Naming your small business? Sleepless nights are par for the course…

Chewing over names for your new (or soon-to-be-born) small business baby?

For the new business owner, naming-induced sleepless nights are a rite of passage.

And that’s just how it should be.

Fun it may be to dream up a name, but – not wishing to rain on the parade – it’s serious business that calls for a lot of thought.

Even the one that’s a dead cert at 3am (this-is-the-one-oh-yes-it’s-a-no-brainer) needs to be put through rigorous pre-flight checks. Because chances are you’ll be running with it for a long time.

That’s the thing about names: they stick.

Not to say change can’t happen, but it comes with its challenges – among them cost, loss of continuity, and risk of confusion. (Am I the only one who grew up with “Marathon” and still struggling to adjust to “Snickers” 29 years later..?)

On the other side of the Atlantic, there’s a blink-and-miss-it little town in Nova Scotia called Porters Lake, a few hundred square yards of which are worth a closer look.

“This St”, “That St” and “The Other St”.

Are these for real?

Because if they are, they’re up there with the very best in the street-naming hall of fame.

(And there’s some stiff competition: in North America alone, there’s Hawaii’s gloriously sniggery PeePee Falls Street, closely followed by Michigan’s Psycho Path (yes, really), New Jersey’s Witts End Road, and Canada’s Twiggly Wiggly Road. Not to be outdone, Australia boasts AAAA Rd – admittedly a great way to stake a place high in the Yellow Pages).

Maybe there was a dearth of creative juices down at the town hall. Maybe there’s a touching background tale known only to locals – or they just have an over-developed sense of fun.

But here’s the thing about Porters Lake: these extraordinarily ordinary names make them all the more remarkable. Truth is, they’re the only reason we’ve even heard of the place – while nearby streets, like Narrows Lane, Old Coach Road and Davlin Drive lie undiscovered in the shadow of their quirky neighbours.

It’s a great reminder that, when it comes to names, different gets noticed, and remarkable gets remembered.

So are you stuck for a name?

Here’s a few pointers that might help (and also work for new products, services and even premises):

  • What message does it send – and what does it say about you? If you’ve gone through one of our branding workshops, you’ll know that your message is at the core of your brand. If your name and your message don’t align – like a chintzy tea room with a pithy, hipster name – you’re confusing your audience.
  • Does it only mean something to you? Sometimes only you get the clever double-meaning, or the touching family story behind it. To the rest of the world, it means nothing.
  • Is it uncomfortably like someone else’s? If it’s too close for comfort, there’s a good chance of crossed lines (and cross words).
  • Are you plagiarising (= stealing) someone’s name? Not clever. And if it’s trademarked, don’t even think about it unless your idea of a good time is paying your solicitor. In the UK, check out the Intellectual Property Office website for more information, and trawl the trademarks list. On the flipside, if you decide to trademark your own name or logo (not a bad idea), it might be wise to get professional help.
  • How flexible is it? Things change. Right now, you may be convinced that you’ll still be doing what you do in 5 years time. But if the market changes, or you follow a new direction, or you add different services, will the same name still be a fit?
  • Is it, er, rude? Some businesses cruise close to the line and beyond when it comes to the tasteless – or even borderline offensive. Be warned – it’s a fast track to alienating a lot of potential customers. Unless you’re firmly in the crazy dudes camp and confident that it’s a winner for your demographic, tread carefully.
  • Does it cross borders well? Have you checked that it doesn’t mean something entirely different in, say, Spanish? It does happen… It might not seem like it matters, but don’t be surprised to find yourself on a parody website in a few years.
  • Does it pass the “cheese test” or is it loaded with enough puns, wordplay and alliteration to win a cringe contest? If you want to be taken seriously, it’s best avoided. It works for some – but precious few.
  • Is it all about you? Depending on your line of business, if you’re a one-person band it can make a lot of sense to use your own name – particularly if you have a strong personal brand. But have you thought about how you would handle future growth – or even the sale of your company?
  • Are you trying too hard? Remember, it doesn’t have to be clever.
  • Think digital: does it work as a social media handle – and is it available on all the platforms you want? Is the domain name available, with the extension you want (.com, .org, etc)? Search for “domain name checker” and you’ll find sites where you can check for free – some of them even suggest alternatives if you’re in need of inspiration.
  • Is it too long? The longer the name, the more likely the problems – from people mis-remembering it, to practicalities like fitting it on signage. And don’t forget that it’s good practice to keep your domain name as short as possible. Here’s a great article that goes into it in more depth – well worth a read.
  • Is it different? Don’t aim to be different for the sake of it – but remember, remarkable gets noticed, average doesn’t.
  • Does it start conversations? Does it intrigue, raise a smile, get a second look? Or is it just more beige in a sea of beige? A desire to play safe is understandable – but try to think out of the box. “Hearses’R’Us” might not be your choice when it comes to a send-off for Great Aunt Mabel, but there can be few better examples of a conversation-starter…
  • Bear in mind the “mis” effect – could it be mis-read, mis-interpreted, mis-pronounced or mis-heard? People make mistakes – just make sure they can’t when it comes to your name. Every obstacle you put in the way of remembering you – or referring you – harms your business.
  • Numbers or letters? The confusion between “for”, “four” and “4” could lose you a customer – particularly when it comes to a domain name.
  • Have you let it settle? Some ideas come to us over a few glasses of wine or in a flash of inspiration when the rest of the world is asleep. Some of them are great. But many don’t survive the cold light of day. Give a name a week or so to settle in. Visualise it on invoices, on vehicles, over your door. Imagine introducing yourself to a client. Bounce it off friends and family. If it holds its own, you may just have a keeper.

If it all seems too much, take heart: you’d be surprised to know how banale the story really is behind some of the biggest brand names out there

Most of all, remember this: it’s more than just a name.

Like the rest of your branding, it’s out there flying the flag for you, telling the world what you’re about, what you stand for, what you’ll do for them. In a year’s time, it could be splashed over vehicles, carrier bags, trade stands, heck, even TV ads (think big).

It is your business.

Will it still seem like a great idea when you see it up in lights?

A parting shot: if you’re struggling, don’t be tempted to let others decide for you. Justin Bieber Way in Texas was named by a local 11 year-old who won the role of “Mayor for a day” in a Facebook contest, and wielded her short-lived power to long-lasting effect.

Boaty McBoatface Boulevard may be just a matter of time.