How To Name Your Startup

Finding and agreeing upon a worthy name is always a struggle, especially if you have co-founders. This is one of those emotional decisions where it’s not OK to agree to disagree.

There’s a lot of advice on the Internet about naming companies; see this article from for a particularly good, detailed checklist. Here’s a few additional things I’ve found useful.

Not only are you making emotional decisions about what persona to convey, how much formality to exude, and whether it “sounds appropriate,” there are the technical considerations:

  • Obvious to spell, otherwise you’ll spend the rest of your life dictating letters over the phone.
  • Short so it’s easy to say and read.
  • Evocative, either explaining what you do or evoking an emotion that’s useful to your purpose.
  • Memorable, perhaps the most important quality and yet impossible to measure.

Then of course there’s the domain name. Most brainstorming sessions nowadays are done while huddled around a domain registrar’s website, trying every combination of crazy stuff like omitting or inserting vowels. If it’s not available, it’s out.

Or so the conventional wisdom goes. Lately the trend is to get a domain name with an extra word slapped on. So if you want to be Gumdrop Party Services, and is taken (of course it is!), you can be or or

But even this isn’t the best idea because you’re squandering a chance to get in good with search engines. All search engines consider keywords in the domain name to be vastly more important than anywhere else — even the page title. The reason is simple: The domain name is your self-appointed identity; anyone can put anything in a title to try to win the affection of Google’s search algorithm, but a company with a domain of really ought to come up first when you search for “smart bear.”

Your company will already come up first when someone searches for you — at least after a few months of exposure — because everyone will link to you with your company’s name, your name will litter your website, and Google will figure it out.

That means you should use your domain name for something other than restating your name. Instead of, why not or Isn’t getting into the first position in a Google search for “party candy” worth it? Those domains still say what you do, so it’s still informative and sensible whether you’re telling someone over the phone or displaying in advertisement.

Besides, nowadays most links are shared over email and social networks instead of typing them in directly. It’s more likely someone stumbles on you from a link than your own domain name!

While we’re talking about Google, they demonstrate that all the conventional wisdom about naming companies is not as important as who you are and what you do. Here’s a silly name, yet billion-dollar companies rely on them for advertising and IT services. The name is perhaps meant to convey vastness because “Google” is the name for the number with 100 zeros after the 1 (i.e. 10100). Except it’s not, because that’s a “googol,” so it’s a misspelling too.

Or consider Yahoo! (yes, with the exclamation point, but that didn’t prevent them from going public), or 37signals (a name with — horrors! — numerals, and impossible to remember, yet fantastically successful). But then there’s Mint, a pretty name conveying no information that nevertheless got acquired for $170m by dinosaur giant Intuit. And here again, an emotional, non-descriptive name like “Intuit” is good enough for a multi-billion dollar accounting company, and similar with Adobe and Oracle. But then again there’s nothing wrong with International Business Machines, Computer Associates, or General Electric, all stoic, cold, blue-chip names with respectable acronyms.

And there’s the semi-sordid history of the “Smart Bear” name.

So now that we’ve dispensed with the idea that naming your company will dictate its fate, we still come back to the simple truth that the name is important, but to you, not to others. You’re the one who has be to proud to be the founder of this company, even when all the other person knows about it is its name. So let that be your primary metric of name-worthiness.

That’s simpler to do, except when you have co-founders. You may agree on most things, but somehow naming the company isn’t a time when people easily come together. Each founder likes only a handful of names; the intersection of everyone’s top three is often the empty set. In my experience it’s too hard to do the obvious process where one person proposes a name and others reject it — you just end up rejecting everything.

Instead, start by having everyone generate her own list of names. Combine them into a super-list, then everyone has veto power over any name, but veto must only be used if you truly would be horrified if that was the name of the company. You’re looking for strong negatives, not positives. Don’t worry, you’ll still eliminate almost all the ideas. During this process you’ll be inspired to think of other names, either by association or in combination. No problem, just tack them onto the end of the list and keep doing the veto pass.

With the remaining names, spend some time with each name, both together and separately. Names, like people, grow on you over time, so it doesn’t have to be the most inspiring name out of the box to become endearing. From this final list, everyone will (by definition) be satisfied no matter which is picked, so really you can’t fail.

In the end, I’ve never heard a founder of a successful company say the name of the company was an important factor in its success; similarly I’ve not heard of a name being the fatal blow.

So just pick one; then you can focus all your worry and angst on something important. Like which of 41 shades of blue you should use in your logo….

What are your company-naming woes? Maybe together we can come to a conclusion; let’s discuss in the comments.

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