August 17, 2013

The Making of Great Start-Up Names: 6 Tips

John Brandon  /

What you call a new venture can very well turn out to be one of the most important decisions you will make in the early days of a company. The business name will dictate which Web domain you can register, your trademark, and how people identify what you do.

So while the R.E.M. approach might work on the rare occasion–the band reportedly opened a dictionary and picked the name at random–you're better off giving the name due diligence. Here are six things to keep in mind.

1. Watch out for sound-alikes.

Tarek Pertew, the co-founder of Wakefield (which provides info about great places to work), says to avoid a name that has too many alternate spellings. For example, you might want to call your new start-up Phaser, but he says too many people will think it is Fazer or Faser. They will type that domain into a browser and find the wrong brand.

2. Wait for the lightbulb moment.

To create BloomThink, the name of his social media firm, Billy Cripe grabbed blank sheets of paper and had family members write down interesting words. Eventually, his daughter put "bloom" and "think" together. Everyone at the table new it was the right name. "Start-ups should take some time saying the words out loud because they're going to be saying it a lot: on the phone, in face-to-face meetings, in presentations. You want your words to easily translate to the keyboard for accuracy and ease," he says.

3. Let your name tell a story.

Pertew says it is not always necessary for your company name to tell a story. Yet, it can help with branding and generate buzz. One example: the eyewear company Warby Parker is named after two characters from a long-lost Jack Kerouac journal. Pertew's company name is also a conversation starter: Wakefield is named after a character in a Tom Swift novel series from the 1900s that was inventive and prescient.

4. Make it personal.

Your company name is often an extension of your personality. Caroline Fielding was doodling on a sheet of paper one night, trying to think of a company name. She thought about three grandsons in the family: Dean, Bryan, and Steven. And, she thought about how her company, which makes an iPhone app called Bus Rage, is driven to succeed. She combined the three names to create Dryven. "The name is easier to remember [for customers] when there is a personal story behind it," she says.

5. Don't be too practical.

Some companies use a name that says exactly what is does, like Accounting101. That might be a mistake, says Aaron Frazin, the CEO of Charlie, an app that pulls info about your contacts before a meeting. Frazin played around with names like and but ended up picking the name Charlie because it's a bit esoteric. "No one wants just a tool that says what it does; they want a name that represents something bigger than it does," he says.

6. Make sure you love it.

The process of picking a name can easily turn into a a huge headache. Chris Zepf, the CEO of Kingdom Ridge Capital, says he and a business partner spent hundreds of hours thinking of a name. They went through a laundry list of Greek gods, mountain ranges, and geographic locations but came up empty. He decided to pick a known quantity: the street he lives on, Kingdom Ridge. He now says the name resonates with him every time he hears it.