10 tips for naming a business or blog
by Bryan Caplan
Naming a business is like naming a baby.
I’ll never forget when my wife, Linda, was six months pregnant with our firstborn. We spent countless hours poring over baby-naming books and websites. We wanted something that would set her up for success, a name that rolled off the tongue, and ultimately something that had meaning and a special significance. Family members and friends would throw countless names at us, but nothing seemed to stand out.
Finally, after much contemplation, we landed on the name Olivia, or Livi for short. It flowed, people brightened up when they heard the name, and we felt like it had the right balance of strength and femininity. All those hours spent for six letters — seems silly, doesn’t it?
Well, I’m sure in naming your business you’ve probably made a similar effort.
After all, your business is your baby. You’re going to put sweat, tears and time into it, and hopefully mold it into a success.
For many entrepreneurs, naming a business is the point at which it becomes real.
You learn how to name a business to distinguish your business from another.
If named right, a prospective customer will connect with and establish a relationship with your business almost instantaneously.
The name of your business allows you to create an image in the mind of consumers and truly establish your identity in the marketplace.
10 tips for naming a business or blog
Since choosing a business name is so important, I’ve put together 10 tips for naming a business or blog.
Avoid decisions by committee, but test your name with others.
And, just to make sure all the naming bases are covered, you’ll find additional sections about naming a blog, including:
Plus, bonus tips for naming a startup at the end of this article.
1. Think about what you want your name to convey
Trustworthiness? Creativity? Customer service? Innovation?
Think about your business’s core values as you work on choosing a business name.
For example, a quirky name will work better for a creative company than a financial business. Would you feel comfortable getting investment advice from a business called Fun with Funds? Probably not.
Naming your business is one of the most important steps you’ll take to launch your brand. And it’s not a cakewalk. It’s hard to come up with a word or phrase that defines who you are and what you do — a name that will stick in customers’ minds and stand out from the competition.
My good friend and personal real estate agent is Dakota Riley. When I first met Dakota, she marketed herself as Dakota Riley. With more than 2 million real estate agents in the United States, a brand name is important for a real estate agent to stand out from the crowd. People actually remembered Dakota as the “girl with a state for her name.”
How many houses do you think she sold with that shtick?
Dakota and I worked together to figure out how she could differentiate herself from the competition. We thought of words that described her approach to real estate and overall work ethic. We decided that what Dakota needed most was to build trust with her clients. Her audience had to believe they could rely on her with their investments.
They needed to understand that she was on the straight-and-narrow and would only show them the best homes in the area.
One word that stuck in both of our minds was “dependable.” As we went through a rebranding exercise, we landed on “Depend on Dakota.”
Since the launch of that brand, Dakota has become a top agent in her region and now employs six people on the Depend on Dakota team — truly the power of a name.
What about naming a blog?
Like movie or book titles, blog names are priceless pieces of marketing that, at their best, capture a reader’s imagination, drawing them in. At worst, blog names don’t make any impression at all, fail to represent the nature of your blog, or get lost in a digital sea of similar monikers.
As you ponder naming a blog and noodle through how to find a domain name for a blog, keep in mind the basic guidelines for choosing an effective domain name. You want it to be memorable, of course, and to represent your unique brand at a glance.
Naming a blog falls into a couple categories:
The name that encompasses the purpose/focus/feeling of your blog. Blog names like TechCrunch, Business Insider, Barstool Sports and Lifehacker quickly let the reader know exactly what they’re getting into.
The provocative name that captures your imagination before you start reading. Blogs like The Daily Beast, The Oatmeal and DeadSpin brand themselves online with catchy monikers that don’t quite let you know what you will find when you visit but are compelling enough to make you click.
Despite their difference in nature, these blog names have something in common: They are short, memorable and catchy.
Whether it is a direct description of what you do or a provocative nudge, your blog’s name is its calling card.
Consider the “watercooler.” Co-workers will gather around the “watercooler” (or coffeemaker or kitchen) and share stories to help pass the time. You want your blog name to be easy to remember, so someone can say, “I just read this hilarious article on The Onion. You’ve got to check it out!” Does your blog’s name pass the watercooler test?
It is the first impression a reader will get of your work and will always be associated with your blog. The reason all of the above names work is that they set the tone of the writing, the content, and exactly what file drawer your brain should deposit them in.
2. Brainstorm to identify possible names
Great names — like Amazon, Apple, Sprint and Infinity — often carry strong visual associations. Usually that’s by design … but gut instinct and luck do come into play.
That’s a lesson to be learned from one of the most recognizable names in the business world, Virgin. As Virgin Group founder Richard Branson explained:
“There was no great plan or strategy. The name itself was thought up on the hoof. One night some friends and I were chatting over a few drinks and decided to call our group Virgin, as we were all new to business. The name stuck and had a certain ring to it.”
