The name game

1. You can get away almost with anything IF you are a consumer facing company. But if you are  B2B and you want to be taken seriously, having a weird name like Flooozze might hurt you.
2. There are several ways to get a name:
– buy a good one. Not an option for most startups, as good names are expensive.
-compound two words, ideally at least one of which is evocative of what you do: SnapChat, WealthFront, NerdWallet, Instagram, VenPrax, etc.  It seems like one of the most common techniques.
-misspell an existing word, e.g. “Google”
-make up a word, like eBay
-use prefixes like “i”, “e” “x” with a real word.
3. Add one of the many standard high tech suffixes to a word or word stem, like “works”, “sphere”, “kick”, “scape”, etc.
There are probably many other techniques.
My suggested criteria for a good name are:
1. Short – this name will be typed thousands of times by staff, customers, prospects, analysts, etc.. – you don’t want people getting typos and having their email bounce or getting a “page not found” error in their browser
2. Easy to pronounce – though this gets broken all the time, e.g. “Drync”  which I assume is pronounced like “drink” but I have no idea
3. Easy to spell – see #1
4. Available as a url/domain
5. Can be trademarked OR at least does not infringe on an existing trademark
6. Does not get confused with an existing company. Mainspring continually got confused with “Mindspring” an Atlanta ISP. (Mindspring was a good name, so was Mainspring…)
7. Does not have a bad connotation in common foreign languages (you can’t check every one obviously). Classic example is the Chevy Nova, “No va” meaning “doesn’t go” in Spanish.
8. Helps if it has some connotation about what you do: Amazon, worlds’ biggest river; Google, googol – very, very large number; Facebook was the name of the printed directory of Harvard freshmen.
9. Memorable – word of mouth is the best form of promotion so if people can remember your name, pronounce it correctly, and it’s easy to spell that really helps
10. Avoid totally descriptive names like “Software Publishing Company” for at least two reasons; one, most startups change what they do as they grow, you don’t want a name that no longer reflects your main business, and two, generic names are useless for search optimization.
11. Does not get confused with another, similar word. A lot of people thought my fourth VC-backed company was “Thoughtline”, not Throughline. Throughline was NOT a good name. These naming guidelines have been learned the hard way!
So how do you get a name when all the good ones are gone?
1. Hold a few brainstorming sessions where you list tons or terms that are evocative of what you do or maybe just sound good. Then you start mixing and matching pre-fixes and suffixes. Breaking up words, respelling them, mashing them up and so on.
2. Go through a very long list of existing companies, like the TechCrunch database and see if you can modify an existing name to conform to the above criteria. Or just to get inspired.
3. Testing! It’s very, very important that whatever you choose you run by a lot of people who are NOT your friends! Because it is strangers you are trying to reach and friends want to like what you are doing and won’t tell you that your name sucks.
At the end of the day plenty of companies with odd  or boring names, like eBay or Borland Software, were very successful. You’ll make the name valuable, not the other way around.
If  you believe you need a name before creating a legal entity, I recommend you start with a working title, that could simply be your name and what you do “Smith Data Visualization Software.” Even after you incorporate you can change the name or do a DBA (Doing Business As.”

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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