Company Naming (Draft Version)
Our extensive company naming experience covers startups to Fortune 500 in every sector: beverages and biotech to food and finance. We have created names for new businesses, mergers, spin-offs, and companies reinventing themselves.
We’ve been asked how product and company naming projects differ. Although there are many similarities, company naming is usually more complex and logistically challenging, with more stakeholders (sometimes all over the world) and greater legal and domain-name requirements.
In addition, the decision to adopt a company name can be emotional and highly personal. Generating consensus is often harder. Company names must work across geographies and languages, survive changing business models, and align with—or even help establish—a company culture. We work closely with our clients to ensure our process responds to their needs as effectively as our name candidates. Take a look: Company Names Portfolio.
Company Naming FAQ
Do I need to trademark my company name?
In short, if you plan to use the company name in a way that customers will see it as indicator of the source for the goods or services you are offering (keeping in mind that the name you register as a trademark must match the name you use on the goods or services), it’s recommended that you register your company name as a trademark. While business owners are not required to register their company names as trademarks, registering a business name, like registering any trademark, provides a range of benefits, including broader trademark protection and official recognition that the name serves as a mark. Trademark registration is especially important in “first-to-file” jurisdictions where business owners can only obtain rights to their names by being the first to register them as trademarks. However, even in “first-to-use” jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, in which business owners obtain rights to their names by virtue of their use of the names in commerce, trademark registration can be very helpful—particularly, by establishing a concrete, definitive date when a trademark right is claimed.
What are the characteristics of good company names?
There are many qualities that characterize a good company name. In general, a good company name is one that is flexible enough to allow for expansion into other business spaces and shifts in product focus, and that doesn’t pigeonhole a business or impede its ability to grow (e.g. Google, Apple, Amazon). In addition, a good company name often provides a springboard for storytelling about the company, how it positions itself in the market, and why it’s unique (e.g., Red Bull, ASUS, Pandora). A good company name should also be easily pronounceable by speakers of different languages, particularly if the company does business in different international markets (e.g., Asana, Dell, Honda). And, while there are many extremely successful company names over 10 letters in length, it’s generally better to strive for brevity (e.g., Tesla, Zola, Stripe, Gap, Uber).
How is ‘company naming’ different than ‘product naming’?
While naming a company is similar to naming a product, there are some important differences to keep in mind. To begin with, when naming a company, it’s essential to ensure that the name be broad enough to allow for expansion into other business spaces and shifts in product focus. Avoiding overly specific names will ensure your Radio Shack doesn’t need to become just a Shack and your Kentucky Fried Chicken a KFC. In addition, while product names typically need to appeal to one or two customer groups, company names often need to resonate with a larger number of target audiences, including not just customers, but corporate boards, shareholders, business partners, investment firms and the media. Also, while product names can be localized to suit different markets and cultures, company names typically need to “travel” internationally and resonate in all the markets in which they will exist. Lastly, while most product names don’t require a corresponding exact .com domain, company names often do.
What if my business name isn’t available as a .com domain?
Your company name and your domain name are different business assets, and they don’t have to be the same. If you discover that the corresponding .com domain for your business name is in use or unavailable for purchase, you can 1) choose a different domain name; 2) choose to add a descriptive term (e.g., www.CatchwordBranding.com if www.Catchword.com is not available); 3) choose a creative domain name or expression that ties into your company name (e.g., www.HiOscar.com if www.Oscar.com is not available); or 4) choose another top-level domain extension (TLD), such as .net, .co, .io.
Why should I hire a naming agency like Catchword?
Naming a company is extremely challenging. Most business owners and marketers underestimate the difficulty of creating truly distinctive and memorable company names that are registrable and protectable as trademarks. A reputable naming firm with considerable experience will dramatically increase the number of unique and compelling name options for your company. And, because naming agencies typically prescreen their name recommendations for trademark conflicts, there is a much greater likelihood that they will be registrable and protectable as trademarks. Furthermore, a naming agency can assist with linguistic and cultural checks of the appropriateness of names among non-English speakers, name validation research to assess the fit of names to your company’s positioning, as well as domain name negotiations and comprehensive trademark evaluations.
How is Catchword different than other naming agencies?
There are many ways Catchword distinguishes itself from other naming agencies. In particular, Catchword does not subscribe to a specific name style and works with its clients to develop company names that are tailored to their business and branding needs. Also, with over two decades of company naming experience and hundreds of completed projects, Catchword is one of the most seasoned naming agencies in the world. Our extensive experience allows us to anticipate and avoid the most likely pitfalls of company naming, and reliably guide our clients to the most exciting, appropriate, and viable names for their business. Lastly, unlike many naming agencies, Catchword is both a strategic and creative services firm. In addition to developing highly creative name solutions for its clients, Catchword offers essential services such as naming strategies, naming architectures, and naming protocol.