Does that mean your business name will be thought up “on the hoof?” Absolutely not!
Brainstorming is going to take hours — if not days. That is, unless you want some help from a business name generator.
If you want to be more involved in naming your business, though, you should set aside some time to brainstorm. Consider words that:
Pertain to your industry, products or services.
Describe your competitors in your field.
Highlight the benefits of your products or services.
Pro tip: Look up Greek and Latin translations of your words, as well as foreign words (Swahili is often a great choice) — you might unearth a few good ideas.
Here’s what I suggest. Get out a blank sheet of paper and your favorite pen. If you have one of those old-school kitchen timers shaped like an egg or a tomato, grab that, too. If not, use a timer on your phone or find a song that’s about five minutes long. Set the timer, press play, and write down every naming idea you have for the next five minutes.
Your goal? Fill up that sheet of paper.
Doesn’t matter how goofy or how bizarre the names get. Correct spelling is optional. Write the names anywhere on the page — almost like a doodle you would make in middle school. Your first few ideas will be ones you’ve already thought of. Some of them will be names that are already out there. Keep going. If you get stuck, look around you. Write down ideas based on what you can see and hear during those five minutes.
Let the ideas flow when you are brainstorming. No idea is a bad idea!
GoDaddy’s domain search tool can be very useful when brainstorming.
When you do a search using that tool, you’ll get different extensions, such as .com, .net, etc., at the end of the web address. Plus, you’ll see names that are already taken but available for sale or auction.
Brainstorming blog names
Somewhat different from a business name, when launching your blog, you’ll want to come up with a recognizable blog name that fits your style and personal brand.
First, decide if you want a name that is literal or provocative. Whichever path you take, remember the blog names that also make the best domain names are striking and concise.
Next, brainstorm a list of words that describe:
Your blog’s topic area (e.g. parenting).
Your blog’s primary purpose (e.g. give parenting tips).
Your target reader (e.g. parents).
Your location (e.g. New York City).
Your blog’s tone (e.g. witty).
Note: If you plan to launch a blog for your personal brand, brainstorm a list of words that describe you and what you do.
Now head over to thesaurus.com and search for related words to add to your list.
Obviously, when you go to a blog like LifeHacker.org you know you’re going to find life hacks. On the other hand, a blog domain name like tabatatimes.com doesn’t exactly scream Crossfit.
If you opt for a blog name that represents what the site is about, you’ll need to get clear on your niche before coming up with the name.
3. Keep the name easy to write and remember
When I started my first marketing agency, I could not, for the life of me, come up with a business name. I spent countless hours brainstorming and still had a list of over 20 business names. I called my brother one night and ran the list by him. Every single one was vetoed from the list because it was “too long” or “locked me in geographically.”
My brother said, “Why don’t you just name the business after you? After all, you’re the one running it.”
It was like lightning had struck. I scribbled on my sheet of paper and held it up in the light: “BJC Branding!!!” What the hell was I thinking?
In hindsight, using an acronym was asking for trouble. Even close friends and family couldn’t remember it, calling me BCJ or JCB Branding instead. Even when I was being presented as a guest speaker at events, the MC would totally botch my name.
The companies you admire typically have names that are short, simple, easy to write and easy to remember — Apple, Tesla, Virgin.
Obscure business names (like BJC Branding) are often difficult to write and even more difficult to remember.
This is a problem for most small businesses because word-of-mouth advertising is an advantageous form of marketing. If your customers can’t remember your name, can’t spell it or can’t properly pronounce it for others, it will make it difficult for them to promote your business.
I can only imagine how much business I potentially lost because they couldn’t find my website.
As you get started with naming your project, here are a few things to consider:
Is it trademark-able? Do you need it to be? Protecting your name is important, as it making sure someone else hasn’t already protected it. Being forced to rebrand a name is a nightmare.
Is the domain available?
Do you need/want a .com domain or is there another domain extension that is a better fit? Keep an eye on the new options for domain name endings.
Is it memorable? This is the secret sauce … does it have enough oomph to stick?
Is it descriptive? Think Sprint.
Is it easy to spell? People really don’t like to feel stupid. If there is any question, buy the misspelled domains and set them to redirect to your primary domain.
Will your name be your logo? If the answer is yes, be careful to consider the shapes of the letters — think Coca-Cola or Facebook.
4. Choose a name that can grow with your business
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is a genius when it comes to naming conventions. When Amazon first hit the market, its purpose was to sell books online. So, why use the name “Amazon?” When you think of the Amazon, what comes to mind? The largest river in the world? What on earth does that have to do with books? Actually, the answer is quite simple.
As Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue explains:
“The story is told that [Bezos] named it after the river, of course, because of its size … and the tagline was: ‘Earth’s biggest bookstore.’ Bezos’ ambitions were as large as the company name, and he eventually developed a business model that would include far more than books. Amazon continues to fit this eCommerce giant now, doesn’t it?”
