When starting a new venture, one of the crucial first steps is to choose and claim a name. It’s the primary component of your identity, website, marketing content and word of mouth.
You want to pick something that accurately represents your business and is easy to remember, something you can feel sure about, and something that can stand the test of time. In short, you want to pick a product name that lasts.
But if you’re unfamiliar with the world of branding and naming, picking and claiming your brand name may seem like rocket science. You’re not just facing the task of picking a relevant and memorable business name, but also of navigating the legal and technical aspects associated with it.
Naturally, it's a subject that I get a lot of questions about. I did a lot of research online to find a link that I can refer to when someone asks, but didn't find a thorough resource that captures all the essential information I wanted to convey. Hence, I have put together this guide.
From my research and experience in helping several clients come up with and claim their startup name, this page will help you generate and make sense of everything you need to know and do for naming a company.
By the time you complete this comprehensive tutorial on naming your website domain or product, you’ll be ready to generate ideas, pick and claim a startup name that you can feel confident about and not regret later.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Generating Naming Ideas
Choosing a brand name that shows your value proposition, industry and location can help you grow faster and differentiate yourself from the competition. If you are stuck at not being able to generate enough business name ideas, the following tips will help.
Consider Context & Location
The obvious point to begin is the words that describe what your business does and where. Your business name should indicate the nature of your venture in some way. So start by preparing a list of the following:
- Your niche (one or multiple spaces your company operates in)
- Your product or service portfolio
- The locations of operation
- The features, attributes or benefits associated with your startup
- Your core mission, vision and values
- What words or phrases would people search when looking you up online
This list will get you started thinking about website names, which are representative of who you are and what you do.
Perform Uncensored Brainstorming
Sit down with a piece of paper and write everything that comes to your mind related to your company. Don’t filter anything at this point. If you need more direction, consider the following:
- How do you want customers to feel about your startup?
- What problems your product is addressing?
- Who are your customers and what are their interests?
- What actions do you expect customers to take?
- What are the core business activities your employees perform?
We’ll come to evaluation in the next section. For now, just let the ideas flow.
You can multiply the number of business name ideas you have generated by using a thesaurus. Consider synonyms and antonyms of the brand names you already have.
Keep digging, scribble, rinse and go all over again until you get a nice crop 50-100 ideas to set the foundation.
This exercise would not only help you get more names from what you’re reading, but also jog your brain to get creative and think of alternative website names.
Portmanteau is just a fancy way of calling the concept of combining two words together to generate a catchy name.
Groupon, Paypal, Comcast are some great examples of business names which have used this concept.
A great tool which can help you apply this technique is WerdMerge. Enter some of your main words into it and see the magic happen.
Ask Friends and Family
Often the best product naming ideas come from people from who you expected the least. Describe your new venture at every opportunity you get to friends, coworkers, and family members.
Then ask for their company naming suggestions. The more genders, ethnicities, ages, and personalities to seek advice from, the more unique startup name ideas you can get.
Use Name Suggestion Tools
Several brand name generation tools are available on the internet. Most of these tools require you to provide a word or concept related to your business.
Once you do, dozens of ideas will be generated for your consideration. The most prominent include:
Chapter 2: Naming Evaluation Checklist
Once you have generated startup names, the following factors will help you filter the good ones from the bad ones. You’ll also be able to narrow down your list based on which ones are possible to acquire, the cost and effort involved, and avoid legal troubles down the road.
Is it short?
The shorter and simpler your domain name ideas, the easier it would be for people to remember and talk about them. You need to make sure that your product name ideas are easy to spell and don’t have any complex symbols or characters.
Avoid names with hyphenations or odd spellings. Your startup name should be such that if anyone shares via word-of-mouth, it doesn’t get lost in translation.
Is it meaningful and relevant?
The more a business name can convey who you are and what you do, the better choice it will be. A good brand name will indicate the core feeling, purpose or focus of your business.
For example, names like TechCrunch, Lifehacker, Marketo, Wikipedia are really good at conveying and allowing a prospect to easily and accurately guess what they are about.
How the name feels and sounds is also important. A quirky name, for instance, will be better suited for a creative business than a hospital.
Is it unique and memorable?
As per Internet Live Stats, More than 1.7 billion websites are live online at present. So your website name should be able to stand out and stick to memory.
The easier it is to say and remember once someone views or listens to it, the better for your brand. For example, let’s say someone hears the name on the radio just once, while they were driving. Would they still be able to remember it later?
A good way to identify such names is to run a memory test. For example, mention 3-5 of your business names ideas to someone and then ask them to repeat them back to you.
