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Business Names: Do's and Don'ts

When trying to come up with just the right name for your business, the options can be overwhelming. You want a name that resonates with your target market, one that will stand the test of time (avoid trendy names), and a name that is available. Even if another business doesn't have your preferred name, you'll want to make sure it doesn't have other meanings that could hurt your image. The following tips are designed to help narrow the potential field and to help ensure that the name you choose meets applicable legal requirements.

The Do's

Do consider making the name descriptive, so that potential customers are immediately informed of the purpose of the business. Research has shown that businesses with names that identify their products or services are more successful than non-descriptively named businesses.

Do keep the description general enough so that you can, if desired, expand into related products or services in the future.

Do consider the oral impact of the name -- how it will sound when spoken. Try writing down a list of words that could describe your business, then mixing them up into different combinations and saying them out loud to see how they sound.

Do consider the visual impact of the name -- how it will look on signs, advertisements, business cards, etc. As with the sound of the words, try playing around with various looks by writing them down on paper or typing them into your computer.

Do choose a name that is easy to understand, pronounce, and remember.

Do make the name unique enough to distinguish your business from others in the field.

Do choose a name that will not be easily imitated by competitors.

Do consider how the business name could be shortened by the public. Just as a child's initials can spell out an embarrassing word, so could the abbreviation for a business.

Do come up with a list of several potential names, and then try them out on close friends and family members to get their reactions.

Do live with your ideas for a while, to see how they sound and feel with the passage of time.

Do keep alternatives in mind, in the event that further research reveals that the name you would like to use is not available.

Do consider the meaning of your chosen name in other languages if there is a possibility you could expand into foreign markets. When Chevrolet introduced its Nova car in Mexico, for instance, it discovered that in Spanish "nova" means "no go."

The Don'ts

Don't select a name that is too long or confusing.

Don't use your own first or last name as part of the business name if the venture is very risky. If the business fails, that failure will be more closely related with you personally if your name and the business name are the same.

Don't choose a trendy name, since trends and fads pass quickly, and you don't want your business to appear outdated.

Don't include a geographic designation, like the city or state where the business is located, in the name of your business if you're thinking of expanding into other markets in the future.

Don't include unacceptable terms in the name, like profanity or obscenities.

Don't imply by the name that your business is somehow affiliated with or approved by a branch of the government.

Don't consider names that are very similar to those belonging to other businesses in your area. Not only would such similarity confuse consumers, it may make it impossible to register your business's name or, worse yet, subject you to legal claims by the owners of the other businesses.

Don't use names identifying a particular living individual other than yourself, the name of a deceased president with a living widow, names that merely describe your business or that misdescribe your business, primarily geographic descriptions, or names that are primarily your last name if you are considering registering your business name.

Get Help From a Business Attorney

If you're starting your own business, you undoubtedly will encounter legal issues that require the expertise of a legal professional. And if not, you may be overlooking something. Business attorneys can help you navigate the legal registration process when deciding on a company name, among other things, and generally give your business the best chance to succeed. Contact a business attorney in your area.

The Choosing Your Business Name section contains additional resources to help you get started, including state-specific resources to help you refine your search and follow state registration procedures.

Related Resources

Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you
navigate the process of starting a business.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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