I hope you recognize the quote reference here. What brings it to my mind is What’s in a Name? Not Much, posted last Friday by Chris Rosica. My view is people spend too much anxiety on the name, and too often without much business impact. So I’d like to take another look at the business of naming a new business.

  1. Make sure you don’t bump into anybody else’s name. Who wants lawsuits? If you’re brand new, you don’t have to have a specific name that conflicts with an existing business. Check it out. Do a really thorough Web search first and, if you can afford it, talk to an attorney. Don’t let the attorney have a blank check; get an expense estimate first.Smelling Like a Rose
  2. Don’t get hung up on the Internet domain name. You don’t have to have your exact favorite website domain name to build a business. If it makes you feel better, compare the traffic of amazon.com (huge) to books.com (tiny). Or flickr.com (huge) and photos.com (tiny). The smaller the better, but try to avoid frequent misspellings (silent letters, fone instead of phone, phreak instead of freak, for example. We can’t get around paloalto.com for Palo Alto Software, but that one gets misspelled a lot, and we lose people searching for “buisness plan” instead of business plan. We eventually bought “bplan.com” because we were losing traffic to it on bplans.com.
  3. Get a name you can use. Real-world example: In 1988 I changed the company name of Infoplan to Palo Alto Software. A friend in PR said he’d done a search and there were 26,000 corporations in the U.S. whose name started with “info.” So here are some questions to consider:
    • Is it easy to remember? To say? To spell? Think of the names that work for you, in your life–your favorite restaurants, stores, services. What works for you? Why? I’ve never been able to say Iraila, a local restaurant (named after the owner’s mother), and–coincidence or not–I don’t go there.
    • Is it confusing? Does it sound like something else?
    • Is it cute, or possibly too cute? Cute names can work well or poorly, depending on the business and the target. Rhymes, puns and so on can be great or grating. I like Rhythm and Blooms, a local flower store. I don’t like FCUK, a clothing chain in the UK.
  4. If you follow these first three tips, don’t sweat the rest too much. A bad name can really hurt, but the difference between an acceptable name and a really good name is a lot less than you think. What really matters is the meaning you attach to the name through years of doing business well.
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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.