Naming Your Business

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    Did you know there are only a limited number of options to name an enterprise? What a relief, isn’t it? As a matter of fact there are only seven really different ways in which you can create a name for your business or product and I am going to show them to you. However, before we get to the seven ways, we must first get a strategic issue out of the way. Going through the seven options with the wrong strategy will only help you from the frying pan into the fire.

    So, let’s quickly play a game.

    What would you choose?

    Upfront I offer you a name that won’t harm your enterprise.  Take it, off you go to a flying start! It is not a “Wow!” but it will work. Most importantly it won’t harm your business.

    However, I also have a secret name in a box. If you reject the “plain” name that I offer you upfront, you may choose the name in the box. But, wait, here’s the trick! In the box can be either of two names.  Name A is an absolutely fabulous, mindboggling “Wow!” name for your venture.  Name B on the other hand is a very inappropriate, “ouch!” name for you business. For our experiment’s sake you will have to use whatever you choose. Once taken you can’t discard.

    What do you do? Take the appropriate, but uninspiring name and get off to a flying start? Or do you take the chance and choose the box – at least you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting a fabulous name for your business?

    What you should do, is choose the appropriate if uninspiring name, because a name alone will not guarantee business success. A business is by far too complex for that. A bad name, however, may positively harm your business. I have seen some really bad names for businesses which the owners justified by saying that “they wanted to be different.”  Yes, we need to differentiate, but if we are too different your market will fail to make the connection between their needs and your offering! Many things will differentiate your brand. The onus is not on the name alone! When you come to a professional agency for name development, the greater part of the fee will be for preventing you choosing a name that will make you look foolish and harm your business!

    Before you even begin to name you enterprise, make the right strategic decision. If, by luck or inspiration you do stumble on a “Wow!” name, good for you! You are lucky, but don’t over estimate the power of a name in business success!

    Now we get to the tricks of naming a business or enterprise.

    1. A personal name

    If you are in the services industry, your first choice should always be your own name. Only when there are compelling reasons to the contrary (for instance: you are afraid if you fail, your name might be tarnished), should you choose anything else. Take your name in the real world, for instance Sue McGregor and add the description of your business, for instance “Sue McGregor Financial Advisors.”   Your biggest advantage in small businesses is you yourself; especially in services. Use your name to give personality and a face to your business. Personalise, personalise, personalise!

    2. Combine two words to create a metaphor

    Take two words and combine them to make a new word with a new meaning, “airbus,” for example.  A bus transports passengers in bulk on land. Combining the word bus with the word air creates a new meaning, bulk passenger transport by air.  You use a part of the meaning of one or both of the words.

    3. Combine two units of meaning (morphemes) to create a new word

    “Provita,” the name for the well-known health biscuits come from “pro” meaning “for, on behalf of” and “vita” life. This is very powerful.

    4. Create an acronym from the first letters of a description

    This is very popular way with technology companies.  “Intel” comes from “Integrated electronics.”  “Modem” comes from modulator emulator.  The important thing to remember is that the name must sound like a real word. This means that you should have vowels attached to consonants as in In and tel.  Don’t, don’t have only consonants such as BRD or RDF.  “IBM” only works because it first was Industrial and Business Machines, became well-known, and was then abbreviated. You are not IBM!

    5. Take a part of what you do and use it to refer to the entire enterprise

    “Staples” is only an (insignificant) item on the list of office supplies, but it is the name of a large supplier of all kinds of office supplies in the US. Windows is only the obvious visual part of the office software package.

    6. Take a well-known word from one area of life and apply it to your enterprise

    “Diesel” is the name of type of fuel, but it is applied to a well-know clothing brand. In this case the word carries emotional overtones of “rugged” and “working class.”  “Apple” is another example. The trick here is to choose words with emotional associations that will support your enterprise.

    7. A totally new word that has not existed before

    There is a strong case to be made that this may yet be the best of all options for a product or large enterprise. Examples are “Exxon,” “Sony” and “Kodak.

    Finally your biggest no-no is to be generic.  You can’t be “Our Game Farm” or “The Pharmacy” or “My wine.” As an individual you don’t want to be known as “My father’s son.”  You want to have a name! The Internet has not changed this at all.  Remember, books.com got nowhere, but Amazon did!   Search.com got nowhere, but Google did!  It’s counter-intuitive but indisputable true!

    Bertie du Plessis
    Bertie du Plessis founded his successful consultancy firm, MindPilot, 17 years ago. He names several of South Africa’s blue chip corporations among his client list and has taught as a lecturer and guest lecturer in six different disciplines at tertiary institutions. His fin24.com blog is the most read business blog on the 24.com domain. Visit Bertie Du Plessis's website for more information.