Topic overview

Business names

Business names

Thinking of a good business name can be fun, but it's a key start-up task, too. A good business name can be one of your most powerful marketing tools. Ideas for good business names can come from many sources. Indeed, friends and family might also have some business name suggestions too.

Crucially, you need to strike the right chord with potential customers. Your business name must create the desired impression in their minds of what your business does and what it stands for (ie its values). It will be key when creating your brand and promoting your new business to your target market.

Business name ideas

So, where do good business name ideas come from? Online, you'll find a never-ending list of business name generators, but most are ploys to get you to buy domain names (ie website addresses). Anyway, it's more fun and rewarding to think up your own business name.

Some owners go for abstract or deliberately unusual business names. In many cases, this isn't advisable. You risk failing to attract customers, if they can't quickly understand what you sell. That said, sometimes going for an abstract business name can set you apart from your competitors.

Picking something that sticks in people's minds is wise, but your name should be memorable for the right reasons - not because it's pretentious, bad or just plain ridiculous. Short names are easier to remember, of course.

Choosing a business name

A contemporary name will suit some businesses, while for others it's more important to evoke tradition. Don't pick something that will soon look outdated. Genuinely amusing business names are rare and suit specific types of business. Trying to be funny can backfire, because it can suggest an owner who doesn't take their business seriously enough.

Using your own name for your business can be effective if building close relationships with clients is key to your success. It gives the impression of a personal approach to business.

If you use your name, it's important to let people know what you do, either in the name (eg Joe Stone Paving Specialists) or accompanying strapline (eg Joe Stone Ltd - High quality pathways and patios).

Giving a sense of place can be effective, too. It suggests local pride and identity - and possibly authenticity and quality.

Registering business names

Many would-be business owners worry about registering a business name. If you incorporate (ie form a private limited company), you cannot register a business name that is already in use. Furthermore, only private limited companies can use 'limited' or 'Ltd' ('plc' for public limited companies) in their names. Visit the Companies House website to view an online register of existing limited company names and find out how to register your business if you're starting up a limited company.

Sole traders or those in partnerships can trade under their personal names or go for something that suggests a larger organisation. You should bear in mind that if your business name causes customers to confuse your business with another you could be guilty of 'passing off', which is an offence. Better to make your business name distinct. Do some market research to find out whether your preferred business name is already being used.

Some words and expressions cannot be used unless you've been granted official permission. These include words suggesting the business is of: national importance (eg British); special status (eg association); a particular function (eg trust) or a specialist activity (eg health centre). Obviously, you can't use swear words or others likely to offend.

Business names: other considerations

Ask yourself whether a potential name is easy to say and spell over the phone or online (also whether it can be misheard as something offensive or amusing). Steer clear of long names, strange words and unusual spellings.

Check whether the corresponding domain name is available. Also consider how your name would look in an email address, marketing materials and signage.

If you plan to trade overseas, check that your business name in English doesn't sound offensive or inappropriate in other languages. And make sure that it can be easily read and understood by people whose native language isn't English.

When you have come up with a business name, try it out on friends and family. If you're not met with giggles or bewilderment - and saying the name fills you with pride and added confidence rather than embarrassment - you could be on to a winner.

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