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Day 5: “What’s in a name?” – Devising a Name For Your Company

"The more we thought, the more they all sounded boring compared to Apple. You didn't have to have a real specific reason for choosing a name when you were a little tiny company of two people; you choose any name you want." - Steve Wozniak

Today's Prompt:

List five possible names for your company, and look up whether the names are available on Google, Namecheckr.com, and Companies House. If your business already has a name, write about your name and why you chose to use it. Share your name ideas, or the origin of your name if you have one, in the comments section of our website at www.30dod.com for feedback!

Today's task is not about choosing a name for your company or venture. It's merely about starting the long process of honing in on an appropriate name.

We want to give you some advice about how to avoid bad names and how to eliminate names that won't work for one reason or another.

First up, full disclosure. I (Kyle) am rubbish at naming companies.

My Chinese language learning business was initially called Hanzi WallChart. This was because I had a competitor called Chinese Poster (such a good name!), and I needed to differentiate. Hanzi is another word for Chinese characters – it is the Chinese word. Wallchart is another name for "poster" but, of course, is not used very often. It was a dreadful name. To make matters worse, the pronunciation of "hanzi" in Chinese sounds nothing like how you'd guess it is pronounced in English. I then compounded the problem by renaming the company Sensible Chinese. Another bad name!

So, I'm bad at naming companies. Why bother reading this, then? Because I've learned from my mistakes and learned how to minimize the damage of bad names. I'm now so conscious of making a naming mistake that I've surrounded myself with tools so that I do not make the same mistakes. Again – we learn more from our failures than our successes.

The main difficulty in naming a company (or anything, really) is the balance between being descriptive and memorable.

A descriptive name says exactly what it does on the tin. U.S. Steel is probably the best example of this. What do you think U.S. Steel makes, and where do you think they make it? If you use your imagination to answer this question, you are trying too hard....

IBM is another. IBM used to be known as International Business Machines. They originally made counting machines, then began making mainframes and PCs.

These sorts of descriptive names are great at telling people exactly what you do. The main reason nowadays for using a name like this is actually for Google. Humans are smart enough to work out your weird company name and remember what you do. Google is not. Google loves company websites whose URLs (the www.website.com part) actually say what they do. For example, https://www.coffeebeandirect.com/ is a website that will do very well on Google for online coffee bean sales.

Chances are, whatever business you are running, you will want to show up on Google at some point. But we need to balance a purely descriptive name with something interesting and memorable.

This is the other end of the spectrum: a name that is totally non-descriptive but memorable and unique enough for potential customers to remember.

Google is actually perhaps the best example here. It's related to a googol, which is a gigantic number, but the name was misspelled during registration of the URL, leading to Google. Apple is another example. Without any other information, there's no way to tell that Apple is a tech company.

Tech companies in general tend to gravitate towards these sorts of names, in part because of the sheer number of these companies and the necessity of coming up with a unique-sounding name to stand apart from the crowd. If you are a local plumber, craftsman or store-owner, you are probably less likely to benefit from a completely unique name.

Fuckoffee is another good example. They used to be called Bermondsey Street Coffee, a purely descriptive name. By adding a dash of uniqueness (with a twist of offensiveness), they made their brand far more memorable.

This balancing act will be the core of your business-naming dilemma. Ultimately, it's about getting a name that you are happy with personally and, most importantly, are happy to spread the word about. If you have a bad name and don't like it, then you are less likely to talk about your business with people. If you have a name you love, then talking about your business (also known as promotion!) will be a lot easier.

Your task today is to brainstorm 5 possible names for your idea. It's likely that none of these will be final names, and that's no problem. It's just important to get the process started and at least have a "working title" to use to talk about your project. This makes it a lot easier to talk with people about what it is you are doing!

Now, I want to give you a couple of ways to check for red flags. None of these should stop you from using a name you love, but they are quick checks that you should run on every business name you are thinking about. Often, you'll be able to rule out a few immediately.

By way of example, I am part of a company in China called "Joynney" (Joy + Journey). The name of the previous incarnation of the business was LingoX. It was a language-focused events company – hence the "lingo" part. Unfortunately, Lingox is also the name of a male sex toy company. All searches on Google for Lingox (or even typing lingox.com instead of our website address, lingox.cn) lead to most definitely NSFW content!

So, check 1#: Google it!

The very first check for a name is to go on Google and type in the name. See what comes up. Anything potentially embarrassing like Lingox? Or perhaps the top spaces on Google are dominated by huge companies with the same name? These will become your competition (at least online), so you want to avoid large, entrenched companies if possible.

Check #2: Namecheckr

If your name isn't showing anything too problematic on Google, then the next check is to see what social media accounts are available for the name.

https://www.namecheckr.com/ is a great tool for checking pretty much every social media network at the same time as well as the .com website address.

Even if you aren't interested in social media right now, it's worth checking to see if the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram names are available. If you are doing anything craft- or design-related, Pinterest will also be useful.

Run your potential business name through the tool, and see what is and isn't available. If all the social accounts for a particular name are gone, then this might be a good sign to look for a slightly different name. Check out the existing accounts, and see how big they are. Maybe you can work around them. Ideally, though, you want to be able to grab the exact same name for each of the social media accounts. This makes it much easier for your audience and customers to find you later.

Check #3: Companies House

Finally, run your name through https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/ and see what comes up.

This is the official list of companies registered in the UK. See if anything with your name appears. If so, you'll need to adjust to create a different legal name – but this is pretty easy to do.

We aren't registering a legal name yet, so don't worry too much at this point. Again, this is just a way to see what else is around with a similar name. It's also not necessary to have the same exact legal company name and trading name (the name your customers see). For example, my official company is Kyle Balmer Digital Marketing, but I trade under different names depending on what business I'm focusing on.

Why bother with these three checks? First, to make sure you don't have any embarrassing mistakes like LingoX, which are a lot harder to deal with later. Second, this is a good way to quickly whittle a large list of potential names down to just a few. Third, this helps stop you falling in love with any particular name only to find that it is impractical at a later stage because someone else is using it.