3 Secrets for Naming Your Startup Business

Posted On Jul 12, 2022 |

Naming a start-up company or product is a crucial steps in business. But how do you go about it? Here's some tips to help BEFORE you start branding.


Overview: Finding the right name for your small business start-up is one of the most crucial steps in branding. But how do you go about finding the exact right name?

  1. State the Who, What, and Why of Your Business
  2. Brainstorm Ideas in a Group
  3. Use the Thesaurus Method

The process can be long and difficult to find that “obvious” name – Roma Foods wasn’t built in a day! But here are some tips to help you get motivated, get creative, and get the right name.

Why a Rose By Any Other Name Won’t Sell Nearly As Well

Shakespeare would have sucked at branding. In Romeo and Juliet he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Not true, as any marketer will tell you. Can you imagine giving your hubby a dozen “stinkbuds” for Valentine’s Day? Clearly, finding the right name for your small business start-up is vital to your success!

Name has a profound influence how people react to a company or product, roses included. Some great examples happen when it comes to marketing a product in a totally different country with a totally different language and culture:

Barf Detergent Barr
  • The only thing Barf laundry detergent could keep down was sales when the Iranian soap manufacturer Paxam tried to translate “snow” from Farsi to English
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Coors’ slogan of “Turn It Loose” loosely translated to “Suffer from Diarrhea” in Spanish.
  • The Ford Pinto got the short end of the stick in Brazil since Pinto translates to “tiny male genitals”
  • Speaking of sticks, Clairol’s marketing campaign for its “Mist Stick” curling iron got a little hairy in Germany since the name roughly translates to “wand of manure

These are just a few of the many examples ofepic fails in global branding. All proof that your name matters when it comes to your brand!

What Does Finding the Right Name for Your Small Business Start-up Really Mean?

I mention “brand” on purpose. Make no mistake: finding the right name for your small business start-up is an exercise in branding – perhaps the most important branding exercise when it comes to your success. You need several elements working all together:

  • Something that’s memorable and easy to say (Ikea, Subway)
  • Something that’s relevant to your business (Volkswagen, “the people’s car”, is a great name for a car company, while Microsoft is a better name for microcomputer software)
  • Something that connects emotionally to your target audience (“Sierra” in the Sierra Club refers to a mountain range and conservation area now synonymous with environmentalism)
  • Something that is witty and/or humorous can be a bonus depending on your company (banks, for example, tend to do better when they come across as serious – you don’t want to trust your money with a clown, though you’ll buy a burger from one)
  • Something that isn’t already taken (more on that to come...)

It can be a long process, and there aren’t really any shortcuts. But there are a few secrets to help you along the way that I’ve gained from helping clients, not to mention my own recent rebranding experience.

The Brief Story of the “For Users’ Sake” Brand

Since the early 90s, I’ve operated under the business name “kpm designs”. It was an obvious choice: the first three letters are my initials, and “designs” was a pretty good description of my business and what I did when I started. The logo was a simple: a white “k” in a red circle.

But, a couple years ago, Circle K Convenience Stores (first image) started popping up in Ontario and I felt the icon of their logo was too close to mine (second image).

Also, my company was evolving. I began to specialize in the user experience part of design, specifically with websites, apps, and related media. I wanted to reflect that specialization more in my business name and branding.

Finding that new name didn’t happen overnight! In fact, it took weeks before deciding on “For Users’ Sake”. Although now it sounds like the perfectly obvious name, finding the obvious often takes time. In the next section, we’ll explore how I approached it.

3 Secrets to Finding that “Obvious” Name for Your Start-up

Here are some creative approaches that will help you find that “obvious” name for your start-up business.

1. State the Who, What, and Why of Your Business

This is kind of a pre-step. Before you go about finding the right name for your small business start-up, you have to understand intimately what it is you want to do, who your ideal customer is, and why you’re in business in the first place. This too may sound obvious – until someone asks you to explain it. If you don’t have a one-sentence summation and a 30-second elevator pitch about your company, it’s a good idea to start with that first. Consider:

  • In a nutshell, what’s my business?
  • Who would benefit most from what I offer?
  • Why do I do what I do? What is my business philosophy?
  • What great need do I fulfil, or what great problem do I solve for my customers and clients?

