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How To Name Your Company

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(Also on Medium here.)

Basic thesis: Everyone’s mind is crowded. Your idea needs space in the brain to survive. The right name enables this, and more.

Here’s how to find a great name— for your company, your project, or whatever else.

Why I wrote this: I’m really good at naming things, for a few reasons.

One, I spent years looking at domain names around 2007-2008. I know the domain name industry inside and out. I’ve looked at and bought and sold thousands of names.

Two, for some ineffable reason, I am great at simplifying things down to their component parts.

Three, I am hyper picky about what makes a good name, both visually and verbally.

Four, I have successfully found names for several of my projects that are absolutely world-class. See: Breather, The Flinch, etc.

10 Rules on How To Name Your Company

1. A good name is simple. But more than simple, a great name goes to the base of what the company does, both describing it and expanding on it.

Example: The process of naming Twitter by Noah Glass is described in Hatching Twitter, which was recently released. Regardless of how close to the truth it is, “twitter” describes it perfectly, as it is a short, irreverent/irrelevant sound. From this, the idea of birds emerge, making it even better (but honestly, it could have been anything).

2. A good name is a noun, and its use can be shortened to either make it into a verb or a noun.

Example: My startup Breather is a network of rooms for work or rest, which at one point were called “Breather rooms,” but which since have been shortened by users to simply be called “Breathers,” as in “I just rented a Breather.” This makes word-of-mouth infinitely easier.

3. A good (domain) name passes the phone test.

Example: Re: (Fiverr.com)

Person 1: “Oh yeah I just used this service Fiverr.”

Person 2: “Fiver, awesome.” (Types it into phone.) #FAIL

Oops. Your service better be damn good if people are willing to spell it out every time.

Funny story actually, a VC I was recently meeting with literally typed in Brether into his browser to search for us, because he had already assumed my company was spelled wrong. He was shocked we owned Breather.com. Another side note, some people (I’m looking at you Jason Calacanis) have rules around investing or not based on how good your name is.

4. (A corollary.) A good domain name is worth any price you are capable of paying.

Example: Breather.com cost me $7,500, which is a steal, and I bought it the very same day I thought of the word. Likewise, your company’s Twitter handle needs to be easy to obtain as well. I consider those to be the primary ones. FB, Google+, all the other stuff, don’t worry about it.

5. Combinations of two words are ok, and can even be great (though Facebook is actually one real word). With word combos, it has to roll off the tongue, which means two or three syllables, but almost never four.

Example: Microsoft and Pinterest, ok. Shopkeep, awesome (based on a real word). CreativeLive, started by my buddy Chase Jarvis, is a good exception to the not-four-syllables rule.

6. Now I’m looking at you, French people. If your company name sounds like English to you, but sounds fucking weird to native speakers, choose something else for God’s sake. A random invented word is better than the stuff you made up.

Example: PearlTrees? Wtf. SoundCloud? Absolutely.

7. Do not, I repeat, do not name your company very similarly to another startup, especially a successful one. 

Example: … I have one. But they’re kind of friends, so I’m keeping it to myself. 😐

8. If you can’t come up with anything, try changing one letter from something you really want, or something that sounds like a real thing.

Example: Mustbin. I haven’t looked up what they do, but if it’s not about wish lists, I retract my recommendation.

9. You can find a good name just by free writing, and doing so for an absurdly long time.

Just keep writing and writing. Seriously. Do it in a text file. Keep writing until you reach 10,000 words. The right name will come along, as long as you keep writing.

Example: Just trust me, this works.

10. Look, eventually, none of this will matter. But right now, it matters a lot. Your company name is your identity. Think about it for a LONG TIME.

* Filed by at 11:22 am under business


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5 Responses to “How To Name Your Company”

  1. Kevin Bishop Says:

    I would also like to put forward this is a good idea for band names, although they can be longer. Some bands have enough of a following or buzz after getting out there for a few years that it doesn’t matter how naff their name actually is
    Example: ‘Metallica’ is an atrocious name now, and doesn’t adequately describe the product.

    My own band (just a local thing, I’m not plugging) were called “Rachel’s Got A Flamethrower”, I always loved it- it breaks the 4 syllable rule but it’s memorable, and portrays a heavy but amusing sound.

    Julien, would love to hear your rights on naming conventions for product lines too.. Have always liked the way Android versions are named after puddings but are in alphabetical order.. Fun but sensible. Contrast that to products that are just letters and numbers, such as some car manufacturers’ lines. Thoughts?

  2. Cole Wiebe Says:

    Hi Julien,

    Some solid suggestions for picking the perfect domain/company name.

    – Cole

  3. Barbara Says:

    I LIKE THE NAME BREATHER, JUST READER THE ARTICLES GAVE ME A GOOD BREATHER. THE ARTICLES ARE CLEARLY PUT TOGETHER, LEAVING NO SHORTCUTS AE HIDING SPOTS. IT IS SIMPLY, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT.

  4. John Cooper Says:

    I like your ideas. But eventually, the name has to be short and easy to remember. I think that’s the most important aspect of a business name.

  5. Louis Blythe Says:

    I agree with John, great names need to be short and memorable like breather!

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