How to Choose your Business Name Creatively
Naming our business is probably one of the first big decision moments that we face as business owners. We have a clear vision, and the services or products that we offer on the line, and now we need to find a name that showcases it, that’s aligned to who we are and speaks to our ideal customers. Ah, and we need to condense it into one, two, or very few words. Yep, no big deal.
And to make the choice even harder, we are very aware that we’ll be committing to the naming we create for the looooong run — it will follow us everywhere, and we’ll have to stand by it proudly and with confidence. If there’s one thing close to being carved in stone within our businesses, that is our name. I get it, choosing it’s not an easy task.
But I do have a process. And I’m giving it to you.
Everyone will have different strategies to coming up with business names, but here I’ll share with you the tactics and processes I’ve used to come up with names for my businesses and other companies I’ve worked for.
I find that following a process has made the experience easier and more streamlined, and has allowed me to confidently know which was the right choice and the most aligned with me and my vision. You’re also going to discover what has worked, and not worked with the business names I’ve created.
Are you ready to learn my tactics, the step-by-step process and a grab a checklist for creating your business name? I’m giving it ALL to you, so keep reading:
Tactics for choosing a business name:
1. Use your given name plus what you do
‘Michelle Tanner Photography’, for example. I know, easy right? Don’t assume that because it’s easy it’s not an option (we sometimes like to complicate our lives a tiny bit, don’t we?). For example, my friend has a tutoring business called Bri King Tutoring. It’s very clear with this name what her company is about (tutoring). When a business like Bri’s grows on word of mouth, it is a very positive strategy to use YOU as an asset for naming it.
This tactic can work for freelancers or companies that want to highlight a very distinctive and personable way of doing business. I believe that as your business grows and, for example, a design studio called Jamie Smith Studio turns into an agency, unless you’re physically very present in the running of your business and a point of contact with your clients, a business name created around your given name can make your business look smaller than it is.
So, would go for calling your business after your name? Look at your 3-year vision. For example, let’s say you’re a graphic designer: will you always want to work closely with your clients and be the one hands-on creating, or do you want to build an agency and manage a team of designers? If you’re planning on becoming an agency in 3 years time, you may want to give it a go with creating a brand new name for your business that’s separate from your own.
2. Use your business values and personality traits
Have you ever sat down for a second and identified your business values? These are what drives your company, the way you do business and relate to others and to the world, your promises. There are SO many possibilities, so choose what commitments define your business inside and out. Here’s some examples: integrity, innovative, authentic, quality, empathy, integrity, fun, conscious, simplicity, collective, etc. I used this value-based naming tactic for my umbrella business Love is Creative. I wanted it to connote it’s a creative business, but still share one of its core values: Love.
I also like to think of elements that somehow relate to my business, whether it’s the place it operates from, the inspiration that started it, a person it connects me to, etc. And use that as part of your naming or as a kickstarter. For example, to create the name for my fashion label Marbaii, I knew it had to sound exotic, because that was one of the main elements of the brand. From there, I went onto thinking of exotic locations, until stripping it back to the basics: the sea, the ocean, the palm trees, and all the exotic nature that we come across when we travel. Marbaii is a combination of Mar (which means Sea in my mother tongue) and Bay (spelled differently, more on that later). When you say Marbaii, it immediately transports you to an exotic location.
Playing with these concepts of values and elements brings us endless possibilities to come up with powerfully creative ideas. It also allows us to integrate something that’s very important in our business, our values, and trigger a specific feeling in our ideal clients.
3. Look for synonyms
If you’re stuck with the techniques above and only came up with a handful of words, think of synonyms. Jump onto Thesaurus and find similar words. I also like checking those words in the regular Dictionary, as within their definition I can find a complete different perspective on that word.
4. Look for translations into other languages
I LOVE this one and, as I mentioned above, I used it to name Marbaii. While working with another client, I found this fantastic tool that allows you to translate one word simultaneously into over 80 languages. Just go and play with it. It’s always smart to do a background check of any word you choose with a native speaker, as we all know language can have different connotations and you don’t want to risk crossing any lines or being misread.
5. Use a pairing of words or create a new one
You can make up a complete new word, just from scratch, spelling it differently or using a combination of two words. For example, I implemented two of this tactics with Marbaii, combining Mar and a complete new word, Baii (which is also a different way of spelling Bay). Another example that I love is Wordfetti (the copywriting agency founded by Anita Siek). She combined the words Word + Confetti, creating a complete new word that denotes what she does (copywriting) and the cheerful vibe of her business.
An advantage of this tactic is that the word will most surely be free to use as a business name and a domain. A tip? Make sure that it’s easy to write and spell. That’s something to keep in mind that I didn’t consider with Marbaii: by choosing to write it differently means that I need to spell it every time I talk to someone. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s something you should take into consideration.
