You probably have lots of creative ideas for your business name. You may even have chosen a favorite.
But naming your business involves far more than just thinking of a name you like. A good name will reflect your business’s identity and goals. It will help you market yourself. And it won’t get you into legal trouble.
Your business name will be with you for a long time, so it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you invest in starting a business entity, setting up a website and creating signs and other promotional materials. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Follow Your State’s Naming Guidelines
If you plan to form a business entity such as a corporation or limited liability company, your state’s laws will restrict you from using a name that another business entity in your state is already using. In some states you also can’t use a name that is deceptively similar to another business entity’s name.
If you do set up a corporation or LLC, you may be required to place a business name identifier such as “corp.,” “inc.” or “LLC” after your name. Your state may also have a list of names that you’re not allowed to use. For example, you’re not ordinarily allowed to use the word “bank” unless you’re a financial institution.
You can find your state’s naming guidelines on the website of the state agency that handles business filings. Most states allow you to search registered business names online to see if the name you want is available. If you’re not ready to form your entity yet, nearly all states allow you to reserve a name, or you may be able to register your business name as a trade name, or DBA.
2. Don’t Pick a Name that’s too Similar to a Competitor’s Name
While you’re looking for a unique name, keep your eye out for competitors that are using names similar to the one you want. Avoid business names that could cause confusion between your business and another similar type of business in your geographical area. For example, if there’s a “Blue Horizon Hair Care” in your town, you shouldn’t name your business “Blue Horizon Nail Spa.”
At worst, the other business could accuse you of trademark infringement and you could find yourself fighting a lawsuit. But even if that doesn’t happen, you want your business to have its own brand and identity, and being confused with a competitor is seldom a good thing.
You can start your investigation by doing a general Internet search for similarly named businesses. You can also search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database for names that have been registered as trademarks. When you’re searching, be sure to check alternate spellings and abbreviations.
3. Choose a Name That People Can Spell and Pronounce
People who have names that are long, hard to pronounce or difficult to spell tend to get tired of it. And while that can be annoying for an individual, it can be deadly for a business.
So stick to simple and memorable words and don’t get cute with your spelling or use hard-to-remember acronyms.
4. Make Your Name Web-Friendly
Chances are, you’ll have a website and Facebook page for your business. Your business may also be active on other social media platforms. Do your research and find out if you can get a domain name that matches your business name, as well as social media accounts in your name.
For domain names, simple and memorable is best. An unusual spelling or a long name may sound great to you, but it can make it harder for potential customers to find you online or type your name accurately in an email.
5. Be Unique…But Not Too Unique
Ideally, you’ll be able to get trademark protection for your business name. But for small businesses, that can be tricky.
Generic or geographical company names like “Best Plumbers” or “Chicago Pizza” may be great for attracting customers, but they can’t get trademark protection. On the other hand, the names that create the strongest trademarks are made up names like “Xerox” that can leave a small business’s potential customers scratching their heads.
Try to strike a balance by choosing a name that’s unique and creative, but still describes a quality of your business.
6. Pick a Name that’s Consistent With Your Brand
What distinguishes your business from its competitors? Is it convenient location? Large selection? Great customer service? Knowledge and expertise? Who’s your ideal customer or client?
Before choosing a business name, figure out what you want to be known for. And then choose a name that reflects that quality. “Speedy Car Wash” and “Velvet Touch Car Wash” describe the same type of business, but they convey different images and will appeal to different clientele.
7. Don’t Limit Yourself
Sometimes, a business chooses a name that matches the town it’s located in—Cleveland Garden Care, for example. But what happens when the business decides to expand to Akron? The city moniker that once seemed so perfect doesn’t fit anymore—and may even drive away customers.
The same applies to names that describe your services. If you get too specific, you may find yourself with an inappropriate name as soon as you expand your offerings. Make sure your name allows your business to grow and change.
Choosing a name is one of the most exciting and creative parts of starting a new business. Before you commit to a name, though, research your state’s legal guidelines and make sure it’s available. And be sure to choose a name that reflects your business’s desired image and long-term goals.
Ready to choose a name for your business? With LegalZoom’s free entity name check service, you can find out in 5-10 minutes if your business name is available in your state (typical time during regular business hours). If the name is available, you can reserve it or, if you plan to register a trademark, you can conduct a more comprehensive trademark search of federal trademarks, corporate names in all 50 states, common law trademarks, Internet domain names and more.