I’m a six-foot Asian named Angus.
When people hear my name, they expect a grizzly, red-bearded beast of a man. Not me. So in my younger days, I would arrive early to my own meetings just to sit in the back and complain, “where the #!?& is this Angus guy?” Not only was it fun, but it taught me the simple power of a name, and how it can be used to your benefit.
Naming a startup is freaking hard.
It’s harder than naming your own child. People have been trained NOT to react poorly when they hear a baby’s name for the first time. “Ikea? That’s a great name for a baby! It reminds me of meatballs.”
There are no pre-defined social norms for reacting to a startup name. “Uber? What is that? An over-sized sausage delivery service?”
But trust me, the pain of hearing someone insult your startup’s name is as painful as hearing someone insult your offspring’s name.
Here is a 3-step process that just might help you come up with a name that’s as brilliant as your startup.
1. Start with a descriptive keyword
This descriptive word should be easy-to-understand and describe exactly what your startup does, or the industry you want to be unquestionably associated with. S-p-e-l-l the word normally and make sure it’s easy to pronounce for when people start raving about you at coffee shops.
A nosy eavesdropper might not know exactly what your startup does, but should be able to hazard a guess and successfully Google you within a few tries.
2. Add a word that reflects your unique identity or personality
Startups often devote their entire being to this single word. Think MailChimp. Hard-working monkeys toting mailbags litter their site. This is your opportunity and responsibility to get creative. Bonus points if the word captures WHY your startup is better than all the other startups in the same space. Are you faster, cheaper, crowd-sourced?
Be memorable and evoke an emotion. People rarely forget my name because it evokes an internal chuckle or heart-pounding confusion. Either way, I can be sure that strangers I met years ago will walk up to me and say, “Hey Angus!”
3. Iterate and test
Just like any good product, try many different iterations and get feedback. Walk through your house pretending to introduce your startup to people out loud (more bonus points if the people are real). Google the name to see if there are any existing businesses that might sell similar products.
Write the name down on paper and see if you can separate it into any inappropriate words or alternate meanings. Your top-notch talent agency, “WhoRepresents,” might be confused with a quaint little gift shop catering to call girls if you break the name after the first “e.” Got it? If you need inspiration, play around with some fun random name generators. Or cringe at these stellar pun-driven names.
Whatever name you choose, know and accept that some people are going to hate it.
“Facebook” is broadly used today as a shining example of a brilliant startup name. That’s because people have already heard the name countless times in a million different contexts. Success is the great name equalizer. Build a time machine, walk up to someone in early 2000, and ask them what they think of “Facebook” for a startup name and they’ll say, “What the hell is a facebook? That’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard.”
Ignore these people.
NOTE: Many experts recommend that you DON’T check the .com domain availability of a name until you’ve figured out one that truly represents the core of your startup and product. Naval Ravikant of AngelList famously jokes that they couldn’t afford the “m” in .com so they bought angel.co.
I generally agree with this, but caution startups expecting to use their domain e-mail address for correspondence. When you give out your e-mail, you will have to be VERY clear that it’s email@example.com, vs. firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, you’re going to have a LOT of undelivered messages.
But don’t stress too much about it. Plenty of the big boys started with temporary domains:
- Dropbox = getdropbox.com
- Foursquare = playfoursquare.com
- Instagram = instagr.am
- Facebook = thefacebook.com
At the end of the day, make sure your name conjures up a sense of pride every time you say it. Whether it’s meatballs or monkeys, embrace it in every possible way.
How did you choose your business name? What types of startup names manage to stir up some emotions for you?
Let us know in the comments below!
Latest posts by Angus Shee (see all)
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- Stuck? 3 Steps for Picking a Killer Startup Name - July 14, 2014