Business Naming Guide [21 Tips + Examples From Silicon Valley And The Tech World]

 

Sometimes the best business names summarize your overarching vision for the business.

You are your brand’s best ambassador, right?

Even before you push it at customers, you and your team must first buy into your brand’s ultimate vision.

Choose a name that you would want to be identified with.

How do you do that?

1. Let the Business Name Itself

Sometimes naming a business often gives us way more headaches than it should because we try to be too smart about it.

It will not always produce a memorable name, but summarizing your niche market to just one or two words can give you some strong and creative business names.

Home page for social finance startup, SoFi

Financial services startup SoFi used this trick to great effect when they narrowed their niche market to social finance. Admittedly, ‘Social Finance’ would have sounded too generic, even boring.

So they got a little creative and just combined the two words’ first vowels.

SoFi was the result. It reads well, isn’t too difficult to pronounce or spell, and even describes what they do, albeit not directly.

You can tell, from their name, this is a company that wants to disrupt the financial services market.

Could they have borrowed the trick from Microsoft – Microcomputer Software, or Intel – Integrated Electronics?

2. Just Say What You Do

A simple variation of the tip above is to just say what you do.

Think of your elevator pitch. These are likely going to be the first words you use when you describe what you do.

It is a stupidly simple way to name a business. But, of course, it helps if you can reduce what you do to one word – a verb.

Home page for online platforms' payments processor, WePay

Payments processor for online platforms, wepay, knocked it out of the park with this formula. You can’t ask what they do after hearing their catchy business name.

To avoid the name being too generic, they combined the name into just one word.

3. Describe Your Product’s Physical Appearance

In one word!

Square, a credit card processing startup, noticed a striking feature about their flagship product.

The startup’s card reader has a noticeably square shape.

Not sure if the square shape was accidental or whether it actually serves a functional purpose.

Or, maybe they started with the name and used it as inspiration for card reader’s design. Regardless, it is a punchy, memorable, and simple name.

And they kept the theme for the logo, which is, well, a square shape.

Still on punchy and cool business names:

4. Describe The Level Of Quality You Aspire To.

Also, in one word. As did on-demand rideshare startup, Uber.

The founders wanted their alternative taxi service to be of an outstanding quality. And Uber just seems a perfect name, which espouses the founders’ vision for the company.

Wikipedia cites synonyms like topmost, super, and above, which is the direct translation of uber in German.

The young company has grown rapidly to over $50 billion in market value, thanks in part to its memorable name.

The sharing economy trend it spawned is now even referred to as Uberisation. You know you have done a stellar branding job when your name – a noun – gets ‘verbified’ in the market.

5. Tap Into Your Vision

What is your ultimate aim with your product? How will it help improve your target users’ lives?

Answer those two questions and you might end up with a great business name.

This is better than using your product as the basis for your name. It is too focused and may be too limiting, in case you want to pivot into a different business.

Your vision, on the other hand, is more enduring and may never need to change much, even if you change your line of business.

Home page for peer to peer lending startup, Prosper

P2P lending startup, Prosper, thinks their product can help their customers prosper. So they named their startup just that, Prosper.

Unbxd, an e-commerce product discovery platform, is committed to uncovering more options for online shoppers by helping them discover great products they may not have known and connecting them to marketers.

Their cute business name helps explain what their mission is:

Giving online shoppers, who were previously boxed in, a wider choice to shop from.

Not sure if the actual word – Unboxed – was already taken. It certainly would have been easier to spell.

6. Mine Your Own Startup Story

There is a good chance somewhere within your startup story is a good catchy business name, or at least some inspiration.

It is even better if your beginnings are particularly humble.

Airbnb sounds memorable and aptly describes how this disruptive hospitality service was born.

The founders of this wildly successful vacation rentals’ startup were so hard up they thought to rent out three air mattresses, serving breakfast on the floor.

Three people actually showed up and paid for the service.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Air mattresses + breakfast = Airbnb = great name.

7. Appeal to Your Target Market’s Social Conscience

SwipeGood ended up killing more than one bird with the same stone.

Their product was certainly novel. Even though the concept of donating to charity itself is quite old.

The startup could have struggled to explain to their target market just how their product works. In the end the name they settled on looks to have eased that challenge.

Technical issues aside, clients know they are doing something good just by swiping their credit card.

The cherry on top is this is a name that aptly describes the essence of the product – every time you swipe the cents that are rounded off are donated to a charity of your choice.

Even though the startup eventually failed due to a poor business model; the name gave them the buzz to have a good go at it and survive as long as they did.

8. Alternative Spelling For Your Preferred Name

The most frustration with naming a business comes when you discover that your preferred name is already taken.

Sometimes you just can’t bear the hustle of coming up with another name.

Naming the business something else will almost drain your enthusiasm for it.

Insisting on a particular name isn’t a healthy way to start a business. But there are several workarounds you can use to rescue your name.