6. Think outside the box
You know the tactics above? Time to ditch them. Forget any structure and play outside of the rules. Invent a new concept or use a full sentence as a name for your business. An example that I absolutely love is Who Gives a Crap. You have no idea it’s a toilet paper company, but you do know that they are a social enterprise. So make sure that, even if you opt for thinking outside the box, you’re still communicating your business with your naming.
Step-by-step process of creating a name for your business:
Step 1. Choose the type of name for your business
First of all, decide if you’re going to be using your given name for your company, or you’ll be creating a new one. If you choose to use your personal name, is it going to be your name + surname? Only your name, or just your surname? If you choose to create a new name, jump onto the next steps.
Step 2. Prepare your brainstorming board
Grab pen and a blank piece of paper, preferably A4 in landscape format (I like to do it by hand). Create 4 columns, where you’ll brainstorm names under these categories: 1) Synonyms, 2) Translation into other languages, 3) Brand new word and 4) Other options (sometimes our creations don’t fall into any of the previous categories).
Step 3. Write down your keywords
Onto that same piece of paper, use one of the corners to write the keywords of your business, these can be either related to your services, products, or your main business values. You can also use a new piece of paper to do this exercise, but keep the list concise.
A quick brainstorm of keyword options: fashion, label, candle, soap, natural, ecological, modern, ethical, coaching, love, design, photography, legal, support, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Step 4. Support your keywords
Look for synonyms or their translations into other languages for the words you chose on Step #3. Write them next to those.
Step 5. Brainstorm for 10 minutes
Keep your laptop OFF sight and your phone in airplane mode. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Grab your Brainstorming Board, your fave pen and start brainstorming business names. Don’t overthink it, just write anything that comes up. Don’t cross any option at this stage.
Step 6. Refine your list
The next day, get in the same space and cross out the names that don’t speak to you or you believe that won’t work. Also, make a small sign (I like doing little stars *) next to the ones that stand out. You may also want to add new ones.
Step 7. Repeat the process
Repeat Steps #5 and #6 as many times as you need until you get down to a short list.
Step 8. Surrender
This is not an actual step, but in my experience I’ve seen that after going through the steps above, there’s always a name that keeps coming to me. I’ll be driving my car, or sitting at a café, and that specific name will keep showing up to my mind. After a while (not long) I start thinking of my business with that name. And no matter what I do, even if I try to give other names a chance, this one has chosen me. It may sound woo-woo for some, but trust me it happens.
Note that I didn’t include asking for people’s feedback in any of the steps. I’ve never asked for anyone’s opinion when choosing the name for my businesses, as I was confident in my vision and who I was speaking to. Also, because I see my businesses as something very close to my heart, for me it had to be a decision that was aligned with me and had to feel right.
It also happens that I’ve seen a lot of people ask for feedback for their business names in Facebook groups, and there’s never a unanimous answer, which is not helpful. If you decide to ask for other people’s feedback, make sure they are a representation of your ideal clients and that you’re asking for specific feedback and not just their general opinion (for example, enquire what the name triggers for them, or makes them think or feel). Finally, make sure that is YOU who makes the final decision.
After you’re left with one option (and a backup), run through this checklist to make sure your business name ticks all the boxes:
✔ It is PERSONAL. It’s going to be your baby, so make sure it speaks to your heart.
✔ It speaks to your AUDIENCE. For example, Love is Creative wouldn’t traditionally appeal a male audience or a more aggressive, go-getter type of business owner. It speaks to the deeply-intunned, soul-searching entrepreneur.
✔ It is EASY to PRONOUNCE. When I created Marbaii, I didn’t realise that it would be pronounced differently in Spanish and English (two of my most common languages). Also, I found myself having to spell it (too) often.
✔ It is FREE for use. That means, is it free or is it already registered by another company within your country or where you want your business to operate? This is a MUST, so make sure to check this before you get too attached to a name.
✔ Its DOMAIN is free. Ideally you would go for yourbusinessname.com. If not, you have different options: use other alternatives such as .co (like I did with The Website Experience) or get creative and use other domain alternatives. For example, I’ve seen companies precede their business names with ‘we are’ or ‘I am’ (for example, the beautiful candle brand Posie with ‘weareposie’).
✔ SOCIAL MEDIA handles free. Have a look on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram and check if your business name is free. If so, lock them in right now. Remember you can add dots and dashes (such as @loveis_creative). Try to use the same variation for all the social media platforms. If they’re not free, don’t worry, try to be creative again like in Posie’s example.
Wow, that was long! But hopefully, you have a bit of a structure now to help you deal with the challenge of choosing the right name for your business.