Separate names with a comma.
It’s perhaps no surprise that people going through the stress of starting a business find themselves drawn to the fun bit: giving it a name.
Over the decades, UKBF users have both asked and answered hundreds of questions about how to go about naming a business:
And so on, and on, and on.
Here’s a boiled down version of all that advice for those among you thinking of launching a new business as we limp our way, bruised but not beaten, into 2021.
Reading some of the threads on UKBF over the years, it’s hard not to suspect that the posters already knew the answers in their hearts.
The name they wanted to use was going to be a problem, they knew they should use another one, but… They were in love with the one they already had in mind – the one they’d probably been doodling on notebooks,and picturing on the side of vans and shop fronts for months.
For various reasons, it pays to maintain flexibility right up until the last moment. Quite apart from legalities, market research might show that another name resonates better with your target clients, or looks better on promotional materials, or will help avoid an international brand blunder.
A common question on UKBF is whether you need to trade under the same company name you’ve registered with Companies House. A recent example was featured in Fresh Threads only a couple of weeks ago.
And the answer is, as UKBF veterans have explained time and again, that how you describe yourself out in the world doesn’t have to match the company’s legal name.
For example, Wagamama doesn’t have ‘Wagamama Limited’ emblazoned across the front of its restaurants and nobody is walking around in trainers with ‘NEW BALANCE ATHLETIC SHOES (U.K.) LIMITED’ written on the side.
It’s usually a good idea if it’s at least vaguely similar, though, to avoid too much confusion.
And make sure your trading name doesn’t use words such as ‘limited’, ‘PLC’ or any language that might imply it’s an official body.
Lots of businesses never feel the need to register their name as a trademark. Until the name of your business becomes an asset in its own right, the chances are you won’t need to either.
More relevant in those early days is the risk of you infringing someone else’s trademark. When you’ve settled on a name, or a few names, take some time to check whether there are other businesses with similar names operating in the same field.
What you’re trying to avoid is any suggestion that you might be trying to pass off your product or service as belonging to an established player in the market.
Even if you think there’s no chance of a consumer being confused, it pays to be extra cautious, especially if the trademark you might be infringing belongs to a multinational firm with a twitchy legal team and deep pockets.
Fear of trademark infringement is one reason for the rise of the nonsense names in recent decades.
The dotcom boom of the late 1990s and early 00s led to a craze for startups apparently named by picking two random words from a hat – online greetings card companies Funky Pigeon and Moonpig are two lingering examples of this trend.
The same era also gave us vaguely classical, vaguely businessy invented words such as Accenture and Consignia. They weren’t being used by anyone else and hadn’t been trademarked simply because nobody had put those letters together in that order before.
Playing with random business name generators is great fun and, if you don’t mind it being nonsensical and non-descriptive, can help you find something truly unique.
There are few things as frustrating as finding the perfect name only to discover that someone else has already nabbed the domain name you were after.
The same goes for social media handles on Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.
There’s a reason those random string brand names I mentioned above emerged alongside the internet – the weirder the name, the lower the risk of anyone having registered the .com or .co.uk.
Again, before you settle on anything and start getting business cards printed, check the domains you want are available on one of the many websites that offer a service. If it’s available, and affordable, snap it up.
Once you’ve found a name that works, you need to be sure you can live with it. Stuart Pringle, director of marketing agency Make the Break, advises taking it for a test drive:
“While it may seem silly, practice picking up the phone as your new business over and over again. You want to feel 100% confident in the brand. If you name yourself FluffyBoxZebra then that means you are going to be saying ‘Hello, FluffyBoxZebra, how can I help?’ over and again, every single day. Is that what you want? Would you feel silly saying it in front of your Mum? Your partner? Your business investor? If there's any doubt at all, change tack."
For most small businesses, especially in the early days, it makes sense to keep things simple and use your business name to describe what you do and signal the geographical region you cover.
Written on the side of a van or cropping up in local business searches, ‘Newbury Landscape Gardening’ will probably bring in more business than ‘Excalibur Greenways’ or ‘Splurfco’ any day of the week.
Later on, when your business is established and you’ve got space to think, it might be time to come up with a new, more inspiring name.
Philippa Haynes of brand consultancy Insight 101 advocates putting a lot of thought into choosing a name.
“It shouldn't be taken lightly,” she says. “Finding the right name should be a carefully crafted process of reflection, self-interrogation and close examination so that the business can start with a strong foundation. Do your homework.”
She also suggests thinking about the identity your chosen name conveys:
“It doesn't always need to directly signify what you sell, although that helps, but it does need to give the prospective buyer a feeling which conveys how you deliver it – your approach and even your values.”
Do you want to come across as warm or businesslike? Thoughtful or energetic? Irreverent or respectful? All of that can be conveyed in a few letters, a handful of syllables, or one or two simple words.