How to choose a business name

Published · 4 min read

Choosing the perfect name is incredibly important when starting or rebranding your business. You can’t just name your business anything you want – there are legal implications to contend with and significant marketing considerations too.

You may well invest in marketing activities to promote your business, but what you are really doing is developing an association between your business entity and your business brand. It is therefore essential that your business name is aligned with your brand identity.

Good business names appeal to your target market

There are lots of justifications for naming businesses certain ways. Some names use completely made-up words, because they are memorable and easy to market. Others may be much more literal or descriptive of the products and services offered.

The important thing to remember is to ensure that your business name is right for your target market. To give you an example, please consider the following names of fictitious restaurants:

  • Kev’s Caff
  • The Fox and Hound
  • Captain Ahab’s Bar and Grill
  • Quick’n Chick’n

Based on those names, it’s highly likely that you have already assumed what these restaurants offer. Knowing that you want to go out for a meal tomorrow night, and without any further information available, you might even use these preconceptions to decide where you’d like to go!

Therefore, just as you would your products and services, I’d highly recommend further market research to ensure that the name elicits the desired response from your target audience.

Something else I find incredibly important is whether a name passes the ‘radio test’ – that is, if the name is spoken out loud, would the person listening be able to first hear the name clearly without confusion, and then be able to spell it?

Made your shortlist of business name ideas? Now check what’s available & legal

It is important to check that your intended name is not too similar to any others. Even if you are convinced that there are no other companies with that name, you must also ensure that you are not going to be breaching any trademarks.

You should start by conducting some research into whether your desired name is available. Assuming you are a UK business, the first three places I would go to are:

  • Companies House: by first checking the name against the companies register, you’ll immediately be able to see if there are any registered companies with similar names. If there are, then it’s probably not worth you pursuing that name. That said, if the similarly named company is in a completely different industry you may decide it’s worth continuing.
  • IPO: you can search through registered trademarks at the Intellectual Property Office. Like searching registered companies, you may well find the trademark taken, in which case it may not be worth you pursuing that name any further. However, trademarks are registered in classes, which relate to different industries, services and products. For example, you may find the name a registered trademark filed in classes related to petrochemicals, but since you’re opening a bakery that shouldn’t be an issue (again you should get professional advice). This is why you are able to see terms like ‘Polo’, which is used for the name of a car brand, a mint and a clothing brand, without any obvious trademark infringements.
  • Google it: it may seem obvious, but by trawling through search engines and business directories you’ll soon find out whether your desired name is being used.

Please note that if your desired name is not a registered company or trademark, that doesn’t mean the name is necessarily available. The name may be subject to unregistered rights, and you can’t simply call your business whatever you want. There are restricted names and phrases, and in some cases you must seek permission to use them, whereas others can’t be used at all. To be 100% sure, it’s always advisable to seek a professional opinion from an IP lawyer.

Check a domain name is available before you commit to your company name

A domain name does not have to point to a website, so simply vising the website URL to find nothing does not mean that the domain name is available.

There is an easy way of finding out: The status of a domain name, whether registered or available, is publically available and can be found via a ‘WhoIs’. Whilst a quick search of Google will bring up a number of WhoIs search providers, I tend to use http://who.is as it covers many domain name extensions.

So by running a quick search via a WhoIs, you’ll know if the domain name is free to register or taken by someone else.

How to choose a business name – my story

It took several months to name my company, Hyperlink. I knew I wanted a name that would reflect our industry and allude to the services we offered, but I also wanted it to portray a message, or at least an idea.

I originally settled on ‘collective’, because we are about coming together and working as a single body to solve problems. Of course, a quick search and I found that this was already taken, and by another digital agency no less.
It seemed that every search brought up more dead ends, until several months later when I saw that the domain name hyperlink.co.uk was up for auction. Fantastic. It seemed to tick the branding boxes: it was very much associated with digital, it was short, memorable, and it even portrayed that message of linking together.

What’s more, a significant amount of research found that there were no other companies trading with that name, at least in the UK. I was even able to register ‘hyperlink’ as a trademark for all of the services we offer.

It just goes to show that whilst finding the perfect name may take time, and you may not be able to go with your first choice, the exercise is worth the effort.

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