Giving the right name to your startup or company is more important than you’d think.
A clever and appropriate name can impress your fan base.
Conversely, an unoriginal or dull name communicates a lack of enthusiasm toward your business.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to change a company’s name. Some of the most successful businesses changed their names when a better idea came around. Xerox used to be called The Haloid Photographic Company; Nissan was Datsun; and LG shortened its name from Lucky and GoldStar Co. A great name can hit you immediately, or it can be the result of careful tweaking over time.
There is no magic formula for creating a good company name, but there are five distinct characteristics that all great names have in common:
1. All the best company names are memorable, or “sticky.”
During the brainstorming process, you should give yourself plenty of time – maybe even a week or more – between the brainstorm and the final decision to really mull over all the options.
Even when you find good names, it’s important to continue brainstorming. You’ll eventually remember the best names without needing to refer to the list, and you might be surprised by which names are most easily conjured from your memory bank. If the name sticks in your mind, there’s a good chance it will do the same for your customers, too.
2. Shorter is better.
What do Nike, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Pixar, and eBay have in common? Yes, they’re all very successful companies, but they’re also only two syllables.
Brevity tends to lend itself to memorability, so you’d be smart to choose a short and punchy name that won’t be easily forgotten. But ignore puns and phrase names: They can be fun, but often times, it’s a disadvantage. A company name like “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Computer World,” is difficult to remember correctly, and it’s something people won’t want to repeat to their friends.
3. The best names are also functional.
Consider the specific function or service that you’d like your company to perform.
In 1998, Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, was working on a new free and open-source software project. According to Daniel Ehrenhaft’s book “Marc Andreessen: Web Warrior,” Andreessen was happy with Netscape Navigator’s browser Mosaic, but the program still wasn’t fast or secure enough for his liking. So, Andreessen decided to rewrite the program and create a “Godzilla” that would completely obliterate his old Internet suite. In 2002, Andreessen unleashed his Mosaic-Godzilla – “Mozilla” – unto the world, and the internet was never the same again. Firefox, Mozilla’s flagship web browser, is still one of the most popular web browsers in the world.
4. Some of the best names have a story behind them.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1904, the Holt Tractor Company hired a photographer to take pictures of its latest steam tractor. According to the biography of company founder Benjamin Holt, the photographer noted how the tractor “crawled like a caterpillar.” Holt overheard the comment and exclaimed, “Caterpillar it is. That’s the name for it!” In 1910, Holt officially trademarked the new name for his construction equipment company, Caterpillar.
The lesson here is to always be listening. Inspiration can strike at any moment.
5. The most memorable names invent their own language, or try something new.
Making up a word shouldn’t be a last resort; it should be the first option.
The founders of Google and Snapchat didn’t find their company names in a book, or anywhere for that matter, because they never existed before.
Combine two words or concepts. Spell a word incorrectly. Think outside the box. Customers appreciate independent, risk-taking brands that try to distance themselves from the competition that plays it safe. So let other businesses settle for the simple descriptive names. Strive to be different.
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