The most common mistake made when naming a new business is making it sound like other companies in the industry. This is based on anxiety about whether the new business will be taken seriously. In reality, it's critical for you to stand apart from your competition and to look at your competitors as examples of what to avoid.

A clever, memorable name can make a potential client think about the company for a few extra moments, which may be all you need to get the edge on your competitors.

Here’s how to choose a name that can stand the test of time:

Don't use generic surnames.

Unless you've got a truly fascinating and memorable family name, or you're building the company around your own personal brand, it's usually best to leave it out of the mix.

Examples of what to avoid: Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Archer-Daniels-Midland.

Traditional brand-naming wisdom long held that your company name should describe what you do so people would quickly understand your business. While good advice at the time, this principle now hurts more than it helps.

Shy away from descriptions.

These days, there's plenty of context to help customers figure out what you do. You don't need to name your new software firm, say, "Texas Software Group," because people will be finding you by searching Google for "software companies in texas" or by looking you up in the local phone book under the appropriate heading. They'll often know what you do before you ever talk to them.

Instead of trying to overburden the name by making it do everything at once, take advantage of other ways to explain your business (your business card, your website, your elevator speech, etc.), and liberate the company name from being used to engage and fascinate potential customers.

Examples of what to avoid: United Health, International Paper, United Auto Group, American Financial Group.

Avoid acronyms.

We all know there are too many acronyms in the world already. Don't contribute to the alphabet soup by coming up with your own.

Examples of what to avoid: CVS, ABC, CNN.

Faux latin does not make you sound smarter.

Latin-like names sound great, and they're easy to trademark because you can make one up that nobody has used before. Unfortunately, these great qualities have resulted in an overabundance of such names over the past few years. Whenever in doubt, companies lean toward faux latin to save the day.

Examples of what to avoid: Abertis, Calibrus, Novartis, Vocera, Nutiva, Agilent, Lucent, Acquient, Alliant, Aquent, Reliant, Thrivent, Aucent, Covisint, Guidant, Consilient, Levilant, Naviant, Conexant, Candescent, Telegent.

"Tech-power-synergy" names are overdone.

This type of name was saturated even before the dot-com era, so your chances of using it effectively are almost non-existent now.

Examples of what to avoid: Certegy, Spherion, Viacom, Sysco, Intel, Avnet, Centex, Omnicom, Dynegy, Cinergy, Qualcomm, Omnicare, Biotechonomy, Initech, as well as e-anything, i-anything, or anything.com.

Search out examples of great, evocative, powerful, memorable, witty names, and keep a list of them handy. They'll give you avenues for finding new names, and a familiarity that will help you spot the right name when you see it.

My own partial list of names I admire: Ludicorp, Skype, Vigilante, Old Navy, Broad Daylight, Cruel World, Breadbox, Front Porch, Ithaka, Alfalfa, Left Field, Bandwagon, Chuckwalla, Clutch, Iroko, Ironweed, Jamcracker, Jamoka, Makoro, Steelhead, Talisman, Zatso, Subway, Snapple, Oreo, Opera, Firefox, Virgin, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, Caterpillar, Banana Republic, Restoration Hardware, Stingray, Safeway, The Gap, Staples, Chubb, Sprint, Anthem, Fifth Third, Apple, Amazon, Ikon, Starbucks, Quiznos, Jetboil, Rhino, Rivet, Method, Smartwater, Octopus, Heartstring, Antidote, Igor, Gulliver, Moreover

Published on: Apr 29, 2014