Naming a Business

What's in a Name?

If you have been thinking about a name for your new company or possibly renaming one, you might be interested in what's in a name. Here are some questions and answers that will give guidance on what makes a good name.

Question: Is naming a firm after oneself OK? Is there a better strategy?

Answer: It's definitely OK to name a company after yourself - especially, if your expertise will serve as the centerpiece of your operation, says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder of Mavens & Moguls, a marketing consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. "Great brands start with great personal brands, so whether your name is on the door or not, it starts with you at the top," she says. However, there are some risks.

If in the course of a marketing campaign, either you or an employee makes a glaring mistake, it's the company's and not just your name that's on the line. In addition, if your personal brand dominates the corporate brand, it can be harder to exit the firm, transfer leadership or scale it up, Arnof-Fenn says. And if you do end up selling your business one day, you might lose the right to use your own name. Selling a company with a trademarked name requires giving up all the "good will," or pleasant associations customers attach to brands or company names, says Barry Werbin, the chair of the intellectual property practice group at New York law firm Herrick, Feinstein. In the U.S., a sale of a trademark without "good will" will void the mark if it's ever challenged in court, he says.

Question: If some business names can trigger negative consequences, what are some good rules of thumb when considering a risqué or offbeat name?

Answer: Although creditors might not care if your company's name is risqué, "landlords are free to reject potential tenants for any reason that's not unlawfully discriminatory," says Mr. Werbin. In addition, U.S. trademark law prohibits registering marks that a substantial portion of the public would consider "immoral or scandalous." So, if you want to protect your company name, a lewd name is certainly not the best option, he says.

Selecting an unsavory name can also put off or confuse customers, says Brenda S. Bence, the founder of Brand Development Associates, a personal and corporate branding consultancy in Chicago. "You will spend a lot of time and hard-earned money trying to explain what your business is all about instead of focusing on how you can compete better," she says.

If you're struggling to pick an appropriate company name, do some market research, Bence says. Locate members of your prospective target audience who aren't already familiar with your company and ask them what they think. It can be done easily through "man on the street" interviews and will probably give you the answers you seek and best of all, it's free.

Question: How to arrive at a name if you own a service business?

Answer: Service businesses don't have visible products to rely on, so coming up with a company name that's both clever and meaningful is vital. First, think about the benefits your service offers customers, says Bence. For example, if a delivery service guarantees that it can send packages faster than any other company, its name might incorporate speed or racing. Also, be sure that the name you select is clear, succinct and simple, she says.

Once you've found a name, make sure it's not already in use and you aren't infringing on anyone's trademarks. Head to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System to search for federally registered trademarks. To ensure that you're not repeating company names that operate solely within your state, check out the trademarks on file with the various Secretaries of State or applicable state registries, says Werbin. Finally, check your county clerks office for companies operating within the county you wish to do business in. Also, stay away from mistypes of popular brands and web sites. "A lot of people don't know that they may get in trouble for using words similar to trademarked brands," suggests Monte Cahn, co-founder of in Pompano Beach, Fla. For instance, if you pick a domain name confusingly similar to "Pepsi" and you also sell soft drinks, you may wind up in court.

Then, make sure you're able to reserve a web site address that's as close to the name as possible, Bence says. Even if your ideal address is taken, you might still keep your company name. Just pick a pithy phrase that's catchy, memorable and communicates your company's message, she says. When dealing with phrases rather than one-word domains, be conscious of how they look, suggests Mr. Cahn. Longer and combined words often have words within them. For instance, the two-word combination of "therapist" and "finder" could be misinterpreted as "the[rapist]" Additionally, stay away from domains that have double meanings, and if they do, be careful they don't work against you.

So, choose your name carefully.

Source: SmartMoney editors via

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