What if Bezos had used a generic name, like “Millions of Books?” Would it have been as successful? Probably not. It’s boring, doesn’t elicit any emotion, and lacks any sense of ingenuity. As a consumer, I don’t want to connect with Millions of Books; I want to connect with Amazon, with options as vast as the river itself.
Do you want to marry specific products or services to your brand by including them in your business name?
Boston’s Finest Bed & Breakfast
Aaron’s Personal Training
These straightforward business names immediately alert potential customers to the type of products or services you offer, but do they leave room for growth?
It might be s a good idea to leave your business name open-ended (like Bezos with Amazon.)
Think about where you see your business in five or 10 years. Will the name you have in mind still work if you expand your product line or service area?
The one thing you want to avoid like the plague is having to rename or rebrand your business. The amount of minutia involved is overwhelming and costly.
Blog naming with growth in mind
Just like a business can grow its product or service offerings, your blog can expand its subject matter to speak to a larger readership. Once you’ve brainstormed your list of words, whether literal or provocative, you want to start editing.
Some say that this is the really fun part. It’s time to cull your list down to the words that resonate the most. Keep only those you think will stick. Then start putting words together. Try different verb tenses and variations of the words on your shortlist.
The goal is to come up with three strong options for naming a blog.
Send this shortlist to your most internet-savvy friends and see what they have to say. You may need to rinse and repeat a few times, but that will make your blog name fireproof.
5. Describe your business without being generic
Generic words make it very difficult to differentiate your company from your competitors. For example, my uncle started his landscaping business in the ‘90s. Back then, there were only two other landscapers in the area, so he didn’t think his business name mattered as much as the number of lawns that he mowed.
Because his last name is Greenfield, he named the business “Green Fields Landscaping.” Creative? Yes. Limiting? Oh yeah!
Now Green Fields Landscaping has grown to one of the top companies in the area and provides much more than lawn-mowing services: walkway installation, landscape design and outdoor living spaces. They even sell landscape materials like gravel and mulch.
As a result, my uncle has two websites to represent his two different business models: services and material sales. In this case, being generic doesn’t help him to convey what he now offers.
There are exceptions to this rule, though.
General Electric is a very successful company (depending on who you ask) and its name is composed of two plain words. But General Electric was one of the first companies in its category, and they were able to get away with a plain name by spending billions of dollars on marketing and advertising.
6. Be careful with geographic names
Some people use their city, state or region as part of their company name. If you plan only to work in your city, this might serve you well. When I was naming my original marketing agency, I wanted to include the word Boston or Beantown because I was proud to be a Bostonian.
Thankfully, my brother pointed out that I could offer my services around the country (and really the world) so I would be pigeonholing myself to one tiny region.
A geographic name could help you now but hinder you later.
One great example is Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining. Initially, the name worked because the business was focused on Minnesota. But once the company grew beyond their industry and the state of Minnesota, they needed to find a new name — 3M.
As much as you want to plant your flag locally, think about your future customer base. If they live anywhere outside your city or state, then go back to tip No. 2.
7. Don’t use obscure words
Naming experts will tell you that the best business names are real words or a combination of real words, as opposed to made-up, spliced or oddly spelled words.
The reasoning behind the spelling advice is an obvious one: you want your customers to be able to find you instead of going through dozens of spelling variations until they settle for your competition.
A good business name is easy for customers to find and type online.
For instance, before I started Bryan Caplan Marketing, my business name was BJC Branding. In hindsight, using an acronym was asking for trouble because people would always mix it up. After years of hearing CBJ Branding or BCJ Branding, I finally decided to name the company after myself (also an option if you’re a consultant or figurehead of your business.)
Yes, you want to avoid generic words, but you also want to avoid obscure words.
Business names that tell stories can be powerful and memorable (think about Google, for example). But obscure words or references might be difficult to spell or pronounce.
Some naming experts suggest a “coined” name.
A coined name is not an actual word, but one that sounds similar to an idea that you’re trying to express.
Think of the car brand Acura. Although the word is a fictional one, it expresses that their engineering is accurate and therefore trustworthy.
Having a creative or outside-of-the-box name seems fun — in theory — but if your audience can’t recall, say or spell it, you’re in trouble.
Of course, obscure or invented names can work. Xerox is a great example. In fact, people even use Xerox as a verb: “Will you Xerox that for me?” However, obscure business names like this often require a huge marketing budget and tremendous effort — so it might be smarter to take a more straightforward approach if you’re working with a smaller budget.
8. Tread lightly on trends
Trends make for treacherous waters in the sea of naming your business.
