9 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Business Name

Choosing a business name isn’t easy. You want it to reflect what your business does and be catchy without being silly. Before you make your final decision, be sure you avoid these nine business naming mistakes.

Choosing a business name is challenging for many startups. A business name that is appealing and memorable can help build recognition and bring in business. On the other hand, an inappropriate or poorly chosen name can raise eyebrows and keep customers away, or just make your new venture easily forgettable.

Some aspects of selecting a business name are subjective and reflect the personal wishes, preferences, or even the owner’s existing name recognition. But in most cases, when you start a business and choose a business name, it pays to avoid these nine common business naming mistakes.

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1. Picking a Business Name that Limits Business Growth

Choose a business name that is wide-ranging enough to give your business growing room.

Geographic business names are popular; for example, Hidden Springs Housecleaners. But what happens if your business takes off and you’d like to expand the geographic area you cover or even go national? Unless you’re sure you want to stay in one particular location, avoid using geography in your business name. The same goes for naming a business after one product or service: “Al’s Refrigerator Repair Service’s” name would need to change if Al decides to take on air-conditioner repair. Lastly, stay away from names that describe current fads or trends: When the new “Millennium Diner” opened in 1999, it sounded timely — six years later, it sounds dated.

2. Choosing a Name that’s Too General

While you don’t want your business name to limit the future growth or direction of your business, you don’t want it to be so general or generic that the name doesn’t give any sense of what you do. To someone who doesn’t know the business, a company named Fast Home Services might be a plumber, roofer, a pest control service, or even a home inspection service.

3. Using Unusual Spellings of Common Words

If you’re one of those people who like to be different, or if you’re having trouble choosing a name that’s not already in use, you may be tempted to include a soundalike misspelling of a common word in your business name. For instance, you might want to call your arts and crafts store “ArtzNcrafts.” 

Avoid the temptation unless you have a lot of time and money to build brand (and spelling) recognition. The reason? Someone who remembers your business name, but doesn’t remember where you are located is going to go online and search for “arts and crafts store.” Google and Bing will most likely show the person all the arts and crafts stores in their vicinity. And, if you haven’t done a good job optimizing your site for search, that customer may never find you. Similarly, if someone told them about your shop, they might think the store name includes the owner’s last name, and as a result search for Artsen Crafts. 

4. Using a Business Name that’s Too Long, Difficult to Understand, or Hard to Spell or Pronounce

Ideally, your new business name should be made up of words that are easy to remember, spell, and say. It should also be short enough to fit on a business card or display on a sign and fit neatly in a corner of your website. If you chose the name, “Floccinaucinihilipilification Company,” few people would remember it to pass along or to find on the web. It actually is a word that means “action of estimating something as worthless” and that’s probably what would happen to any business using it — or anything even half that length — as their name; it would become worthless. If your customer can’t remember your name, they’ll get what they want to buy from someone else.

5. Failing to Test the Name in Online Searches

Sometimes you can become too fixated on a name you like to realize that it may be associated with something else. For instance, suppose you have red hair, and everyone calls you Red. You decide to open a poster shop called Red’s Posters. If you don’t test that name in search, you may spend a lot of money on store signage and other branding before someone tells you they couldn’t find you when they searched online. When they searched for Red’s Posters, what they saw was a lot of listings of places to buy Cincinnati Reds posters.

6. Not Considering Domain Name Availability

When you’re considering a name for your business, you also need to consider what domain names are available to use for the business. (A domain name is the Internet address for a website.) Even if you don’t plan to set up a website immediately, you should reserve the domain you want to use to be sure no one else takes it. Most domain registrations only cost about $10 to $20 a year, so it’s a minimal expense.

Matching a domain name to the name you’d like to use for your business can be difficult, though, because so many names — particularly common ones — are already taken.  For instance, suppose your name is Linda and you want to name your new design company LindaDesigns. If you searched a domain name registrar for the domain name Lindadesigns.com, you’d discover someone has already reserved the name and is trying to sell it for nearly $20,000! 

But if the name you’re searching for is taken, most domain registrars will show you a list of alternative versions of the domain name to choose from. If you don’t see a suitable name among the alternative suggestions, you might want to consider choosing a different business name.

A word of caution: Domain names go fast. What’s available today may not be available tomorrow or next week. It can be worth spending a small sum to reserve one or more domain names that would work with business names you’re considering.

7. Getting Stuck in Alphabet Soup

In the days when print advertising and printed directories reigned, a business name that came at the beginning of the alphabet could be a plus since many business listings were alphabetical. And some businesses still seem to think this way in naming their businesses. If you use printed yellow pages to find a business, you’ll still see a staggering number of businesses starting with the letter A, and more than a couple that start with the somewhat nonsensical: “AAAAA Locksmith” and “AAA Active Appliance.” Other than another word that starts with the letter A, what purpose does the word “Active” serve? Using A, B, or C as the first letter of your business name can help your name show up first in a printed directory, but getting found in print isn’t terribly important anymore. Think instead of how your name will show up in a listing of local businesses in Google or Bing search.

8. Being an Island

You’ve thought up 15 business names that are in the final running, and you think they’re all pretty good. Now is the time to get some feedback. Run those names by some close colleagues, family, and friends. You might be surprised at the number of things they bring to your attention that you’ve overlooked. A little constructive objectivity goes a long way when choosing a business name.

9. Failing to Check If Your Chosen Business Names Belong to Another Business

Before settling on a final name, you’ll need to ensure that you won’t be violating someone else’s trademark rights to a particular business name. You want to avoid being forced to change your business name in the future and possibly paying money damages.

Here are some ways to avoid using a name that’s identical or confusingly similar to the one you want to use:

  • Type your prospective business name into a few search engines to see if the name comes up.
  • Check with your county clerk’s office to see whether or not your potential name is already on their list of fictitious or assumed business names, also known as DBAs (“doing business as” names).
  • For corporations, LLCs, and limited partnerships, type in “Your State Secretary of State” on your favorite search engine to do a business name search on your state’s database.
  • Search the federal trademark database to see if a chosen name has already been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can do this through their website, www.uspto.gov. Once there, go to “Trademarks” and then “Search Trademarks.”

For a fee of at least a few hundred dollars, you can also hire a professional search firm to do a trademark search. Just the peace of mind alone that nothing has been overlooked can make this investment worth your while.

Trademarks also happen at the state level. Do an online search for the office in your state that oversees state trademarks. They’ll usually have a trademark search engine you can use.

Coming up with a business name isn’t particularly easy, but if you avoid these common mistakes — and invest some time and thoughtful effort — a great business name should be well within your grasp.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.


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