Whether you’re starting a new web design business from scratch, creating a product to sell, or starting a side gig–you need to come up with a name.
Naming your business or product might seem simple, but there are some precautions you should take. Choosing the wrong name could create problems for you and your business. If someone else already owns the name that you choose, you could even find yourself in legal trouble.
Your company or product name is likely to be with you for a long time. Potentially, it could be with you for as long as you run your business. Your name will also become part of your business brand. So, it’s important to choose a name carefully.
In this post, I’ll examine four questions you need to consider when naming your product or business. Please note that I am not an attorney and this post does not constitute legal advice.
Question #1: What Are the Qualities of a Good Name?
How can you tell whether a name is good? Here are four characteristics of a good business or product name:
- Unique. You need a unique name for your business or product. Your name will become part of your business identity.
- Memorable. In general, shorter names are better than longer names. They are easier to remember. Shorter names will also help you on social media sites like Twitter, where the number of characters you can share at a time is limited.
- Positive. Your business or product name should be free of negative connotations. Consider slang or foreign meanings too. If you are unsure how your target market will respond to a particular name, try hiring a focus group to tell you what that name means to them.
- Intuitive. Some of the best names are directly related to the product or service. But don’t limit yourself. Remember that the now household words like Yo-Yo and Zipper once had no obvious meaning.
Some name designations, like LLC (for limited liability company) or Inc. (for incorporated) refer to your business structure and you shouldn’t use them unless that is actually how your business is structured.
Remember, the name you choose is likely to go on your stationery, your business cards, your website, and so on. So choose carefully.
Question #2: Should You Use Your Own Name?
Another tactic that many business owners consider is using their own name. This is particular popular among solo professionals and with partnerships.
Using your own name for your business may seem like an obvious choice, but is it a good idea?
The answer is…it depends. If you’re thinking about naming your business after yourself, consider these areas:
- Is your name unique? Just because it’s your name doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t already used it as a business name. Some names–like Smith, Jones, and Garcia in the United States–are extremely common.
If someone else has already started a business using your name, then you probably shouldn’t. This is true even if their business is in an entirely different field. Imagine the confusion–is the client trying to locate Mr. Smith the Web Designer or Mr. Smith the exterminator? Trust me, you don’t want all those calls and all that confusion.
- Will you eventually sell or incorporate the business? It is possible to sell a business named after yourself, of course. But do you really want to give up control of something that is named after you?
Of course, many businesses are named after their founders and go on to do quite well. A variation of using your own name that sometimes works well is using your initials. For example, fictitious designer David Elliot Frank might call his web design business DEF Web Design. (As far I can tell, there is no person or firm by that name at the time of publication.)
Once you’ve found several names you are interested in, you are ready to find out whether they are available for use.
Question #3: Is the Name Available?
Availability is a legal as well as a practical consideration. You don’t want to be sued for infringing upon someone’s trademarked name.
Here are some steps to take to make sure that the product or business name you selected is available:
- Contact your county and state to see if they maintain a database of registered business names. This can help you to determine whether your business name is being used in the county or state where you do business.
- Search registered trademarks. There are several services that allow you to search for registered trademarks in the United States. You can search for trademarks through Trademark Electronic Search Service (TESS) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There is no charge to use the service.
- Search the Thomas Register. The Thomas Register keeps a list of U.S.-based manufacturers and vendors (including graphic design). You can search their database for free. Some of the companies listed here may not be registered.
- Use the Search Engine. A final way to determine whether a business or product name is already being used is to search for the name using one or more of the search engines. If you get an exact match in the results, then you know that the name is in use.
Question #4: Is the Domain Name Available?
Before finalizing your choice of a business or product name, you will want to see if the .com or .net domain name for that name is available. People will automatically assume that your website name is the same is your company or product name. For that reason, I strongly recommend purchasing a domain name that matches your company or product name.
Here are several resources to help you find out whether a domain name is available.
- checkdomain.com. Type any domain name URL to find out whether that URL is registered. There is no charge to use this service.
- Whois.net. If the domain name you are interested in is registered already, you can use this service to find out who owns the domain and some information about the name. There is no charge to look up a domain name.
If you find that a name meets all of the criteria above, you are ready to finalize the name. To protect your interests, you may want to register the name you select as a trademark and add it to your county and/or state database. Be sure to the buy the domain name that matches the name you have chosen.
What steps did you go through when you selected your business or product name?