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Business Names: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

One of the exciting things about setting up your own business is the choice of business name. Once you’ve set up your product, and how you to take it to market, it is an exciting, nerve-wracking and ultimately rewarding activity. Along with setting up a website, hiring your staff, sorting out your office rental space and creating deals with suppliers – choosing your business name can be done in a second, or it can take many months. It’s a big decision that anyone could do, but evidently – not one that everyone can get right. No pressure then! So, what are you going to be known as?

Sure, the name you choose will have to reflect your business activity and values, but that’s only part of the story. These days, your company name will need to work effectively online and offline, locally and globally. That’s not a simple task. In fact, it’s all too easy to get it painfully wrong.

How important is my business name?

Put it like this: your company name affects everything your company will be doing. It’s your identity – on business cards, letterheads and premises. In our digital age, the name will also be on your website and social media platforms. It acts as your online shop window and company brochure.

If you choose your business name well, it can do wonders for your marketing. Get it wrong and you’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons – as shown below. Think about your target market and find a name that resonates with your customers – in a good way! It’s all party of your corporate branding, which is ultimately designed to boost company sales.

Choosing a good business name

Sometimes, selecting the most appropriate name is a case of ‘doing what it says on the tin’. That’s fine as long as your business name is still memorable – you don’t want to be an utterly forgettable John Smith Builders Ltd.

Being creative in your choice of company name is a good idea to help your business stand out in a crowded market, but be careful. Humour and language are not universal – what works in one language often doesn’t work in another, and sometimes with disastrous consequences. Genuinely funny names are not that easy to find, and gimmicky company names may not work for every business. Here’s a good example of how it can work in your favour:

Using your own name

There’s nothing wrong at all with using your own surname, perhaps in conjunction with a business activity and location, but again – be careful and use your intelligence to see if it will work for or against your business. What do you think of the example below? I think the jury is out…

If your commercial activity relies heavily on building close relationships with clients or suppliers, particularly in the service industries, your name may be your most important asset. Just make sure that it sounds modern and relevant, not dusty and old fashioned. ‘S. Jones & Sons Plumbing & Heating Services’ has an outdated ring to it. ‘Sam Jones Plumbers’, on the other hand, is much more contemporary.

Inspiration for naming your company can come from anyone and anywhere. Why not ask friends and family for their input too? Sometimes they are also useful as a first sounding board for your shortlisted names. Suffice to say that if the response you get is one of blank stares or uncontrollable laughter, as may be the case for the business below, you may wish to reconsider.

Essential checks you must carry out

Once you’ve chosen your business name and registered your commercial enterprise under that name, it’s too late to make changes. That’s why it is so important to get the name right first time. Here are some fundamental checks that everyone should carry out.

  • Can your prospective name be pronounced and spelled easily? How does it look as signage or a web address? If it’s easily mistaken for another word – even worse if the ‘wrong’ word then makes the company name sound funny or rude – either in English or another language, it’s worth taking action. See the example below for what can happen if you’re not careful.
  • Google your chosen name and see what comes up. Any existing products, services or competitor companies with the same name? If so, you may need to reconsider.
  • Check with the Companies House register to see if the prospective name already exists or its use is restricted.
  • Check that the domain name is available, ideally with a co.uk suffix for a UK based business.

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