The most popular trick is to just drop a vowel.

Home page for reading subscription service, Scribd

This isn’t an original trick, as Flickr started the trend, which was soon embraced by other web 2.0 startups, like reading subscription service, Scribd.

Though it’s now a tired trick, it is useful when you want to keep the name or get that ever elusive .com domain for it.

Speaking of .com domains:

9. Forgo The .com Domain Entirely

A .com domain is coveted for a reason.

It is popular and makes your brand instantly recognizable online.

But, giving it up altogether may mean you keep your desired business name, albeit with an alternative top level domain.

The assumption here is open to trademark, but what you can’t get is the .com domain.

A popular trend is to forgo the .com and choose a less popular top level domain. Hopefully you can find one that reads well, or mean something when added to your registered name.

Libya’s .ly has been used to come up with very catchy names; after Libya noticed the domain opportunity of -ly endings being attached to a number of trendy business names.

This trick can be useful, but it is not without risks, possibly the reason why link shortening platform, Bit.ly, later changed to the less problematic bitly.com. .Com as decided advantages, which is why you should seriously think before using a non .com domain name.

10. Use Your Quirky Domain As Your Business Name

Yes, the trend is getting old.

But who cares if you can still piggyback off it and end up with a great name.

In this instance, you find out you can’t get trademark protection for your prefered name.

But after researching your options with it you realize you can add a cutesy domain suffix like the same .ly and create a name you can possibly trademark.

Other interesting domain suffixes that have been used creatively are;

If your startup has international reach, the new .global domain is an alternative that will work a treat when used as part of your trade name.

Again, it helps if you can find a domain suffix that reads well, or mean something when used as part of your business name.

Just don’t get too clever with domain hacks, as you may end up with a name that is unintentionally inappropriate. Also be careful with non .com extensions and be sure to check out the health of the extension you use.

Think Hard Before You Use a Non .Com Inforgraphic

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Food blogging site, Eat.ly nailed it with the .ly domain suffix. You know straight off this business deals with food in some way. Eat.ly was later bought out by its competitor Foodspotting.com.

And if yours is a food related business that specializes in Italian food?

11. Mash It Up

Eataly is an online marketplace for all things Italian food, including restaurants, bakeries, beverage joints, and retail items.

Home page for Italian food marketplace, Eataly

A mashup of eat and Italy, Eataly is simply genius for an Italian food business. It is so good you almost know you won’t have trouble trademarking the name or even getting the often tricky .com domain.

Pinterest, Instagram, and Zillow are other examples of startups that killed it with this trick.

Still on eating, how about,

12. Using Synonyms Of Your Prefered Name?

Food related businesses do well with cute business names for foodies.

But it gets rather tedious if every food startup insists on using eat as part of their name. Especially when there are other words that could still sufficiently describe you as a food business.

Munch is a synonym for ‘eat’ that can work well, if not better, as a root for a food business name.

Just add a cool sounding suffix if you find that ‘munch’ is already trademarked, or does not have the much sought after .com domain available.

That’s probably what food delivery service, Munchery did. They ought to be praised for not burdening food lovers with an Eat.er or another such quirky name.

13. Just Use Any Word You Like

Finding names often becomes such an exhausting process because we want to stick to a traditional formula.

But do we really have to?

Apple, one of the world’s most valuable companies, whose brand is also among the most recognizable, picked a fruit for its name and logo.

According to his autobiography,  Steve Jobs named the company after one of his ‘fruitarian diets’. He felt the name was ‘fun, spirited, and less intimidating’.

Another IT giant Cisco was apparently named after San Francisco. Possibly the founders’ home city?

And if that doesn’t work:

14. Make Something Up

The great thing about brand names is there is no rule that says they have to mean something.

It’s perfectly OK to make up your own word. As long as you like the ring of it, you can name your business after it.

Home page for data science platform, Kaggle

The folks at Kaggle – a data science platform – went all tech and wrote an algorithm whose ‘brainy’ job was to come up with a random word that read well and had a .com domain available.

The software spat out several options, from which they chose Kaggle. It’s a made up word that means nothing, just like Kodak and SONY.

This approach, though not everyone’s idea of naming a company, at least means you are almost certain to get a domain and trademark protection for your chosen name.

You don’t even have to go all geeky and write some fancy code for it. Just think of a random word.

Or, you can use any one of the several free tools that are available online.

Wordoid is a good one.

If you do well cultivating your brand image, as Google has done, you will create your very own keyword, and verb, that no one else can rank for, which is great for SEO.

Still with Google:

15. Find A Number That Inspires You

For Google, that number was more aspirational than inspirational.

Apparently founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, set out to build an algorithm that could crawl one googol words.

Yes, googol is a number – 1 followed by 100 zeros.

That’s a lofty aspiration, which must have seemed an improbable goal back then. It clearly doesn’t now.

