Naming Your Business

To be an entrepreneur is to take on significant responsibility. The success of your enterprise is entirely up to you and the decisions you make.

Choose to Be Great

To be an entrepreneur is to take on significant responsibility. The success of your enterprise is entirely up to you and the decisions you make. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great states: "greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice".

Choosing a name for your venture is serious business. It is often the first thing a potential customer sees or hears and it can make your company stand out or disappear. The name of your business or product can also imply:

  • Your field, for example technology, health and beauty, food manufacturing
  • Whether the product is a low-cost, everyday item or a luxury item
  • Whether the business is located in a high-end shopping mall or a seedy part of town
  • Characteristics of your target market, such as income bracket, gender, and age group

To build something great, you first need to lay a solid foundation. Research is your foundation. Use internet search engines and the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) database search function to:

  • Establish whether your idea for a name has already been used and registered
  • Learn the naming trends in your field
  • Assess your competition
  • Be sure that your name won’t be interpreted as an offensive term in another culture or language.

Appreciate the Power of a Blink

In his remarkable book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell reveals how we make snap decisions based on first impressions in mere seconds - "Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. But they are also unconscious". Apparently, our brains need very little information or time to make snap judgments for us. Gladwell’s conclusions regarding experiments by psychologist Samuel Gosling were also telling: “What people say about themselves can also be very confusing, for the simple reason that most of us aren't very objective about ourselves”.

So, if we only need seconds to unconsciously make decisions about people or things, surely it only takes seconds to make judgments based on a product's name. Now, factor in the current restrictive economic climate and "tightened belts", and consider how critical that blink is - the seconds it takes for a potential customer to decide whether to pick your product or service, or to keep walking.

I Beg Your Pardon?

Our ideas are important to us but sometimes we are too close to realise that although our idea makes perfect sense to us, it isn’t obvious to others – naturally, because it was our own idea to begin with.  Don’t be blinded by how much your venture means to you, or you may risk getting carried away and concocting names that only make sense to you. Rather than combine names of family members who are dear to you or the first syllables of all your children’s names, for example, just keep it simple.

Remember the blink. Remember that old but true adage “time is money”. Long and convoluted names could hamper your path to success. A potential buyer or investor could waste crucial seconds:

  • Looking perplexed
  • Asking you to repeat your company name
  • Asking you how to pronounce it
  • Wondering whether there is a spelling error on all of your promotional material
  • Wondering whether it indicates confusion and inexperience

There are instances, when it is reasonable and even profitable (but not necessarily vain) to use your own name. Use of the founder’s or family’s name seems more common and practical in international design fields. It works best when established, respected pioneers, like Coco Chanel and Walt Disney, embody their respective brands.

Simplicity is Sophistication

To achieve greatness, you need to observe it. Study the brands of the world's leading companies. Many of the top international brands have simple names of three syllables or less. Short and sweet names have advantages:

  • They are easy to remember and pronounce, and easier for a customer to repeat to a friend
  • They make designing your logo and corporate material such as business cards (which are only 2” x 3.5”) easier
  • They facilitate short and memorable email and web addresses
  • They are easier to read and recognize on small interfaces such as mobile phone screens
  • They make impactful signage

The rationale for your business name can be simple too. In some cases, very simple names do have enlightening background stories. Reebok was derived from “rhebok”, an African antelope. Instantly one can imagine an athlete gracefully springing and leaping as antelopes do.

Sometimes you can invent a name that literally sounds just right, that works phonetically. Häagen-Dazs is an interesting example because, according to, the ice cream company was actually based in New York and the name was created because it sounded European.

Be Modest: It's Not All About You

The ideal leaders "channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company…their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and not themselves" (Collins).

Ideally, the name you choose should be inspired by the effect you want your product or service to have on your consumers and your environment. Regardless of how special this venture is to you, take a step back and look at it not as your baby but through the eyes of a potential buyer. The customer's experience is critical. So consider choosing a name which:

  • Conjures an emotion - how you want the user to feel
  • Captures a desirable mood or sensory experience
  • Conjures an image
  • References a culturally significant theme or term
  • Makes people smile – use humour only if appropriate

And last but by no means least, avoid superfluous adjectives. Only use an adjective if it is absolutely necessary and genuinely defines your product or service. Save the descriptions for your slogan or company profile. Avoid using words like “exquisite”, “exclusive”, “excellent”, and “best” unless you can guarantee that you are indeed the most exquisite or that your service is truly exclusive. Many of these unnecessary descriptions are subjective not objective or factual.

Contact us at the BIDC’s Design Services Unit. We can help you get it right from the start!

Let a happy customer declare that your service is excellent.


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