Remember the “Low Fat” craze? It seemed like you couldn’t walk down any aisle in the supermarket without a box or container screaming out that it was “Low Fat” and, thus, a healthy option for you. Come to find out that “Low Fat” didn’t translate to low in calories or sodium or sugar. In fact, some low-fat items were really unhealthy.
How about fidget spinners?
In 2018, they were all the craze. In fact, a friend of mine in the retail business asked if I wanted to invest in a giant shipment of fidget spinners to distribute around New England. He told me they would go like hotcakes because kids couldn’t get enough of them. He now sits on an inventory of thousands of fidget spinners and is lucky to sell 10 a week at $1 each.
Call it what you want: trend, craze, fad — they all have that same undeniable fate of fizzling out.
Your business, on the other hand, is going to live and thrive for years to come. And to do so, you want to avoid naming a business based on trends.
You’ll want your company’s name to evolve as trends evolve, so be careful to identify trends and to avoid following them.
What about trendy blog names?
You’re starting your blog to serve a certain niche, and that’s fine. Your blog’s content can be trendy while your name keeps you “fad safe.”
That said, you need to stay true to your voice and brand, rather than playing to a trend for quick traffic.
Naming a blog should be open-ended enough to allow you to shift your direction instead of requiring a full rebrand (aka starting from scratch.)
9. Avoid decisions by committee, but test your name with others
It’s tempting to involve friends, family, employees and customers when finding a naming your business. Sometimes this can work out, but there are risks.
We’re all unique and naturally like different things — and different names.
Depending on upbringing, we have different sensitivities and sensibilities. What may appear funny or tongue-in-cheek to one person can be offensive to another.
You might also find yourself trying to find consensus, which can lead to a plain and boring name.
To involve others in the process of naming a business, pick a small group of people who understand you and your business (and pick a mix of right-brain types and left-brain types for variety). Bonus points if the group includes your potential customer base (or buyer persona) because they will be your real-life audience.
If you aren’t able to approach potential customers, ask your group to pretend they fit the mold of your customers. Paint a picture for them, so they can empathize and envision themselves as prospective buyers of your products and services.
Share the names with them, and ask them questions like:
What feeling does the name evoke?
Is it easily recognizable or easy to remember and type?
Does it create an instant impression?
Pro tip: Don’t just ask them which name they like best. Ask them why certain names ring true over others. Also, ask them why they didn’t like certain names.
10. Check for domain availability
Once you’ve figured out how to name a business, head on over to GoDaddy and snag your domain name.
Be sure to have a few backup ideas ready — it’s possible someone else might have already had the same idea. As mentioned earlier, there are many interest- and industry-specific domain extensions to help you secure the perfect domain name for your business.
When I was rebranding my company from BJC Branding to Bryan Caplan Marketing, I had to buy BryanCaplan.com for nearly $1,000. For me, this was a no-brainer because I did not want anyone to confuse my brand.
I also did not want a competitor to snatch up that domain name and redirect it to their site (or worse) some nefarious or inappropriate site, which would reflect poorly on my business. After buying the .com domain, I purchased the .net and .org domains for the same reason. I also purchased BryanCaplanMarketing.com.
Of course, I could keep going and purchase BryanCaplan.marketing or BryanCaplan.expert, but I promote my website as .com, so I decided to stop there.
In addition to brand protection, extended domain ownership gives companies the opportunity to own product-specific domains, giving companies the ability to differentiate and uniquely target their products/customers.
For instance, if ever I wanted to promote my company’s email marketing services, I could purchase the BryanCaplan.email domain.
If you want to try out a cool tool that will help you come up with a business name and check domain availability at the same time, take a look at GoDaddy’s Business Name Generator.
Bonus tips for naming a startup
Looking for even more tips and tricks for choosing the best name for your startup business or blog?
Research your preferred business name
A poorly researched business name could cost you in more ways than one. Be mindful of infringement and copyright laws. If you haven’t done your research properly and end up in a costly legal battle, your business could be finished before it even gets off the ground.
After you have found the perfect candidate for naming a business, check its availability and make sure that another business isn’t already using the name for a similar use. Check this as early as possible in the process, well before you invest any time or money in the name.
There’s no single place to search for conflicting business names. Some business owners think that searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is sufficient. But keep in mind that a business can have legal claims on a name just by using it, even if they never register the trademark.
This means that you’ll need to use multiple search tactics to look for both registered and unregistered trademarks.
Start with some simple and free screening. The USPTO offers a free online search of its database of registered trademarks and pending applications.
Check with your local county clerk’s office to see if your proposed name is on their list of fictitious business names in the county.
Find out if a good website address is available. You can do a simple web search to see if anyone is using the address, as well as use GoDaddy’s Domain Search tool.
Make sure your business name isn’t the same as an existing corporation, LLC, or other business entity in your state. You can contact your secretary of state’s office or have an online service handle this for you.
Editor’s note: This should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal situation.