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How to choose a name for your business

Learn what you need to know when choosing a name for your business including name generation, trademarks and forbidden words
Rachel Bridge

/ Last updated on 19th October 2017

Thinking up a name for your business can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of setting up your own venture, particularly if you do it with friends over a few beers. It can also be one of the most frustrating when you realise the following morning that all your brilliant ideas have already been used by someone else.

Related: How to choose a company name

The advent of the internet has made the process even more difficult – not only do you have to come up with a good name that no-one has already taken, but you also have to ensure you can get the same domain name too, in both dot com and dot co.uk versions.

Your options

There are several different kinds of names to choose from:

1. You can choose a name that literally describes what the business does – classically brilliant brand names include Mothercare, Toys R Us and Burger King.

2. You can choose a name which means nothing initially but which you hope to embellish with meaning as your business develops – Starbucks, McDonald’s and Domino’s, for example.

3. You can make up an entirely new name such as Consignia and Ocado.

4. You can use a catchy memorable phrase as your name – I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter, Iwantoneofthose.com, Notonthehighstreet.com – and Startupstarthere.com, for example.

How to do it right

1. Don’t choose something too restricting. You need a name which is flexible enough to allow your business to grow without having to change it. The name Virgin works brilliantly because it can be applied to virtually any kind of business, but Gary Frank had to change the name of his business from The Delicious Doughnut Company to the Fabulous Bakin’ Boys when he stopped selling doughnuts.

2. Try to avoid a name that will date – while the name Carphone Warehouse was originally ideal for its market since then mobile phones have evolved in a way that few could have imagined and the concept of a ‘carphone’ is now incomprehensible to a new generation of mobile phone users.

3. Don’t get too attached to one name because there are several reasons why you may not be able to use it. Draw up a shortlist of several good possible names.

4. If you are planning to use a made up name like Arriva or Ocado be aware that it will take longer for customers to remember it, and that you will have to spend more money on advertising to make people aware of it. Descriptive names take less time and money to support. You also need to make sure it is spelt as it sounds so that whenever someone mentions it, it will be easy for someone else to know how to spell it and so find it on a search engine.

5. Avoid initials. It is really difficult to create a warm feeling about them, and unless it is ABC, it will be hard for people to remember them correctly.

6. Check the name does not mean anything undesirable in a foreign language.

7. Avoid terrible puns when naming your business. People will remember you – but for all the wrong reasons.

8. Never use an ‘&’ as part of your business name – you can’t put it in your website address so will have to use ‘and’ instead, causing confusion for your customers and making it impossible for search engines to find you.  Avoid names with hyphens too – they are hard to remember, confusing and increase the chances of customers not being able to find your website.

The practicalities

1. You can check which business names have already been taken – and which are very similar to yours – for no charge at Companies House.

2. You need to get the domain name which matches the name of your business, so once you have drawn up a list of possible names go through each one to see which you could buy domain names for too. This can be a painful process because many of the obvious domain names have already been snapped up, but it is important so stick at it. You can buy domain names online at a domain seller such as www.lowcostnames.co.uk or www.godaddy.com.

3. If a domain name has already been bought, you still may be able to acquire it from the owner if they have not yet developed the website. Check on sedo.co.uk or another domain reseller to see if the name is up for sale.

4. Always buy both dot com and dot co.uk endings for your domains names even if you don’t think you need them. One day you might, particularly if you expand your business overseas and want your business to look global rather than UK-based. At the very least it stops anyone else buying them and either trading off or wrecking the reputation you have established. If the dot com ending has gone, don’t be tempted to just buy the dot co.uk and use that – keeping going until you find a name which still has both free.

5. When you find a name that you like which fits all the above criteria, you need to register your business name by incorporating your business. You can either do this yourself online at Companies House (companieshouse.gov.uk) for a fee of £18, or you can do it with the help of an accountant or a formation agent – there is a list of agents on the Companies House website.

6. You should also trademark your name if possible – details on how to do this at the Intellectual Property Office.

Top tip

Once you have acquired a website address for your business, set up an email account for it, so your company name appears as the bit at the end. It will instantly make your business look professional and well established. If your venture is called Green Gardens, for example, then having the email address [email protected] will look a lot more professional than simply having it as [email protected]

Case study

Rohan Blacker and Pat Reeves set up their home food delivery company Deliverance in 1997, making the food in custom-built kitchens and dispatching it by motorbike across London. They decided to call their company Deliverance after a friend came up with the name. Previously they had toyed with the idea of naming it World Food Express, Oriental Express or Hurry Curry. They sold the business for £5.5 million in 2004.

Blacker says: ‘We thought Deliverance was a cracker of a name. It implies salvation and delivery and doesn’t necessarily imply food, so if we want to expand the business in other directions, we could still use the name. These days people use the word Deliverance as a verb, as a noun and even as an adverb. It has worked really well for us.’ Looking for a business idea? Here’s 100 of them.

Related: A complete guide to starting a business

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