Do this exercise with several people one by one and notice which brand names were easy for them to remember. And avoid the ones which people were more likely to forget. I bet you’d be surprised by the results.
Is it crystal clear, with no room for ambiguity?
Suppose you’re launching a travel agency or website geared specifically towards people who may be interested in travelling to Spain. So you decide to launch a website with domain name: Choose Spain.
But see what happens when someone is typing that name in the browser address bar: choosespain.com. It’s not completely clear whether your business name is “choose spain” or “chooses pain.” In fact, many people would end up associating this brand name with pain by mistake.
So it’s important to evaluate your startup name by putting the sequence of it’s words, letters or spaces in different arrangements. This will help you make sure your company name is not something weird or embarrassing when viewed from a different perspective.
Is it simple, with no clever wordplays?
Taking liberties in language or trying to show off too much cleverness can result in a less than ideal product name. In most cases, it gets harder to remember for your audience than the other way round.
So for example, if you’re going to launch a hair salon with a business name like “hair we are” or “curl up and dye,” I’d advise you to think again.
Is it broad in scope?
Once you have launched your brand, hopefully it’ll succeed and grow further with time. Eventually at some point, you will want to expand by targeting more regions, or offering more types of products or services, apart from what you started with.
When that happens, you don’t want your brand name to come in the way. Consider Amazon for example. It started by selling only books. But now it has grown to such a level that there are very few things it doesn’t sell.
Had it been named something like Books A Million, Jeff Bezos would have needed to rebrand the whole thing. Your startup name should not be too specific in catering to only your current product or service or geographical region.
Otherwise you’re at the risk of stunting growth or having to change the company name when you desire to expand.
Is the domain name available?
All of the major domain registrars (like Namecheap) help you determine whether a domain name is available for purchase or already taken. All you need to do is type each domain name in the search bar.
If a domain name is already taken, that doesn’t exactly mean that it’s not possible to purchase. But it would take more effort and money to track down who has it, check it they are willing to sell, negotiating an offer and then buying it. I have written more about this in the next section about claiming your chosen name.
Are the social media handles available?
Availability of a website name is not the only thing you need to check. Your shortlisted company names should not already have social media accounts associated with them.
The site KnowEm.com is really useful in this regard. It lets you check the use of your desired business name instantly on hundreds of social networks.
For the brand names on which social media pages already exist, you may want to avoid them. Otherwise you’ll need to use some variation of the original startup name for social media which will not be as easy to remember.
Is it legally available?
Protecting your company name is important, which involves making sure that someone else hasn’t already done so. Having to rebrand your company name is a nightmare.
Ideally, your chosen company name should not have already been trademarked, copyrighted or being used by another company. Because if it is, you could put yourself in a legal mess, costing a fortune to get out of.
There’s no one definitive place to search for names comparable to your shortlisted product names. While searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) may be sufficient in some cases, but know that another business can have a legal claim on a name because they have been using it, regardless of whether it was trademarked.
So you may have to employ multiple methods to research both registered and unregistered names. In any case, the first and easiest thing you can do is run your business name ideas through the trademark database. If a trademark exist, you have no legal right to use it for naming your product or service business.
In addition, as I covered above, checking domain and social media availability will also help you assess if a name is already being used.
Chapter 3: Claiming Your Final Name
Once you narrow down your list of website name ideas using the evaluation checklist above, it’s time to claim the product name you finally decide on.
Purchase Domain Name
Even if an online presence is not a priority for your business at this time, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort by registering a domain now. If you wait, somebody else may snatch up the domain associated with your business name.
A domain name is how your target audience will remember and access your website. For example, the domain name of this website, on which you’re reading this guide, is smemark.com. Take the following steps to purchase a domain name:
Step 1. Select a domain registration and management service - A domain registrar is a company that allows you to buy and manage your purchased domains. You need to keep in mind a few basic things when selecting a domain registrar.
First, the domain registrar you pick should be an ICANN accredited registrar. ICANN (or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the governing body over all the domain name registrars. They provide guidelines and enforce rules that normalize the registration and management process (such as transfers, domain WHOIS updates, etc.).
2nd, it should have high quality, 24/7 support. Your domain provider should offer multiple channels of support, including phone, email and real time online chat. Your domain name is a critical component through which people will reach your website. You don’t want an issue to stay unresolved for days or weeks.
3rd, it should allow you to have complete control over your purchased domains. Some registrars include their own contact information to parts of your domain details. This can prevent you from transferring or changing your domain settings smoothly when you want to.
For these reasons, it’s better to pick a reputable and trustworthy company, like NameCheap, than buying from any random place.
