Steps to Starting a Small Business: #4 Naming Your Business

When you’re starting a business, one of the steps to starting a small business is naming your business.  While a rose by any other name may indeed smell just as sweet, the name you choose for your business is one of the most critical decisions you will make.

Your business name is the foundation of EVERYTHING in your business.  It will affect every aspect of your business from customer perception to the domain name you use for your web presence.   Make a mistake in naming your business and, trust me – it will haunt you for years to come.

This post is obviously a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of post.   I am the QUEEN of choosing horrible names for my adventures.  Case in point – Virtual Impax.  I can admit it – it’s a TERRIBLE NAME for a business!  The “fun-n-funky” hooked on phonics spelling just makes it worse.

How do I know it’s a terrible business name? The first clue I had that the name Virtual Impax was a horrible business name was when first question most people ask is, “What is that?” or “What do you do?”

Another horrible choice – Acumen Web Services.  Do you know what the word “acumen”  means?  If you don’t, you’re in good company.  Naming my alter ego business Acumen Web Services is clearly a case of “Who talks like that?”

The answer – me and only me.

With this said, there is a school of thought out there on naming your business that would tell you that I’ve been BRILLIANT in naming my business ventures.  See, these unique and unusual names means that my web presence is a GUARANTEED NUMBER 1 listing with the search engines.

People who SUBSCRIBE to this school of thought are idiots.

I say this with all the love and affection possible, but these people truly do NOT understand search.


You put yourself at a huge advantage if your business name is also your domain name.

“But wait,” you may be thinking, “Xerox is a made up name and they’re a house hold word now!”

Ah, yes my Padawan learner (veiled Star Wars reference) Xerox, Kodak, Kleenex – even Google are all “not real word” names that have come mean something in our daily lives but the path those “brands” have taken have literally been paved in gold.   In each case (except for Google), the path to creating a brand name that becomes a household term is achieved through extensive and relentless advertising.

One of my early web development clients was a local Tru Value store.  This was way back in the 1990’s and my client had recently purchased the store.  While the storefront was barely breaking even, the previous owners had started selling lighted Christmas lawn displays out of the back room.  Now THAT was a business worth buying.  My client had decided to take the business “to the web”, which was VERY cutting edge thinking way back in 1998.  Unfortunately, the name he chose was Holiday Silhouettes.  The only reason I can spell silhouettes is because of the time I worked with him.   He took a pass on the easy to spell, easy to remember domain name “Christmas” Is it a coincidence that the company who chose the easy to spell domain name is still in business and he’s not?

So if choosing an obscure hard to spell word, a nonsense jumble of letters or purposefully misspelling common words are all LOSER business naming strategies, what are some WINNING business naming strategies?

The following advice is for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend on either a branding consultant or a naming service.

  1. A great small business name tells what you do.
  2. A great small business name communicates your business’ unique place in the universe.
  3. A great small business name uses words that people can easily spell.
  4. A great small business name uses words that people are using to search for solutions to the GDP (not Gross Domestic Product but rather Goals, Desires and Problems).

A rose by any other name may indeed smell as sweet – but you can make the climb to the top easier by choosing the right name for your business.


  1. Hi Kathy – this is really good advice. I suck at choosing business names and I agree completely – you need a name that folk can spell. My last business was called Kwik Fix. And so many people spelled it wrong.

    It was a real pain when you’ve got to keep sending cheques back for folk to change because they spelled Kwik the proper way.

  2. Too True! One of the most important things when getting your business started is choosing a name which speaks to your clients.

  3. @Cathh-

    ACK! There’s nothing worse than sending back a check!!! (I’ve had to do that a few times as well for Virtual Impax – thank goodness for Paypal!)

    Glad you agree!!!

  4. Hi Kathy. I like to play with words and had a lot of trouble coming up with my business name. I wanted desperately to be creative with new spellings as both you and Cath did.

    When I was in that self-employment program one day I was in tears because I was SOOO frustrated that I couldn’t come up with a business name. I wanted to move ahead with the business plan but I “needed” to have that name before I could go any further.

    You are right, of course 🙂 it is very important. Some classmates were telling me I was taking it too seriously and that pissed me off!

    Davinas last blog post..Video — Preparation Inspires Self-Confidence

  5. Davina,

    TALK ABOUT IRONY!!! You were TRYING to come up with something “creative” while Cath and I were both KICKING ourselves for being so “damned” creative!!!

    Pick a name that’s easy to spell. Sending back checks is a positively PAINFUL experience!!!

  6. Very basic but a some aspiring entrepreneurs sometimes miss this point.

  7. Naming can be an art, but I agree that simplicity is the key to effective naming.

    However, there is one piece of advice you’ve provided that I disagree with. That’s having your name describe your business. Inevitably that leads to confusion because it can easily be transfered to another company with a similar name. In addition, descriptive names are inevitably long, usually three-word, names that get reduced to three-initials that have no personality or relevance.

    I want my clients to have names that differentiate them from their competitors – names that are memorable as well as easy to pronounce and are suggestive of a benefit or solution if possible. The name should reflect the character of the business, should set the “tone”.

    I always start the naming process with a naming brief, a description of the project and my client’s conception of the business. Then I begin listing words, real or coined, that are made of four characters in the form of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel. I can then add prefixes or suffixes if the four-characters alone are not appropriate or available. This does not always produce a delightful name, but almost always one or two will end up on our “short list”.

    I certainly agree that the name is the most vital branding element and deserves the time and/or money to get it right. For the cost of some office furniture or a used truck, you can get a name that’s appropriate and that differentiates the business.

    If you “go it alone”, you’ll find an ever-growing set of naming tips at


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