Years of experience in coming up with business names has led me to develop these 12 questions I use to filter my shortlist. It's rare that more than one potential name makes it past each one, but when it does, I'm pretty confident it's a winner...
1. Is it short and sweet?
Short is good, but remember, brevity isn't just about character count, it's more to do with syllables. So, a five or six letter name is great, but an eight-letter name with just two syllables is nearly as good.
Pass: Eight letters or fewer; two or three syllables.
Fail: More than eight letters; four or more syllables.
2. Does it pass the phone test?
Is the name easy to pronounce? If the pronunciation isn't obvious, people will struggle to remember it or pass it on. And if it's awkward, you'll soon get fed-up repeating it 20 times a day when you answer the phone.
Pass: Sounds great, looks great.
Fail: Looks better than it sounds.
3. Is it too weird?
There's a fine line between weird and wonderful. We're all pretty comfortable with a name that breaks a spelling rule, so using a K instead of a C can work. But if potential customers can't spell your name, they can't search for it online. And if your brand name is too strange, it becomes distracting.
Pass: You won't find it in the dictionary.
Fail: It combines letters as never before.
4. Is it 'puntastic' or wittily irreverent?
Not everyone shares your sense of humour, so if you want to be taken seriously, avoid puns.
Pass: It's a credible name.
Fail: It only makes you laugh.
5. Is it a phrase, initials, a number or an acronym?
Many businesses are just initials, right? And your business name could even be a phrase or sentence, acronym or combination of numbers and letters. Resist the temptation. Such names might seem good idea at the time, but the attraction can fade in time.
Pass: It's one word.
Fail: It's never b33n done b4.
6. If it's synthetic, is it safe?
Coining entirely new words is full of branding potential, but make sure you check for ambiguity and translation risks (the internet is full of names that seemed a good idea in English, but were hilariously obscene in Spanish or French).
Pass: It's unique (or unique-ish).
Fail: It sounds rude in German.
7. Is it suggestive?
You can't build a brand out of a purely descriptive name, but hinting at the nature of your business is a good idea. Does your potential name give your target customers an idea about what your business does, its strengths or its benefits?
Pass: It feels right for your type of business.
Fail: It's totally random or blandly descriptive.
8. Is it yours?
Do some basic online checks to see if the name is taken. Don't mistake this for uniqueness: even if you've coined the name yourself, you're unlikely to find a pronounceable word that's not used somewhere in the world. But you need to make sure it's not used by a competitor, that it won't confuse your customers – and you won't be sued next year. Check for registered trademarks in your country or region.
Pass: It's pretty unique – Google reveals nothing of concern.
Fail: 200 pages of search results. Some very similar registered trademarks.
9. Can you own the .com?
Most people will assume your web address is www.[your business name].com. Despite growing alternative suffixes (eg .ly or .io or the newer not-com domains like .pizza and .food), a .com address confers authority and avoids confusions. Don't use hyphens to create a domain name that's available to register. Don't compromise.
Pass: The .com is available to register or buy.
Fail: You can only get a compromise domain suffix.
10. Are you limiting your potential?
Is it a business name or product name? Does it refer to a location or service? Even if you're fully focused on the here and now, you may regret being overly specific when you want to develop later one. And if your business name is your own name, will it still feel right when you grow into a larger business? Think about the future.
Pass: The name is open to interpretation.
Fail: The name limits your options.
11. Is it sticky?
'Stickiness' is hard to define, but at its heart are differentiation and engagement. If your proposed name sets you apart, it will help you stand out. And if it's engaging, it will connect with people on a human level – it will be likeable and feel relevant, and be more memorable as a result.
Pass: It's a bit different, but feels right.
Fail: It's OK, but a little dull, descriptive or generic.
12. Are you feeling brave?
Trust yourself. If there's a name which you keep coming back to that sets your pulse running or makes you just a little bit nervous and it passes the above tests – go for it. Don't listen to friends and family - they're likely to tell you what they think you want to hear or go for the safe option. Successful brands take risks.
Pass: It's the bold choice.
Fail: It's the safe choice.
Copyright © 2015 Dave Clark, a creative branding consultant with 20 years' experience working with start-ups and large corporates. He is co-founder of Novanym.com (the "brand name store").