Why A Name Is Worth Your Time

A name is like a first impression. Make a good one.

As small business owners, we know what it’s like to be resource-constrained. And we understand that when trying to build a business, it’s important to prioritize and focus on the most important things first. 

Some people would say that a name is NOT one of those “important” things - that it’s not something you should dwell on, and that you can always go back and fix it later. We disagree. Here’s why (and why you should believe us).

Obviously, we're namers, so it may seem that we're a bit biased, and you may be tempted to think that it's because we're trying to prove that we ought to exist. People seem to think that naming is something anyone can do - I mean, you just sit down with a few beers, a pen, and a napkin, right? But there’s an awful lot of strategy and research that goes into creating a good name. And we promise you, we keep busy.

All of ^that^ is another topic for another day. For now, we just want to make the point that it’s worth spending your time and precious energy on naming and branding early in your company’s life. To be clear: we're not suggesting that a good name and brand can save a crappy product or customer experience - it can’t. But a not-so-great name CAN hold a company back, and fixing a name down the road isn’t fun.

Here's some food for thought:

  • You can’t just have whatever name you come up with. You must screen it - both for trademark conflicts, using the USPTO.gov website (or better yet, a trademark attorney), and also for common law conflicts ← all of this is not as straightforward as it might sound. 
  • Changing a name isn’t quite as simple as you’d think. That’s not to say it’s not worth doing, if it needs be done - just that if you can avoid a transition by doing it right the first time, you’ll save yourself some grief. It’s worse if you’ve got a physical product than if you have a digital one, but still - you don’t want to have spent five years building a reputation for your company, then learn that you need to change the name. The most common reasons for name changes are trademark conflicts, realizing that your name is too limiting (i.e. your product has gone in a direction other than what you initially expected), or coming to terms with the fact that it’s just not a great name - and it’s holding you back.
  • In most cases, domain availability shouldn’t be a primary decision factor when choosing a name. That’s letting the tail wag the dog. Re-naming down the road is not fun, but purchasing a domain down the road when you have some revenue (because your name and brand is awesome, of course!) is much more palatable. 
  • Relatedly, just because a domain is available doesn’t mean that the name is.
  • Be careful of overly descriptive or generic names. Obviously, this depends upon what you’re selling and what the aspirations for your company are, but most of the best brands are not particularly descriptive. For example, think about dollar stores -- you might be able to tell me where the nearest dollar store is, but could you tell me whether it’s a Dollar Tree, a Dollar General, or a Family Dollar? 
  • Crazy spellings, while common in the start-up world, should be approached with caution. There is such a thing as an “overly” coined name. And contrary to popular belief, just changing a letter or two doesn’t get you over the trademark hurdle. Your name should not look like a series of typos.

Hopefully we’ve managed to convince you that a good name is worth spending some time on upfront. If so, here’s a list of all the ways you could tackle the task - complete with pros, cons, costs, and links to resources. And don’t worry, you can still drink a few beers and write on a napkin, if that’s what makes you happy!

Topics: guidance, startups