A Guide to Naming Your Business

FT Contributor  | 

Entrepreneurs must juggle legal, strategic, and commercial requirements when establishing a small business. You need to research your industry and marketplace, come up with a budget, and settle on an organizational structure. With all these different moving parts, it can be easy to forget one of the most critical tasks: creating a brand for your business.

The first step in creating a brand is coming up with a name. A business name is vitally important for several reasons. First, it will help you differentiate yourself from competitors. It will also hopefully catch the attention of would-be customers or clients and offer some insight into your business.

Coming up with a unique and catchy name is only part of the battle. You need to use your company’s title to establish a presence online, and you must take steps to protect the name legally.

The steps to protecting your business name vary depending on your company’s size, your business plan, and the amount of time and money you want to invest.

You also need to understand the legal requirements for registering your name. In most states, you must comply with these rules if you want to conduct business using any name other than your own. Depending on your business’s organizational structure, you may be required to register a name. Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations typically need a registered name.

Tips for Naming a Business

Before you get into the legal aspects of business names, you first need to come up with an appropriate title for your business. There are a variety of strategies for coming up with an appropriate name for a business.

One thing to consider is that it may take more time than you think to come up with a good name.

Here are some ideas to help start the process.

  • Use words that explain what the business does or the benefit it provides. One example of a brand that has successfully used this naming strategy is 5-hour ENERGY. With this strategy, you can communicate the benefits of the product or service right in the name.
  • Get help from a business-name generator. Business-name generators may seem like an inauthentic way to brainstorm company titles. The advantage of these apps and websites is that they give you many different options without requiring an extensive brainstorming session.
  • Rely on others to help you brainstorm. You can generate a list of possibilities more organically by getting employees, partners, friends, and family members to provide ideas. After creating an extensive list of possible names, you can select those that jump out. Word association exercises are an excellent way to build an ample menu of possibilities.
  • Pad your list of possible names with a thesaurus. If you think the list of possible names is too small, you can use a thesaurus to increase the options. You may use the thesaurus to find two or more additional words that mean almost the same thing as each name on your list. A thesaurus could double or triple your list of possible names.  
  • Consider making it personal. In some cases, using a name, nickname, or family name works. Plenty of fashion brands bear the name of their founder. Companies like Gillette and Johnson & Johnson also rely on their founders’ names.
  • Make sure the name sounds good when you say it out loud. The best company names roll off the tongue. Many of the world’s largest companies have short titles that are easy to pronounce: Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and Google. It might be a good idea to make sure there is no confusion about the name’s pronunciation.
  • Use words that describe the company’s mission or beliefs. You can select a name that describes what your company is all about. Whole Foods is an example of this approach, and so is Forever 21, which has a name that speaks to the idea that its fashions bring youthfulness to customers regardless of age.
  • Try acronyms — this can be an excellent option for turning a simple name into something that sounds catchy. Examples of such names include Government Employees Insurance Company, better known as GEICO, and American Telephone and Telegraph, which you know as AT&T. One catch with acronyms is that some may already represent something else.

Check Name Availability

Once you’ve decided on a name, it is time to make it official. The first step is to make sure that no one else holds the trademark to the title.

You can start your research at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO has a searchable database where you can check for your chosen name among a list of existing trademarks.

Though not a legal requirement, it is helpful to have a domain name that matches your business name. Domain registrars allow you to search for available domain names. Generally, you want to search for the dot com (.com) because it is the extension for top-level domain names.

A list of possible names and acceptable variations could come in handy during your research because your first choice might already be trademarked or might be the domain name for an existing website.

How to Register a Business

The final step in the process is to make the name official. A business has several options for taking this step.

You need to register the name if you do business under any title other than your given name.

For legally registering a business name, you have three options.

  • Doing Business As (DBA): This option is the easiest and, usually, the cheapest. You do not need to reserve the name, but you need to make sure it does not infringe on existing trademarks. You must register with state or local officials to notify them that you plan to do business using a specific name. If you use your own legal name for your business, you do not have to register. A DBA registration does not keep someone else from filing a trademark or using your name for their business.
  • Business entity: If you wish to protect your name at the state level, you need to register as a business entity with your state government. The requirements and fees for this registration vary from place to place. You typically file the required paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office.
  • Trademark: A trademark protects your name everywhere in the country. You can search for existing names and register your name online on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website.

While you must register a domain name with a domain registrar, there are no additional legal steps. Though a domain name reserves the title on the internet, it does not legally protect against someone else filing a trademark on the name. However, since an online presence is a vital part of most businesses ’ goals, registering a domain is an essential step when securing your company’s name.


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