Step 2. Registering the domain name - If the domain for your preferred website name is easily available, you can head over to your chosen domain registrar, search and buy it.
If someone already owns and is willing to sell your desired domain, you’ll have to buy from them directly, or through a domain auction marketplace. You can try accessing the domain from your web browser to see if it’s in use or available for sale.
However, if the domain name is not available for sale, I am afraid you’ll have to go with an alternative website name. That’s why it’s important to have multiple company name ideas shortlisted so you’re not stuck if one of them is not available.
With the help of ideas I listed in the above section, you may find an even better business name. One of the major domain auction sites to buy domain names which someone already owns is Afternic. Domain sellers post their domains on Afternic to have their listings spread to 100+ platforms worldwide.
But you’ll still need to create an account with a domain registrar to get the domain name transferred from the seller’s domain registration service to your domain registration account.
Make sure to use a third party to handle the process of buying from someone who already owns your desired domain. You don’t want to make the payment without getting the domain transferred and the seller would not feel comfortable transferring unless they have received the payment.
So one of the solutions is to use a 3rd party like Escrow.com. It holds your money until you get the domain, and then releases it to the seller.
How much will it cost? When buying a domain name, the cost will depend the most on whether it’s a regular domain that no one has ever owned, or a premium domain which is already taken.
The cost of a regular domain is $10-20 per year, but if your chosen product name corresponds to a premium domain, it can vary based on the factors like domain age, price at which similar domains have been sold, or private seller’s demand.
In that case, you may have to pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In addition, the price you pay for the domain will also depend on the following factors:
Domain Extension - Domain names with .com extensions are easier to remember and find online. Over the years, most people have become accustomed to visiting websites with .com extensions.
Humans are creatures of habit. In fact, even if you don’t buy and never promote a .com extension for your domain, many people would make the error of trying to visit your website by typing a .com extension. So in almost all circumstances, you must consider .com extension if it’s available.
However, other extensions like .org, .net and more are also available and may be cheaper than .com. In addition, short extensions like .co and .io are in trend, especially among new tech startups. For example, 500.co is a famous brand using .co extension. It’s a venture fund and accelerator for early-stage startups.
Domain Platform - Based on the availability of your chosen website name, you will need to buy the domain name from a domain registration service, an aftermarket service, or a private seller.
Domain Privacy - When registering a domain for your brand name, you can opt for features like domain privacy and more. It allows you to hide your private information, so you can prevent it from getting picked up by bots and spammers.
Duration of claim and other features - This includes the length of time for which you want to register for. When you buy a domain name, it’s yours for a certain time period, not forever.
The minimum is one year, which you can renew near the end. You can also purchase for the next 2, 3 or 5 years at once.
Claim Social Media Handles
The next thing you want to do is create social media accounts and company pages corresponding to your product name. You should do this as soon as possible for all the major social networks relevant to your business.
At the least, do it for these social media platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Youtube, Reddit, Quora and Medium.
This will ensure that your website name doesn’t get taken by someone else and all your social profiles have same handles. Having the same company name handles will make it really easy for your audience to find and engage with you on social media.
And while you’re at it, upload a profile picture on each network and write a brief bio in their respective bio sections. Even if you’re not going to be active on a social network for a while, having a genuine photo and bio will prevent your account from being marked as inactive or spam.
In fact, it’s better to post something to all your social accounts every once in a while, just to be safe. Otherwise your accounts may be removed for a long period of inactivity.
Claiming from another party - What if someone already owns the social media handles with your desired business name? While you might be tempted to negotiate with the person to check if he would sell, consult a lawyer first.
As far as I know, buying and selling social media handles is a violation of the terms for almost each of social media platforms. If you have a trademark or other legal right to a name, a social network is more likely to support you than the other person.
Register Your Business
By registering a business name, you’re telling the state who you are and getting a legal right to conduct business with that name. It’s often mistaken as incorporating or getting a trademark. But these are not the only ways to go about it.
If you’re going to incorporate your business or form an LLC (Limited Liability Company), then that’s enough to register the name. Otherwise, you need to file a DBA (Doing Business As) or Fictitious Business Name with the state.
However, if you want to protect your brand name throughout the country, you’ll need to file for a trademark with the USPTO.
Naming your startup might seem daunting at first. But with this guide in your hand, you know what’s involved in the entire process and better equipped to take the right decisions.
Naming your product is fun! And, I hope I have helped make the whole experience easy for you. Take your time with it. A website name which seems great today may not seem that way when you revisit is again after a few hours or days.
Patience and persistence are important. Eventually, you will find a company name that clicks, and be on your way to success.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these tips? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.