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The Secret to Picking a Name for Your Startup

I’ve helped name more than 10 companies, some of them worth over $100M, so what you’re about to read may surprise you.

I frequently get asked about the “perfect name for a startup”, or “the process to picking a name”. Process? There is no real process. There is nothing more subjective and visceral than picking the name for your company. Except maybe - your new born baby. Yeah that may be the one exception.

I’ve heard of companies that have searched for weeks or months for that perfect name that will “help them stand out” or “be acquired faster”, or “become the dominant player in the industry”.

I’ve actually witnessed a wonderful small startup with lots of potential dissolve because the 3 founders couldn’t agree on a name(!)

Here’s the thing; you want to become the dominant player in the industry? Stand out? Get acquired? It has nothing to do with your name. It has everything to do with the results and value you bring to the market.

Everybody thinks Apple is a brilliant brand name. But let’s be honest, if I had told you that the best name for your computer company is the name of a fruit, you would probably have kicked me out of the room.

Want some more? If Google wasn’t the brand name it is today, you would think it’s a really dumb name and probably wouldn’t have know or cared what it means.

An online bookstore named after a river in South America? Gimme a break.

How do you pronounce “Nike”? Is it “Niyk” or “Niykee”?

What about Netflix? Actually a pretty dorky name that was created in the dorkiest process ever. They got some of the founding members in the room, decided they wanted a name that has “internet” and “movies” in it, threw names on the board for 20 minutes, picked one, and that was it. Now it’s the name for the most famous and largest entertainment company in the world.

The names themselves don’t bring you brand recognition. You have to earn it.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think that having a great name that you’re proud of is important, but it needs to be important only to you. It is the banner that flies over your head, and what you want to be identified with.

It doesn’t have to be great, or catchy. it just needs to be a name that resonates with you, and (this is probably the most important part), a name you don’t hate.

It sounds like a low bar, but that is not what i’m going for here. It’s really important to understand that the name won’t drive success, your capabilities as founders will. And when you find that success, the name will be synonymous with it.

So just pick something and worry about the other aspects of your business.

But in what cases do you bring in experts to help you with your name?

First of all - as I wrote above, you don’t need anybody to pick your name for you when you set out except your founding team.

But there are certain times in a company's life when things change and a whole rebrand is needed, and this time around - you want outside help.

A few examples are:

When the company no longer sells the products and services they started out with, and the name becomes confusing. Take for example a company that has “social” in their name and started out with products and services in the social media space. But now they’ve pivoted and are doing something else completely, so having the word social in their name is just plain confusing. In these instances the founding team and employees are so emotionally involved in the company and name, that they have a hard time agreeing on any other name. Having a fresh, outside perspective can help here.

The company has outgrown its initial name and the founders want to project a larger more advanced identity to the world that will reflect where the company is now, compared to where they were. Think of Time Warner Cable changing their name to Spectrum as a way of saying “We’re not just a cable company anymore”.

In any case don’t change your company name unless there is a real need and reason for it. Most of the time the carried brand recognition that you’ve accumulated over the years will be more important than a new name.

So go ahead, pick a name, do it quickly and don’t look back.

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