Choosing a company name is hard but fun. It’s item number 1 on a startup’s to-do list. How can you choose a winner? The best way to come up with a company name is to first think about the sorts of names you could have:

  • Descriptive – Does just what it says on the box: SalesForce, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhereOnEarth, Sybase, Marketo, Hubspot, SalesSeek
  • Attributive – The desirable quality: Amazon(big), Apple(simple), Twitter (short&rapid)
  • Random – May be derived, but not obviously so: Intel, Sony, Cisco, Sakkam, Illustra, Wily, Eloqua
  • Origin – Owner or geography: Dell, Santa Cruz Operation
  • Oddball – Often a juxtaposition – Yahoo!, BoxedIce
  • Acronym – IBM, CA, GE

Obviously some names can cover more than one category, and there are many examples of successful names in each type. However, descriptive names can affect your ease of extending/pivoting into new markets. I have a local restaurant near me, that started out as an Italian, and is now Chinese. It’s still called Sirena – I still double-take it every time I walk past!
Then, think about the criteria you would judge:
Unique?

  • Minimal Google clutter. Common names (e.g. there is a programming language called Julia) can be difficult to uniquely search for.
  • Available URL. It’s a poor use of resource to spend time trying to negotiate and buy a url. I see this as pass/fail. Use something like www.godaddy.com to check availability.
  • No trademark issues. No need to get too hung up on this. Just make sure you don’t impinge on any big boys, or cause confusion in your geo or market. The fact there is an engineering company in Switzerland with the same name as your food recipe startup will not be a problem.

Memorable?

  • Spellable – folks will need to type this into the search bar after their best friend recommended you. It should phonetically match up.
  • “Interesting” – Sometimes odd spellings can make it easier to remember.

Favourable?

  • Positive associations only! If you are planning on international coverage with a made up name, don’t call it chin-chin (not in Japan at least).
  • Inoffensive to all constituencies, including age and geo

You can then brainstorm with your friends to come up with a list you can score against using the above matrix. It’s a good idea to write down all the names you like and also match them up and score them – this helps you understand which types of names appeal to you, and why.
Here’s an example of some you could come up with for a recipe site:
Descriptive: WhatToCook
Attributive: Tasty!
Random: Aptuit
Origin: CaliforniaCuisine
Oddball: PurplePumpkin
Acronym: BRITW (Best Recipes In The World)

It’s a fun thing to do, and when starting up you need to move beyond “my project” as a name. But don’t obsess. Worrying about the name will do nothing for product-market fit or finding your first customer – the things that really matter.

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