Naming a startup or a product almost never comes first. Any entrepreneur will tell you that. You first think of a concept or an idea, weighing the costs and the benefits and, if the result is conclusive, you might want to go ahead with your project and name it.
The name of the startup (or product, project, etc.) is essential. As such, it’s not unusual to first give it a code name or a beta name. It ensures good communication among the team members working on it without being too revealing about its nature.
Yet, at some point, you must give your startup a name; there is a no way around it.
How do I choose the perfect startup name?
There are several aspects to consider. First of all, you need to consider the legal aspects. Some names are trademarks and, of course, they cannot be used for your own startup. You would expose your company (and yourself!) to legal issues. In Germany, you can check with the patent office and resort online to the MADRID database. It is essential to rule out any names that are already registered and protected. Do not hesitate to request the services of a lawyer for further support. At some point, you might want to register the chosen name as a trademark for yourself. That way, your name becomes a brand and is legally protected.
Next, you are 99% likely to have a website for your startup. Then you need to check the availability of URLs and domain names. Let’s say your startup is called “Splat”. Checking splat.com redirects you to the American caterer Sizzler. Well, it’s taken already. Splat.org is available for the steep price of… $8,000.00. Ouch. Splat.site is free for only $6.00. But do you want a .site website? Maybe not. You can cheat a bit by remodeling the domain name, like GetSplat.com. Still taken, but GetSplat.org only costs $9.00. Not a bad option. Or you could opt for “5plat.com” – also $9.00.
You should check other big top-level domains (TLD) you would consider for internationalization. Splat.de is already reserved, splat.fr leads to a dental hygiene website, splat.co.uk to something about pottery. Splat.es redirects you to splat.ru, the same dental hygiene platform.
Let’s stick to “Splat” for a while. How does the word resonate? Is it friendly? Or is it silly? Is it aggressive? It is good practice to ask friends, family, or peers about their associations to the word “splat”. What comes to mind? What do they link it to? Is it a positive association? You’d be surprised how some people react positively to a name while others dislike the ring to it. Many claim to dislike the word “moist” because of the sound of it. Though it does not link to a pleasant idea, many claim to shiver only by hearing it.
Some words also refer to concepts you may or may not want to be associated with. If you are about to found a vegan food line called “Porkie”, you sure want to ask what people think of when hearing “Porkie”…
What does “splat” actually mean? A quick look-up in the Merrian-Webster dictionary reveals its definition:
“a single flat thin often ornamental member of a back of a chair”
OK, I did not know that, but it’s a rather neutral meaning. It passes the test. Further down, we can find:
“a splattering or slapping sound”
This can be a lot more subjective. You can see it positively, but more likely negatively. Further down again, we can read why users looked up this word. The first context is “Watching men jump off a mountain”. I think at this point I would reconsider “splat” as a startup name!
What is your market? Are you going for a country, a locale, or international? Some countries have several official languages (like Switzerland or Canada) – does your name sound good in all the languages spoken there? Is the name easy enough to pronounce? Does it have a different meaning in the other languages you might not be aware of? The German parcel delivery company “DPD” sounds in French like “some queers” – three letters can carry a whole lot of meaning!
If you go worldwide in English, you need to bear in mind that there are different types of English. The questionable fashion item “fanny pack” has many different names in English, many are hilariously offensive. If you sell them, you need to make sure you rename them accordingly.
Some words are also hard to pronounce in other languages. “Thistle” is a pretty and powerful flower that could make a great name, but it is a challenge to pronounce the word in for non-natives. The “th” sound is difficult, while the “I” has different pronunciations: as in “pie” or as in “first” or as in “mist”. If you go for it, you may want to pick a different name in other languages.
Don’t rush your naming process! Have a lot of brainstorming around it, test the names, google them, research them, translate them, etc.
And be watch out for words stuck together – “Pen Island” might become an ambiguous URL!
“Pardon my French” is a column about startups by John Barré. It is a personal opinion about ideas and concepts. Whether the business model is tangible, the layout of the website enticing, or the user journey a pleasant path, all of these (and much more!) are scrutinized and summed up according to John’s viewpoint.