What’s in a name? Tips for naming your small business

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.’ Shakespeare

I love a good quote. For inspiration, motivation, fun. These days our social media feeds are full of them. But in the 80s I got my quotation fix from the flip-over Collins desk calendar in our kitchen. There was a new quote every day.

I recall the Shakespeare quote above (from Romeo and Juliet if you were wondering), and asking my Dad what it meant. In his no-nonsense and crude manner he explained, ‘If a rose was called “shit” it would still smell like a rose.’

I love Shakespeare’s sentiment. And my Dad’s vivid explanation. But it doesn’t hold true in business. Naming your small business ‘Shit’ would work for a cheeky toilet paper company. But it would be a difficult name if you were selling perfume, or gourmet food.

To develop a strong brand you need the right business name. Here are my tips for naming or renaming your business.

Meaning and congruence

A business name needs to have meaning, as well as alignment and congruence with your products and services. Your business name might stem from your vision or story, reinforce your positioning and personality, or showcase the benefits you offer. Alternatively it may be more esoteric. Whichever way you go, it’s crucial to ensure your business name appeals to your target customers.

Using your personal name

Using your full name, or incorporating your first name or surname into your business name is common in small business. It’s a great idea if you are the face of your business, or are building a personal brand. If your name is unique it can help you to be found online. However, it could be an issue if you want your business to run on its own, or if you plan to sell your business in the future.

I used my surname ‘Maybury’ in my business name, Maybury Ink. And ‘Ink’ relates to the way ink has completely transformed how we communicate, visually and in words, which is what I help businesses do.

Avoid names that are difficult to say, spell or remember

With the expanding number of small businesses it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a business name that hasn’t already been taken. As well as the associated URL.

To get around this many business names are being being creatively spelt. I recently saw ‘U-neek Gifts’, and there’s a trend to drop vowels, such as in ‘Flickr’ and ‘Toggl’. Keep in mind this can cause problems for people recalling the unusual spelling and finding you online.

If a name is too unusual it may not only be hard to spell, but people may be uncertain how to pronounce it.

Avoid specific or generic business names

You need to consider how your business might evolve, and not choose a name that is too limiting. ‘Clark Rubber’ now sell pools, spas and floor coverings as well as rubber, but you may not think of them for these other product lines. ‘Sound of Music’ expanded into electrical equipment beyond stereos and were renamed ‘Best Buy’. Having to change name isn’t ideal when you’re building equity in a brand.

While a name that’s too descriptive can be a problem, being too generic isn’t ideal either. It can be seen as too boring, and you don’t want to be forgettable, overlooked and not connect with potential customers.

Don’t follow naming trends

It’s best to avoid following naming trends if you want to stand out and differentiate your business. One fad is the vowel dropping mentioned above. Another is the ‘Name & Name’ trend in boutique children’s wear and homewares – ‘Archie & Evie’, ‘Harley & Soo’, ‘Daisy & Rowe’. It can be confusing to recall what names go together, and they blur into each other.

Sometimes you have to rename

Sometimes you have to rename your business. Perhaps the name has become irrelevant, you’re significantly changing the direction of your business, or you’re invisible online. There may also be external factors beyond your control influencing the change. This is true for some businesses named after the Egyptian goddess Isis, who found themselves sounding like the Middle East jihadist group. UK company Isis Private Equity changed their name to Livingbridge, citing ‘we are no longer prepared to share our name with a terrorist organisation.’

Managing a change in business name

If you do change your business name you need to manage the communication around this. Share the new name with customers and the reasons why you are changing and the meaning behind the new name. Show customers your new logo and visual identity ahead of the transition. Use media publicity to your advantage if you can.

Naming or renaming your small business is an important decision that requires thought and consideration. Do your research and get feedback. A business name needs to be unique, catchy, suitable, memorable, spellable and pronounceable. Otherwise you just might be pushing shit uphill.

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Nichole Maybury