woman standing in front of whiteboard brainstorming
Finding the perfect name is one of the most critical steps in starting a business. — Getty Images/andresr

Choosing a name that both captures your business idea and reflects your brand personality can be a daunting task. However, it's important to spend time developing the right name to create the right impression of your business.

Your name should differentiate your business from other companies. It should also be memorable enough that your customers can easily recall, pronounce, spell, and search for it when they want to get in touch with you.

If you're stuck on what to call your business, there are a few things you can do to generate and test your ideas. Here are five steps to help you choose the right name for your business.

Brainstorm ideas

Deciding the right name for your business starts with a brainstorming session. Whether you simply down ideas on a notepad or hold a formal meeting with partners and team members, getting some thoughts out — even if they're not perfect — can help you narrow down options and move toward a great business moniker.

Dozens of AI tools can also help you brainstorm ideas from which to develop your unique moniker. Hootsuite, Namelix, and Looka are just a few free tools powered by AI that take your industry and a few keywords to suggest business names. Some of these tools will even check the domain availability for you.

As you brainstorm ideas, consider the emotion you hope customers will associate with your business. How do you want your customers to feel when they interact with your company? Make sure any name ideas generated reflect both this perception and your company's mission.

SCORE recommends considering the following as you come up with name ideas:

  • Length. A short, catchy name (think Uber and Etsy) might be easier to remember and spell than a multi-word name.
  • Location. Incorporating your city or region into the name can help you stand out from other businesses in neighboring areas with similar offerings.
  • Future growth plans. Your name should grow with your business and not pigeonhole you if you decide to expand from your initial product or service line.
  • Potential visual representations. How will your name look on a logo and various marketing materials?

Test your idea and seek initial feedback

Ask for people's opinions on your name ideas. Work with family and friends whom you trust to decide if the name fits you and your business. You can also poll people who represent your target customers and find out what they think.

Test the name with online searches, too. In addition to searching for the name itself, search various combinations of the name with the product or service you plan to offer. Zen Business gives the example of a store named “Red’s Posters" after someone named Red. A user searching for “Reds Posters” is going to get hundreds of results for posters of the Cincinnati Reds MLB team — not a small business owned by Red. It’s these variations that will help you zero in on the right name for your company.

As you brainstorm ideas, consider the emotion you hope customers will associate with your business.

Search for existing registrations and trademarks

Before you get too attached to your chosen name, check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as well as your state's business registration database to make sure the name hasn't already been registered by another business owner. If your name (or one extremely similar to it) is trademarked, you will not be able to use it for your business.

In addition, check your state’s laws to see if there are any restrictions on the name you’ve chosen. Some states don’t let you register a business name that’s similar to another business entity. Some states will also have specific naming restrictions — for instance, you won’t be allowed to use the word “bank” in your name unless you’re a financial institution, according to LegalZoom.

Look for your state’s business naming guidelines on the website of the state agency that handles business filings (usually the office of the Secretary of State).

Check search engines, domain registries, and social media

Your digital presence will serve as your "front door" for many customers searching for your business online. Run a quick Google search to see what kind of search results are associated with it. If any negative press or questionable content comes up, you may want to rethink the name or try a variant of it. You should also search domain registries and social media sites to make sure you can register a suitable URL and social media handles.

Register your business name

Once you've chosen a unique, available business name, register it with the government and begin marketing your brand. If you’re not ready to commit, you may be able to reserve the name or register it as a “doing business as” (DBA) name. This won’t give you legal protection, but it can help dissuade others from taking the name while you consider your options.

You may also wish to set up a trademark for your name. This will protect your business by providing you with exclusive rights to your own name and logo, as well as the right to pursue legal action for infringement.

Already have a business name? Learn what to do next in our step-by-step startup guide.

This article was originally written by Nicole Fallon.

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