Choosing the right name is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs make when starting up a new business. Ryan Lockhart, co-founder of boutique advertising agency group46, says the name can make or break a first impression of a new business’s brand. “I believe that the name comes from the future. The name is only a word, or a cluster of words, before the company puts a connotation behind it,” he says. “An apple was a fruit until the company revolutionized it.”

Choosing a brand name is as much a strategic decision as a creative decision, argues Rachel Bernard, vice president of branding agency CBX. “Start by identifying the role the name should play for the business,” she counsels. “For example, if the business will be entering a crowded category with lots of competitors, a disruptive name that really stands out or a name that highlights a differentiating feature of the brand will be a big competitive advantage.”

When you choose the right name for your brand, you allow all of the positive associations of that word or set of words to flow into your brand position and reinforce your core principles and values, says Adam Padilla, founder and CEO of BrandFire Creative Agency. “When you choose a not-so-good name, you wind up fighting an uphill battle to undo the preconception that the name carries, which means wasted marketing dollars. Worse, you run the risk of creating your own ‘brand ceiling,’ where you grow only as far as the name allows you to,” he warns. “This happens to many SMBs without the branding savvy to adjust their brand identity and fit into the larger national and international conversation.”

Serial entrepreneur Bill Rinehart, who is currently founder, chairman, and CEO of DUFL, a travel and services app, has been through this exercise several times. He says choosing a name can be a do-it-yourself project, “although it doesn’t hurt to have outside opinions.” However, he feels it is important to engage third-party expertise for help with the logo, “which, in many cases, can be as important as the name.”

Lockhart stresses that choosing a name should be one of the final steps in the branding process for a new business. Completing the bulk of the branding process first “allows the personality and values of the company to be accurately reflected in a concise name.” He also reminds entrepreneurs to make sure they check for multiple definitions of any words used in the company name, and not just in the English language -- especially if your company will be doing business in other countries.

Marketing consultant Brynn Winegard suggests that startups choose a name that is simple, descriptive, aspirational, differentiated, unique, Web-friendly, and can be trademarked. That last quality should not be overlooked. “After selecting a name, it is important to enlist the help of a trademark attorney to better assess the risk associated with the use of the proposed name,” says Jennifer Mikulina, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery and head of its global trademark prosecution practice.

Once you choose your name, you must take steps to protect it. Start by filing an application to register your name as a trademark or service mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Mikulina advises. That creates a presumption of ownership of the trademark and the exclusive right to use it nationwide in connection with the goods or services listed in the trademark application. You should also create a strategy to police unauthorized third-party use of the name, for example, by setting up a Google Alert or using another online tool to notify you of references to your name online.

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