While a clever and appropriate name can impress your fan base, choosing an unoriginal, dull name communicates a lack of enthusiasm towards your new business venture. However, it's never too late to change a company's name; some of the best businesses have changed their names when a better idea came around. (Xerox used to be called The Halloid Company; Nissan was Datsun; and LG shortened its name from Lucky and GoldStar Co.) A great name can hit in an instant or be a result of careful tweaking over time. While there is no magic formula to creating a good company name, here are five common motifs found across all great company names.
Good company names have a certain "stickiness" to them. During the brainstorming process, allow plenty of time—at least a week—between the brainstorm and the decision to really mull over the options. Even when you find good names, it's important to continue brainstorming. The best names are remembered without needing to refer to the list. You might be surprised by which names are most easily conjured from your memory bank. If it sticks in yours, it will probably stick in your customers' minds, too.
What do Nike, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Dreamworks, Pixar, and eBay have in common? Yes, they're all very successful companies, but they're also only two syllables. Studies show that brevity lends itself to memorability, so companies are wise to choose short and punchy names that won't be easily forgotten by consumers. While some may claim name puns or phrase names can be fun, often times, it's a disadvantage. Company names like "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad Computer World," are not only difficult to remember correctly, but they're also names that customers don't want to repeat to their friends.
Consider the specific function or service that you'd like your company to perform. In 1998, Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape—née Mosaic—was working on a new free and open source software project. According to Daniel Ehrenhaft's book Marc Andreessen: Web Warrior, Andreessen was happy with Mosaic, but the program still wasn't fast or secure enough for his liking. So Andreessen decided to rewrite the program and create a Godzilla that would completely obliterate his old Internet suite. In 2002, Andreessen unleashed his Mosaic Godzilla—Mozilla—unto the world, and the Internet was never the same again. Firefox, Mozilla's flagship web browser, is currently ranked by some as the most widely used browser in the world.
Some names just drop out of the sky, so when inspiration strikes, take advantage. On Thanksgiving Day, 1904, the Holt Tractor Co was taking pictures of its latest earth-moving steam tractor. According to company founder Benjamin Holt's biography, a photographer noted how the tractor "crawled like a caterpillar." Holt overheard the comment and exclaimed, "Caterpillar it is. That's the name for it!" In 1910, Holt officially trademarked the new name for his construction equipment manufacturing company, Caterpillar. The lesson here is to always be listening. Inspiration can come at any moment.
Making up a word should not be a last resort; it should be the first option. The founders of Google and Gizmodo didn't find their company names in a book, or anywhere for that matter, because they never existed before. Combine two words or concepts, spell a word incorrectly, think outside the box; customers appreciate independent, risk-taking brands that try to distance themselves from the competition that plays it safe. So let other businesses settle for the simple descriptive names. And allow yours to strive to be different. —Dave Smith