Naming a Business

More brainstorming about how to come up with a suitable, memorable, and unique company name. November 19, 2006

Does anyone have ideas on naming a new business? Is your own name good to use, or should you think of something different? Does it really make a bit of difference?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor P:
There are three primary ways to name a company, and you can multiply the options by bridging two of them together in some cases.

1. You can name a company for a product or process. That's the weakest, unless the product has a long life-expectancy, and you are the only provider.

2. You can name a company for an individual or family along with the product or process.

3. You can name a company for a product or process and a locale.

Those three are what produce names like "Discount Cabinets", "Jim Smith Woodworking" and "Tri-City Millwork." The problem is that none of those are really memorable. And that's the key element in creating the most powerful name, which becomes the brand for your business. Small businesses rarely create a product or service offering that's a brand in itself. What gets branded for a small business is the business itself. So naming the company is a critical exercise.

If you focus on a memorable name, it won't have much in common with the versions above. Since customers will confuse "Quality Cabinets" with "Discount Cabinets", and "John's Cabinets" with "Johnson Custom Cabinetry", you'd be wise to steer clear.

If you also consider how you're going to turn the company name into something visual, a logo that will be instantly identifiable with your company name, it becomes all the more powerful. And there too, you need to avoid the commonplace. No, your logo shouldn't be a smoothing plane, or circular saw blade.

If you choose a conceptual name, one not tied specifically to you, the business entity gets the added benefit that it can be sold and continue when you're ready to do that.

So, consider a name that will be memorable, not easily confused with anyone else, and easily rendered as a graphic. If you get that done, the name will be doing everything for the business that a name alone is capable of doing.

From contributor T:
Adding to Contributor P's great advice, I would suggest that you also pay attention to how easy it is for a customer to find you in the phone book or on the internet. A company name that is difficult to spell is difficult to find. How many times have you flipped through the yellow pages trying to figure out if JK Smith Company is listed under JK or under Smith?

Checking out what is available in domain names is also important. A good friend of mine built his company name around a www.moniker that was already taken. As a consequence of this his company URL is XXX woodworkers.NET. Most customers would be inclined to search for XXX woodworkers.COM.

From contributor Z:
I finally have some insight as to naming. I have just recently gone on my own and naming was a concern. I wanted to stand out and make people ask, "Why did you name your company that?" I think if that ask a question about your business name, they will always know who you are and what your company does anytime they see it. My company name is 2Days Custom Woodwork. My last name is Day. So with my wife and myself this gives for a great name. Hope this helps as one example.

From contributor E:
My thoughts on this have evolved over the years in large part to the way my business has changed and grown. The development of a corporate identity (and this applies to sole proprietors as well) needs to be determined by the nature of the business, the target market and the competition. The identity, however, transcends the boundaries of name and logo. It includes reputation, which is arguably, the more important element of the three. It's easy to change the company name or improve a logo (I've done both), but your reputation, presuming of course itís good, requires work and time.

I have never generated a sale from the phone book, and never from the web. I ran a bold listing in the yellow pages for more than a decade and my company has been on the web with its own domain since the late 90's. The agency which created my logo won the American Corporate Identity award for it in 1996. I advertised nationally and locally in various publications and I exhibited at the ICFF and sold nothing through these venues.

Every sale I have made has been the result of cold calling, warm calling, word of mouth referrals, and repeat customers. Note the latter three are the direct result of reputation. The only reason I can explain for my failure to sell through the phone book, the web and through advertising is that I failed to recognize how my market chooses who it will work with. Knowing the answer to this question, what influences your market's purchasing habits, should determine the answer to your question.

From contributor K:
When I have had to turn to the phone book for something, I avoid calling "AAA Plumbing" because I know they chose that name just be to at the top of the list. Besides that, in our business, does it really matter? As Contributor E said well, are we feeding our kids off the web and the yellow pages? I picked a name that is long (and I've realized now) hard for people to remember, and often mispronounced. But past customers have my number, business card, a past invoice or quote and have a way to contact me.

I had my business cards printed both on card stock and fridge magnets. I give people one of each and they usually keep the magnet and pass on the card as a referral. I don't think it matters - what is a Xerox? Does anyone remember that Chevrolet was a French guy from the 1870's? How does Yahoo or Google define what the company does? Do people not buy Caterpillar equipment because it's named after a green ugly insect?

I know I'm comparing big time corporate vs. most of our small businesses (Mom-and-Pop, One-man-and-a-Van, up to some with several dozen or even hundred's). These companies had products/services that served a market need, were innovative with technology, and as they grew, their company name/brand identity stuck. They have also spent more on advertising than all of us combined have ever (or will have) made.

From contributor S:
Excellent advice. Thereís one note I would like to add. Consider choosing different trade corporate name. The reason I suggest this is that a name that incorporates the word "wood" that your customers equate with personal service may also make you sound small when approaching suppliers for a quote on that new edgebander or sliding table saw. Also I advertise under my trade name but my phone is listed under the generic sounding corporate name. The result is no time wasted on salesmen giving cold calls or people calling looking for work.

From contributor A:
I spent a long time trying to come up with a name that identified what I did when I started the business and I could tweak as need be as the business changed. My shop is Cherry Tree Custom Woodworks. Cherry Tree because the wood that comes from it is almost universally accepted as a quality product, Custom because I do mostly custom work and Woodworks because we do more than cabinetry.

As I grew and now that I'm going into more commercial work (displays, counters, etc) I can tweak the name to Cherry Tree Commercial Woodworks. If I start big in kids stuff I can tweak it again to Cherry Tree Kids. I also wanted a saleable name. If you use your personal name, you can't sell the business as easily. Also, Cherry Tree comes early in the listings in the phone book, etc. without looking like I tried to do that.

From contributor B:
To contributor A: Iím just wondering if that name might also hurt your sales in a sense that a person reading through the phone book might think that you only work with cherry when they want a high dollar oak kitchen. I am also trying to figure out a business name myself. I find that everyone in my area's business ends with "woodworks" and would like to go with something different but havenít found too many ideas.

From contributor A:
I do get a few questions asking if we work with any wood other than cherry. However, we have all the work we can do and I am always looking for help. I don't accept residential work much anymore. The commercial work is good.

I have about a 40% acceptance for what I price. But it seems people that are ordering from me are desperate and have to have the work done. Mostly restaurantís than need something done quickly because someone didn't get booths ordered or they need a cabinet in a week or two. I seem to have a steady flow of work. Based on what I've found the use of the word "cherry" may cause some people to not call but I donít' see it reflected in my P and L report.

From contributor Y:

"In The Sticks" is our business name. We are out in the hinterlands and sell custom sawmilling, fence material, and lumber. I want to build the business and someday be able to sell it to another person so I kept my name out of it.