SCORE

Your very first entrepreneurial challenge is to select a company name that is distinctive, memorable, attention-getting, and will serve you as an inexpensive marketing tool. For inspiration, use the Internet to look up other business names in your industry. While a name can always be changed later, doing so adds costs and lowers the value of the already existing brand equity.

What does your company name mean?

Your company name should clarify what your company sells or what service it provides. This way, every time you use the name, it facilitates the sales process. Not everyone has the budget of Häagen-Dazs, which was able to take a meaningless foreign-sounding word and create a brand identity. Think instead of names such as JiffyLube or Burger Heaven, which successfully convey what they offer and are both short and easy to remember. An exception to this practice are companies whose products attract a buyer by conjuring a sense of romance or illusion—especially in the design or fashion world.

Personalizing your company name

Select a Company Name That Promotes Your BusinessMake sure that the selected name does not infringe on an existingtrademark. For registered trademarks, search the USPTO’s website. Especially avoid similarity to well-known brands: if you try to ride on a famous company’s coattails, it may expose you to legal action, especially if you become successful. It can also backfire, if the famous company with a similar name gets in legal trouble or receives bad publicity.

Despite the temptation of using your own name as your company name, bear in mind that it will limit the business. “Denise’s Makeup Artistry” only works if services are provided by Denise herself. It also pegs you as the sole operator—what if you get a partner? Companies named after individuals can run into challenges in case of death, bad publicity, or change of ownership. Also keep in mind that you do not necessarily have the right to use your own name if it’s already trademarked by another—especially prominent—company, no matter if it’s in a different industry. Even if your wife’s name is Tiffany, Tiffany & Co. jewelry company can legally prevent you from opening a Tiffany’s Diner. Even if your family name is McDonald, McDonald’s can sue you for opening a McDonald’s Florists. The court may eventually decide in your favor, but do you really want to be forced to find out?

Geographical location should be used in a company name only if it is integral to the product/service and will not change. Thus, the name “Westchester Vacation Rentals” makes sense if you are only going to focus on the Westchester area. The name “96th Street Coffee Shop” only works if the landlord will never evict your restaurant and make you move around the corner. Remember, a business location might need to change if the business is sold.

Practical considerations

Select a Company Name That Promotes Your BusinessThe company name—without abbreviations, hyphens, or the words “corporation,” “incorporated,” “limited,” etc.—should be available as a domain name. If you have a profit-oriented business, the URL should end with”.com”; a non-profit, “.org”; and an educational institution, “.edu.” Other domain name extensions, such as “.net” or “.biz,” require explanation.

Be careful using words like “education,” “school,” “hospital,” “doctor,” unless the entity is approved by the state Department of Education or Health. Using professional credentials that require certification or licensing when you don’t have those can lead to legal trouble.

The shorter the name the easier it is to remember. In some cases, you can also take a two-word name and collapse it into one to make it unique: e.g., BestBuy.

Make sure the name is easy to pronounce, including by non-native English-speakers. While we’re on the subject, the name needs to be researched to make sure it doesn’t mean something offensive in another language, especially if your target market is non-native English-speakers. If you are selling women’s dresses to Spanish-speaking clientele, “Gordo” is not the best name for your business.

The name should be easy to spell. Keeping names simple will help people find them on the Web and remember them. It also helps people to remember how to contact you if your company name, translated into digits, can be used as your toll-free phone number—e.g., 1-800-MATTRESS. However, this is less important nowadays, as cell phones function differently from the landlines of yore.

Further logistics

Select a Company Name That Promotes Your BusinessThe next step after choosing a company name is often to print it on letterhead and business cards. See how the name you have in mind looks in print, and think about a logo. How will it look? Do you want to emphasize part of the name by making a section bold? Which part? Can a distinguishing logo be designed to reinforce the name? Considering this next step can help with the name selection.

Whatever legal entity you choose for your business formation, check with the appropriate government agency that it is not already in use by another business in your state or county, respectively. If your business will be a corporation, LLC, LP, or LLP, it has to be checked with the New York secretary of state. If the business will be a partnership or sole proprietorship, the name search has to be done at the county clerk’s office. In addition to the preferred name, have a second and third choice ready as a backup.

Taking the above suggestions into consideration, make a list of potential names and sound them out with friends and family. After hearing out their comments, use your instincts and proceed with confidence. You just took one step in the right direction of becoming an entrepreneur.

About the Author(s)

 Diane  Drey

Diane Drey is a SCORE NYC counselor with over 35 years experience as a businesswoman, manager of her own company and mentor to many successful SCORE clients. She is a former chair of the SCORE NYC chapter.

Counselor, SCORE NYC