in Austin that says Milkshake and want to step in for a chocolate shake. Except I can’t—because it’s an ad agency.)
  • Or make it longer and more specific. You can have a name longer name, but be sure that it’s saying something important about your business. I really like the name Walton’s Fancy and Staple, just because the words are so interesting and descriptive.
  • Avoid copying other people. You may be tempted to copy the names of other popular business, but be careful of attracting the ire of competitors. If you name your company Polo Sporting Goods, you may get slapped with a trademark lawsuit from Polo by Ralph Lauren. You might be thinking that you can easily poach customers from your competitors with a similar name, but you won’t be working to differentiate yourself and establish your own brand reputation.

7. Keep promotional materials in mind.

Have you spent hours, days or weeks on picking a business name, only to find out that it won’t fit on a business card or is difficult to find on a search engine? When you are thinking about your business name, also keep in mind how the name will look when you build a website or create business cards. Also, your logo will be a big part of building your image. What images or colors could be used along with the name? Can you create an entire website or promotional theme around it?

An excellent example of a themed website is MailChimp. They put chimps, chimp noises, chimp imagery, and chimp cuteness into everything they do. Their website features a “talking” chimp, which features rotating cheeky sentences for you to read whenever you visit the site. MailChimp customer support techs sign their emails with chimp lingo: “Eep, Eep!” And, they give you Monkey Rewards for referring friends. It’s fun, appealing and keeps customers coming back for more.

Got a great name picked out for your business? The next steps are creating business cards and setting up your website. Check out our business cards and website builders reviews!

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