No One Really Cares What You Call It (and Other Startup Naming Tips)

What’s in a name? Everything and nothing.

Naming your startup can be a big deal. And, trust me, everyone you know will have an opinion. As a good friend of mine once lamented the difference between my profession (graphic designer) and his (copywriter):

“Dean, not everyone can draw – but everyone has a thesaurus.”

Today, more than ever, you can spend a ton of time and money coming up with startup name ideas, testing them, focus-grouping them and researching them with the endless online tools at your disposal.

But, don’t do it.

Now, that sounds like heresy coming from a working creative, but the cold truth is: today’s consumer really doesn’t care what your service or product is called – as long as they can say it out loud in front of their mother.

If the name is unique for your product or service, is memorable, is easy to recall and doesn’t require thirty keyboard strokes to type in a URL, then you’ll be fine. And if it has a relationship to the product or service, then all the more better.

Case in point: Uber – here’s a word that has nothing to do with cars, transportation or even technology. But people around the world love (and hate) it so much that it’s evolved into that rarity of company names – it’s a name, verb and noun.

Another: Amazon – everything from A-to-Z you say? That logo didn’t happen until well after the company was founded. Allegedly the name came from two factors: to suggest scale (the biggest river) and because it starts with the letter “A” (website listings in the 90s were often alphabetical).

Haze, Clear, Google, Apple, Kik, GoDaddy, Zynga, Zillow, Squarespace, Box, Banjo, Spotify, Hulu, Etsy. You get the idea.

And once you get a name, a little research could save you untold grief down the road.  Simple stuff but check these off your list:

1. Research and Make Sure No One Else Has It

Research the name to make sure someone else doesn’t already have it in your category. An hour with Google should tell you everything you need to know. For most startups this is plenty.

2. Look Into the Word’s Origin

Look into the origins of the name to make sure it’s Latin or Greek meaning isn’t something at odds with your company. Or worse – a meaning for something completely inappropriate.

3. Is a URL Available?

Check to see if a suitable URL is available. If it is, grab it – today. Do not underestimate how quickly good URLs get snatched up by companies and squatters.

4. Get Creative with It

Take a good look at the spelling and see if there are any letter formations that could fool the eye in seeing something that isn’t there.  The people at Experts Exchange found that out the hard way.

5. Is it Memorable?

Ask yourself if the name truly memorable. Not just in your particular category but in general. People are naturally drawn to things that are familiar to them. Potential customers are no different.

The name is important. It will go on a business card (yes, people still use those every day I promise you). It will go on your website, in your URL. You will speak it a thousand times over.

So, do put thought to it. Spend time coming up with something good and original. Just realize that these days more than ever it’s the product or service behind the name that really counts.

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Written by:
Currently Founder + CEO of FOUNDATION – a marketing consultancy for technology and technology-related organizations that need to position and brand their product or service. Graduate of the Ringling School of Art & Design with over 25 years experience as an Art Director/Graphic Designer in consumer and B2B marketing. Past clients include Lenovo, IBM, GE, RCA, Visa, Harrah’s Entertainment, Gaylord Hotels, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Dollar Tree, Visa, Wells Fargo, BB&T, American Red Cross, PPD, Quintiles, Shire, Merck and Novartis. Wood sculpture artist in spare time. Halloween aficionado who transforms outside of his home into one-of-a-kind Disney-esque Haunted Mansion. Vices include 80s music, Martinis, the occasional cigar and old-school Speed Racer.
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