How long does it take to name a company?
A typical company name development project requires 6–8 weeks to complete. Timelines can be longer if the name must operate in many countries and/or if additional services are needed. These might include tagline development, linguistic and cultural research, name validation research, domain name negotiation, and full trademark evaluation.
What do company naming services cost?
Company naming services vary in cost, ranging from $5,000 for a limited engagement with a freelance naming consultant to $75,000 or more for a complete name development project with an established and fully resourced naming agency.
5 Company Naming Tips
Name like you’re the “Amazon” of your industry
When naming a product it’s oftentimes acceptable and even desirable to key the name on a single feature or customer benefit. For example, a software product that mines customer data and provides insights about purchase habits might appropriately be called “PurchaseIntent” or “InHabit” (to suggest insights and habits). However, you are not a single product. You are a company, and your “features” and the benefits you provide to your customers are broad in scope and may change considerably over the years.
In general, it’s a good idea to think more expansively about your company name and avoid pigeonholing yourself with a name that may tie in well to your flagship product or service and your current business focus, but risks becoming restrictive as your portfolio grows and diversifies and your business interests evolve. In addition to Amazon, which is a great metaphor for an expansive portfolio of product offerings that don’t limit the direction in which the company can go, here are few recent examples of great company naming from Catchword’s portfolio:
(read the case study)
(read the case study)
(read the case study)
Avoid common words or word parts in your name
Most markets are saturated with company names that are so similar it’s hard to distinguish between the different brands. Before Catchword opened its doors in 1998, we did a thorough audit of the industry and discovered, not surprisingly, that the vast majority of naming agencies incorporated the words “name” or “brand” in them. We won’t list them all here because, if you’ve done a Google search on naming agencies and landed on this page, you’ve probably already discovered most of them.
We knew that to stand out from this pack, to distinguish ourselves and our brand, we would need to avoid these terms in our name, and think of a more creative, unique way to express the business we’re in and the value we provide to folks like you. The name “Catchword” is a great company name because it’s unlike any other name in our space and still a logical choice for a naming agency. It balances distinctiveness with industry and business focus. On top of that, it implies that the names we create (or catch!) will become popular pieces of language and household names. In other words, catchwords!
Descriptors or taglines can contextualize company names and set you free
During almost every company naming project we reach a point in the name review process when we have to remind folks that names do not exist in a vacuum. They are supported by many other brand communications, including visual identity, marketing, and sales copy, website, and, if appropriate, descriptors and taglines. One of the greatest values that a descriptor or tagline provides is freedom. Specifically, freedom to expand the range of name styles you consider for your brand.
In general, a company name that’s more suggestive of a specific message may allow for more aspirational taglines. And a name that’s more abstract may benefit from a descriptor that alludes to the industry in which the company competes or the nature of its business. In either case, it’s important to remember that these complementary pieces of brand communication are available to you, and should free you up to consider a much broader range of brand names for your company.
Your name is a reflection of you, your creativity, and how thoughtful you are
It’s not something that everyone thinks about, but your company name is not just a reflection of your positioning or corporate mission or industry focus, it’s a reflection of your thoughtfulness and business intelligence. The name you adopt for your company says oodles about you, your personnel, and the way you conduct your business. Are you a company of creative and innovative thinkers? If so, your name should reflect those qualities, and an uncreative or unoriginal name will fall short. Do you consider yourselves diligent, dedicated and hardworking? If the answer is “yes,” then a name that seems it took no time to imagine will quickly betray those attributes.
At Catchword, we put a lot of careful thought and creativity into our names because we appreciate that a name is not just a mirror for your positioning or mission, it’s a mirror for you, and more than any other brand element, it provides insight into who you are as individuals, including how smart and creative you are.
Choose wisely because name changes are quite the bother
This may be less of a tip and more of a reminder for most: you don’t want to have to change your name, so choose wisely now. Changing a company name is an enormous inconvenience and has tremendous business implications, including, and most importantly, the loss of valuable brand equity. There are various reasons why you might have to change your name, and the most common are:
- your company name infringes on a preexisting trademark (note that a good naming agency should guide you toward names that stand the greatest chance of legal clearance and trademark protectability)
- you’ve outgrown your name–i.e., the nature of your business has significantly shifted and your name is no longer consistent with the new business direction
- you’ve merged with another company and need a new name that reflects the cultures and business objectives of both organizations
- you’ve been acquired by another company and for legal reasons or for purposes of portfolio fit you have to change your name
- umpteenth other reasons why you might be in a position to have to change your name!