Start by assuming you will want to market your products or services under the business name you choose. This will make your name a trademark. Assume, too, that you will have competitors (what business doesn't?) and that the name you choose will be a big part of your marketing identity. For marketing purposes, the best names are those that customers will easily remember and associate with your business. Also, if the name is memorable, it will be easier to stop others from using it in the future.

Most memorable business names are made-up words, or are somehow fanciful or surprising, such as Exxon and Kodak (made-up words), Double Rainbow ice cream (fanciful) and Penguin Books (surprising). And some notable names are cleverly suggestive, such as The Body Shop (a store that sells personal hygiene products) and Accuride tires.

Names that tend to be forgotten by consumers are common names (names of most people), geographic terms and names that literally describe some aspect of a product or service. For instance, Steve's Web Designs may be a name that delights Steve, but it's not likely to help Steve's customers remember his company when faced with competitors such as Clever Spider Web Designs or even Left Bank Web Designs. Similarly, names like Central Word Processing Services or Robust Health Foods are not particularly memorable.

While it's true that over time even a common name can occasionally become memorable through widespread use and advertising, as with Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, it's also true that most small business people can't afford the advertising it takes to accomplish this.

Caution: Professionals Face Special Rules & Customs

Although change is in the air, the names that certain professionals may use are often restricted both by custom and by professional licensing rules. For example, lawyers, physicians and CPAs are limited in many states to using the names of one or more of the licensed professionals who own the business. If you wish to use a different name--" The Evergreen Accounting Group," for example--check with your state's licensing board to see if this is permitted.

Copyright 1999, Inc.