Before we really dive in, let’s explore what makes a stellar business name.
If you write a list of household brands, most entries on the list won’t exceed ten characters—think Apple, Facebook, Skype, and Nike. That’s because people scan billboards, brick-and-mortar signs, and tiny mobile screens in seconds. In fact, research shows that a first impression takes only one-tenth of a second.¹ Since you have only a few precious moments, don’t burden a potential customer with too much text; make it easy to remember.
But what’s the optimal length? The sweet spot is in the neighborhood of six to eight characters.
Brands like StubHub, Best Buy, Cash App, and Coca-Cola are memorable and roll off the tongue. Catchy business names like these employ poetic devices like alliteration, assonance, and consonance. But you don’t necessarily need to know what these are to create a memorable business name—the most reliable tool is your ear. In other words, you don’t have to be a poet to recognize when something sounds good.
To truly test out a name, put it in a long sentence and put it in a short sentence. Play around with the pronunciation and listen to other people say it. Vocalize and listen—that’s the key to finding a notable business name.
Also, use intuitive pronunciation. Digital assistants are steadily growing more popular, but they aren’t perfect. We’ve all experienced the frustrating Alexa response “Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you right now.” You don’t want that to be your customer's experience. To cover your bases, test all possible pronunciations of your business name (correct and incorrect). Ensure a digital assistant will send them to your business, even if they pronounce it incorrectly.
Easy pronunciation is especially important when you’re considering foreign words for your business name. To start, it helps to know if customers are comfortable or familiar with the words you’re contemplating. For example, consider the UK chain restaurant Pret A Manger. Because Pret A Manger mainly serves the UK and Europe, customers are familiar and comfortable with the French name—Americans, on the other hand, may struggle with the pronunciation.
In addition to sounding great, a business name needs to look the part. Remember, a business name appears on a myriad of channels: videos, social media, billboards, store signs, websites, and printed documents. So open up Word or Illustrator to play around. (If you are not graphically inclined, find a friend or professional that can illustrate how the business name will look in different visual scenarios.)
Try different fonts and sizes. Add shapes or creative symbols. Add color. See how it looks in the middle of the sentence. See how it looks by itself. Finally, see whether that business name looks good on a tv, computer, and smartphone screen.
Also, for the most part, avoid non-standard spelling for a business name—it can often be confusing and frustrating. For instance, think Flickr, Tumblr, or Genesys; if you’ve only heard these said out loud, it can be tough to spell them out correctly. An unusual spelling can require extra brain power and time for customers to memorize. Tricky spelling can also hinder web search results. If customers can’t divine the spelling of your business name simply from hearing it, it will devastate your online presence, leads, and sales.
Don’t be too clever or creative with your brand name (leave that for your slogan). Your business name should represent what your business does, how it interacts with customers, what it makes customers feel, or what sets it apart from other companies. (You don’t want customers confused or literally scratching their heads when they hear your name.) To test the relevancy of your business name, it’s a good idea to ask people what comes to mind when they hear it. If answers are all over the place, then it’s probably too abstract for your target market.
It always helps to search for business name ideas in an urban dictionary. (There might be a very good reason no one’s used that business name!) If your small business is international, also consider negative connotations with any of the countries you’ll be working in. The last thing you want is to accidentally offend your target audience.