There are a ton of great resources on how to write an elevator pitch (like this one on HubSpot) so I won’t go into detail. But my point here is that before you start brainstorming, you need to understand your business proposition inside and out. That will help you come up with ideas and, most importantly, identify the exact right name for your start-up.

2. Brainstorm Ideas in a Group

Brainstorming is another concept familiar to most. But if you think it’s limited to gathering a group and simply shouting out names, read on! There are many different ways you can brainstorm:

  • Straight Brainstorming – one person at the whiteboard and the rest piping up with ideas. You know the drill. If things are getting stale, you can reignite the fires by suggesting themes such as, “What if we think about different animals that are best associated with our brand?” etc.
  • Mind Mapping – a type of word association
  • Zero Draft – a kind of brain dump you do without thinking too hard; sometimes interesting ideas land on the page!
  • Exquisite Corpse – everyone rights down five names, passes to the left, writes five more name, passes to the left, then circles the best five and discuss
  • Brain Netting – use a Google Doc or similar online technology and have a group of people write ideas over time as they strike them; email works too
  • Word Association – probably closest to straight brainstorming; participants shout out ideas but with the conscious effort to build upon words of others

Remember, there are no wrong answers – but laughter is definitely okay! You’ll be surprised how often the right name reveals itself right after the weirdest, strangest, or most inappropriate suggestion. Shoot for 50 different names or ideas/concepts and limit the time to 20 minutes or so. This timeframe doesn’t have to be rigid, but you get much better results if you keep things lively and moving forward. Nothing kills creativity like boredom and clock-watching!

Check out the process—watch IDEO’s Toy Lab brainstorm for a zoo:

Here are some more brainstorming ideas—some related to finding the right start-up name, and some not.

3. Use the Thesaurus Method

This is a good one to do alone though it also works in groups, especially if everyone is working remotely and not in the same room. Think about words that best associate with your brand, then search Google or Thesaurus.com for synonyms.

Back in 2019, I leveraged the thesaurus Method to name my company. I almost settled on BOHDEE User Experience Agency, but I’m happy to say that For Users’ Sake: Your Experience Design Partner was the winner. (Sidenote: Our tagline was later updated to align with our other divisions and now is "Designing With Customers In Mind".)

Variations on this method include searching:

This is one time when you shouldn’t be afraid to go down the rabbit hole! Follow every link that strikes your fancy. If you find it interesting, there’s a better chance it will lead you to the right—and obvious—name for your start-up.

I mentioned above that this also works well in groups that are working remotely from each other. Two—or many—heads are better than one, so if you have a group, ask them to follow the same exercise. You may want to ask them to generate at least three ideas that they like best, just so you have a good sample size. But really, there is no right or wrong number.

(Bonus Tip: If working in a group, you could all share a Google Docs page as with the Brain Netting approach above to keep all your ideas in one central location. This is helpful if you want everyone to play off each other’s ideas, too. But if you want ideas to come in independently, email works just as well.)

How to Know When You’ve Found the Right Name

If you’re lucky, you will know instantly when you’ve found the right name. Like I’ve mentioned above (several times), sometimes it’s just obvious! Other times though, it’s something that will grow on you— or not. You may like it at first, and then grow to love it.

Either way though, you’re not quite done yet. There are a few more steps you need to take before you set your name in stone. In Part 2 of How to Create a Brand for Your Small Business Your Customers Will Love, I’ll explore some of the more technical things you need to consider before you decide on a name such as whether another company already has that name and checking for the domain name. I’ll also explore how to go about getting feedback, which is equally important.

Have a question right now? Or do you have a brainstorming tip you’re dying to share? Please be sure to leave me a comment below! You can also contact me directly through my contact formI’m happy to answer any questions you may have about this blog post.

One of the easiest ways to go through the branding process is to have someone with marketing knowledge go through it with you. I can help there too. Contact me and mention you want help with branding and/or finding the right name for your small business start-up.