Coming up with the right business name is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs can make. After all, it's the first impression companies make with both potential customers and partners. The goal, then, is to choose a business name that's catchy and resonates with customers, which can lay the groundwork for building a household brand name. "Your name needs to captivate and form some connection with your customer -- preferably a strong emotional connection," says Nina Beckhardt, president of The Naming Group, based in New York.
Choose a business name that's too narrow or esoteric and, well, you might end up spending a lot more marketing dollars just to remind customers what exactly you do. While having a more descriptive name can be limiting, it provides a huge benefit for startups. "Names that do a better job of telling what the company does begin the marketing process -- getting customers to come to us so that we do not have to go to them," says Robert Evans Wilson, an advertising and marketing consultant based in Atlanta.
"Good names tend to be short and sweet and have multiple meanings," says Denis Riley, an executive vice president of BrandLogic in Wilton, Conn. "Bad names, on the other hand, rely on an unintended meaning, unpronounceability and meaningless initials."
Given such parameters, here are case studies on some of the best and worst company names out there, according to our panel -- and what you might learn from them.
The Best Business Names
"I have to think that Google has become one of the most famous names of all time," Beckhardt says. "It is based on a word, googol, which has real-world meaning, and people are always asking us to help them pick a name like Google."
"Because it describes what it does: protect you," Wilson says. "It also evokes positive mental images of the benefit that it will provide the consumer. It is such a good name that even its competitors' products are being called "Under Armour" much in the way photo copies are called 'Xeroxes,' gelatin is called 'Jello,' and tissues are called 'Kleenex.'
"The new name for Andersen Consulting, derived from the phrase 'accent on the future,' captures the pioneering spirit of this leading IT consulting firm," Riley says. Beckhardt agrees, noting the name is "strong, sellable and pronounceable."
"A hugely successful brand that's had little marketing or promotion behind it, PayPal puts a softer, friendlier face on the payments business," Riley says.
"It's a great name because it's a real word and it's fun to say," Beckhardt says. "It's also extensible in that people think of twittering like a bird, which ties in with their logo. It's a huge plus when you can reinforce your name visually or graphically through things like your logo or even the way the letters fit together."
"It sounds like a combination of 'yap' and 'stammer,'" Riley says. "As a result, this popular micro-blogging site is easy to say, spell, and remember."
"If the company name tells what a company does, then you've already started the marketing process in a big way," Wilson says. "JiffyLube does that perfectly -- the name tells me that they provide fast oil changes for my car."
The Worst Business Names
"This Web conferencing company used an adjective that means dark, lusterless, indistinct, or slow, as in intelligence, and repeated it," Beckhardt says. "Dimdim tries hard to defend their name as 'whimsical,' but in reality, it is such a bad name that it has turned people away from using it. Well, it turned us away. We considered using it in our business, but asking a client to 'Join us in a Dimdim meeting' just felt too unprofessional."
"Administaff sounds like a temporary staffing agency, but that is not what they do," Wilson says. "They provide offsite HR services such as benefits management. They spend millions of dollars a year on advertising explaining what they do -- trying to overcome their confusing name."
"This KPMG Consulting spinoff tried to capitalize on an obscure sailing term that no one understands," Riley says.
"Unless the market has conferred meaning upon your initials (like AT&T or IBM), don't pick an initialized name with no inherent meaning," Riley says.
"What does that 'A' mean?" Beckhardt asks about this home health care and hospice provider. "Were they trying to come up first in an alphabetical list? The name is extremely sterile, technical, and unapproachable. The emotional impact is nonexistent. For a company based on providing human services, the tone of their name is certainly lacking in the human touch."
"Combining names as a result of a merger usually results from internal indecision that bolts the organization to its past," Riley says.
Fifth Third Bank
While the bank got its name way back in 1908 as a result of a merger between the Fifth National Bank and the Third National Bank, "it just feels wrong," Beckhardt says. "The name plays with a basic math rule of fractions. It should be one- and two-thirds. Regardless, I would stay away from using numbers in any bank name."
"When it comes to choosing a name, I don't think it's the best idea to play with the word America," Beckhardt says.
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 5/10/10.
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