What’s in a company name?

Ready to start your company but agonising about choosing a company name?

Not easy, is it?

Perhaps one of the most agonising decisions you might make in the early days is what to name your company. The UK government website outlines names you can’t use but after that you’re on your own. If you’re after some advice, read on.

Naming strategy

Now I must confess I’m not a brand expert. Having been through various company and branding processes in my time, I’m also not a great fan of brand experts. It is easy to spend hours and hours on branding to come up with something that seems clever but only the people who went through the process understand.

For example, how many people realise that the name ‘Accenture’ came from putting an ‘accent’ on the ‘future’? It’s clever once you know but I doubt anyone has ever spontaneously ‘got it’.

Generally, it seems your choices for company names are:

  1. Something very specific to your solution, e.g. Electric Fishbowls Ltd
  2. Something clever that hints at your solution, e.g. Lumibowl Ltd
  3. Something generic that either has no particular nuance, e.g. FounderSurname UK Ltd, or hints only at the business area, e.g. Aquafin Ltd

I’m going to be upfront and suggest you go for the third option. Why? Read on.

Your actions create your brand

Firstly, in my humble opinion, no matter how clever your company name, brand values are things that are attributed to the company name over time based on how you interact and do business with your market. After all, the names Apple, Mercedes, Dell etc have no inherent brand meaning. And neither does Accenture unless you’re in the know. The point is that as a founder, YOU and your core team will form the brand no matter how clever a name you choose.

(OK, there are limits. Turdonomics is probably best avoided…  Then again, if you’re into the organic waste industry, maybe it works. After all, ‘Virgin’ was pretty riské in its day.)

As Shakespeare more eloquently noted, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Things change but your company name shouldn’t

The second thing to realise is that most startups go through what is often called ‘the pivot’. This is startup parlance for ‘we finally realised what the real consumer problem was and changed our business to meet it’. When that happens, the original specific or clever name often no longer fits and there can be an embarrassing period of trying to explain your now misnamed company before you’re forced to change it. I’ve been through this process a few times and it’s painful. Although changing a company name isn’t legally that hard, you risk losing any associated brand capital you’ll have built up over the proceeding time. And you’ll be surprised how much effort can go into updating websites, stationary, presentations, business cards etc.

For example, I heard of startup company in the US that developed a clever idea for using cameras on drones to collect data on farmers’ crops. They would then analyse the data to give farmers valuable insight how to manage their crops. At the time, drones were much more expensive and they had difficulty justifying the necessary price and how to scale. They had two epiphany moments when they realised:

  1. Farmers actually didn’t care how they acquired the data
  2. The farmers were already paying for planes to fly low over their crops to spray them

They pivoted their approach and attached the cameras to the crop sprayers.

Now if the company had called itself “Drone Data Inc”, they’d have had a problem. However, Agrisight would have survived the pivot.

Company name vs product name

The last point to note, again purely in my opinion, is that there is a difference between company name and product naming. Product names can be created, tweaked and modified to fit the market. Extending the hypothetical example, changing “DroneData” by Agrisight Inc to “DataHarvest” by Agrisight Inc would have been far less painful and could even have been spun as a major product upgrade.

If you want to be clever, pick a company name that is at least fairly generic (think of names like ‘Google’, ‘Mars’) so they can be applied to a wide variety of products or which only refers to the general business sector you’re in (which is less likely to change).

Brainstorming & filtering

Once you’ve decided on a naming strategy, you can begin the brainstorming process with your core team (if you have them).

Keep in mind that your name cannot be too close to an existing company name and that you’ll want a matching domain name for your website. So, it’s useful to brainstorm with one browser window open on a search engine and the other on the Companies House Register. As far as I know, just about every word in the English dictionary has been registered so this is where you might want to consider modified spellings of single words, multiword names or fabricated ‘clever ’ names.

Try and pick something memorable that people will be able to type into a browser afterwards without having to consult your business card 20 times. It makes it easier for word of mouth recommendations.

If what you really, really want has already gone, you can play around with company and domain names by adding suffix words like ‘services’, ‘consulting’ etc (as long as they make sense).

There remains some snobbery around domain name suffixes like “.com” but, hey, you’re creating a tech startup and there is no point in pretending you’re a blue chip company. Don’t be afraid to be creative and go for slightly less usual suffixes, particularly if you can make them work with your business (like “.info”, “.guru” or “.it”).

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, don’t get hung up on your company name. Sure, it’s a feel good factor but it’s also a great procrastination hurdle if you’re afraid to take the next step. You need to jump over it or find someone to help you (contact me or look at my resources section).

Ultimately, success will come from action. Pick the name, wear the name and create a brand around it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" so I can understand how people are navigating and hence improve the site. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.