But perhaps to prove the geeks they were, the two thought googol would make a great name.

Oddly enough, it was another ‘geek’, SUN Microsystems co-founder, Andy Bechtolsheim – their first investor – who had the good sense to ‘impose’ Google as a better name.

Bechtolsheim simply wrote the $100,000 check out to Google Inc. Page and Brin had no option than to just register the company as Google Inc, so they could cash the check.

Speaking of SUN Microsystems:

16. Abbreviations And Acronyms Can Still Work

All the quirky web 2.0 naming trends seem to have degraded acronyms and abbreviations as so 1995 – the year of Yahoo’s incorporation. Or even, in SUN Microsystems’ case, so 1982!

But no one says you can no longer use them to name your own startup.

The SUN – in SUN Microsystems – is short for Stanford University Network, which is where Andy Bechtolsheim and his fellow co-founders met.

Yahoo’s founders, saw themselves as  YAHOOs – Yet Another Hierarchically Organized Oracle – from the book, Gulliver’s Travels.

Not terribly creative, but still good enough as a name for the internet’s first hit company.

17. Add A Vowel To Your Not So Original, But Prefered Name

A company name that is descriptive of what you do is what most founders set out to find when they do the name brainstorm.

But often, and almost immediately, you will find out most of the choices are everyday words that are probably already taken, or just too generic.

Tumblr, Flickr, and Grindr, probably for different reasons, all dropped a vowel off their prefered names.

Juicero, on the other hand, flipped the trend and added one.

The startup, whose product makes, well… juice, didn’t look very far for name inspiration. But calling their company ‘Juice’ would probably have been deemed plain lazy.

But would chucking the word juice into Naminum, a business generator, be any less lazy:

Business name generator, Naminum

The tool will spit out a gazillion names to choose from.

It even gives you language based target audience options for English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and the more inclusive ‘Global’.

18. Translate Your Prefered, But Unavailable, Name Into A Foreign Language

There are instances where your prefered, but unavailable name, has a symbolic meaning.

You are not sure if any other word can convey your startup’s mission better than your first pick for business name.

A nifty trick is to translate the word into a foreign language. Even though it won’t read and spell the same, it, at least, retains its meaning.

Children’s music app, Mibblio wanted a catchy name that somehow described what it is – a children’s music storybook-like app.

After debating many choices of cute business names and finding no fuzzy-wuzzy, they eventually agreed on Mibblio, combining M – for music – with biblio, a Latin word for book.

19. ‘Humanize’ It With A Human Name

Using own name(s) worked for Silicon Valley’s very first startup – Hewlett Packard. But that now only seems to work with legal firms and other consultancy businesses.

Some may even say it’s a dated way to name your startup.

The more modern trend is to pick a cheery, relatable human name.

Home page for health insurance company, Oscar

Oscar – a name for a health insurance startup just sounds so ‘approachable’.

And with the name’s association with Hollywood’s Oscars you get the feeling this is a company driven to do work that’s worth something, award winning-like.

The startup’s clever www.hioscar.com domain even seems intended, even though it is likely a creative way to get around an unavailable a .com domain.

20. Be Ridiculously Simple

Well, maybe Yo is not your idea of a serious business. After all, the Yo app reportedly started as an April Fool’s Day joke.

The app’s not so revolutionary idea is based on the banal, and colloquial, ‘Yo’ greeting. Sending and receiving Yos is pretty much all the app does.

It has been described, rather cruelly, as the stupidest app on the market.

But that did not stop it from climbing to the top of app store rankings, based on total downloads. A stupid idea that somehow got viral.

But the parodied app look to be having the last laugh as the company is now pivoting into many serious and interesting things.

So many service businesses are integrating with the app that people are now describing it as the app about nothing and everything.

It will not always work and will likely be risky. But launching a brand on a simple name and, not a particularly bright, idea worked to a T for Yo.

21. Just Buy A Ready Made Domain Name with A Set Price

An option for those who may find the whole process of coming up with a brandable domain name too much of a chore is to buy a ready made name.

Yes, you will need to have the money. And most startups aren’t exactly awash with cash.

But this seems a better option than approaching a domain owner out of the blue and offering to buy their domain. That way you almost always get an ‘unreasonable’ sale price thrown at you.

With domain names starting at as low as $150, this option is cheap when you consider that some startups have ended up paying as much as $2 million for a domain.

Another advantage is these names are plug-and play’, as they come with .com domains and logos.

Where To Buy A Business Name

Here at Brand Militia, we run a marketplace for brandable domain names. You even have options for both invented and keyword based names.

Our process simplifies an often frustrating task, leaving you time to perfect your cool business idea.

If our names aren’t quite what you are looking for, feel free to check out our competitors, Brandroot, Brandbucket, and Novanym.

Know of any business naming tips we may have missed? Let us know in the comments.