How to Name Your Business (download this 10-category evaluation worksheet)

How to Name Your Business (download this 10-category evaluation worksheet)

In this article I want to show you a method to get away from the gross, subjective confusion that clouds your business name decision making.

You’ve felt that cloudiness if you’ve ever tried to name a business before.

I was recently with a group of people trying to name their real estate company. We spent several hours talking about options, took a break, and then someone came up with another name idea and the conversation started all over again.

No decisions being made, no progress, no clients being helped or revenue coming in… just a handful of name options and no way to decide which idea is best.

We all get like this when it comes to naming our business. A list of several ideas, a bunch of subjective opinions and the immense pressure of deciding.

So, we created a simple worksheet to help you. The Name Evaluation worksheet below will introduce you to 10 categories that will help you get out of the clouds and into a business name that will grow with you.


“Picking a business name can be painful, cloudy and confusing. But it doesn’t have to be.”


A name to grow into

Don’t let your business name hold you back. I mean that in two ways.

First, name choices, in my experience, are always uncomfortable. Every single time I’ve been involved with naming something — whether it’s a business or a podcast or product — the name didn’t jump right out at us. It required deliberation, mulling over and, ultimately, a decision none of us were really 110% comfortable with at first.

Over time, all those names started to feel better and better. I call this the picking the least-worst option naming strategy. Apple, the lore goes, was the least worst name on Steve Jobs’ list. So, the first thing to know is that naming decisions are never easy; sometimes you have to go with your least-worst option.

And second, names often require some getting used to, or, as I like to say, some growing into.

Does "Apple" sound like a stupid name now? Nope. We don’t even think of it as a fruit. They grew into it. Some names need to be grown into, lived in — they’re empty vessels that need some time and experience. They need to be worn in a bit, both by you and your customers.

Sometimes you gotta pick the least worst option and go with a name you’re not completely sure about. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your due diligence. The Name Evaluator worksheet is going to help you with that due diligence.


“A great business name won’t save a bad business. Pick a name you can grow with.”


Nope: poor naming feedback

Business name feedback often times sounds like this:

  • "It’s kinda, like, too much to me."
  • "Don’t you think it’s a bit too cute?"
  • "Sounds like a cereal."
  • "Nope, sounds like France. France is un-American."
  • "Nope."
  • "It feels sort of, I don’t know, {waves hands around}, you know?"

Nope. This feedback doesn’t help us. To get out of our own subjectivity — our personal opinions and judgements — we need a set of categories to evaluate name ideas.

Luckily, the esteemed naming agency Igor International has done most of the heavy lifting for us. We’ll use their categories with a few updates tailored to us indie entrepreneurs to judge names by.

Note: as I was reading through their guide I realized they have a very similar exercise they run their names through. Either great minds think alike, or this naming stuff is damn hard.


10 name evaluation categories

Here are the 10 categories we’ll use to evaluate each name idea (much of the descriptions come from the Igor naming guide):

1. Appearance: Simply how the name looks as a visual signifier, in a logo, an ad, on a billboard, etc. The name will always be seen in context, but it will be seen, so looks are important. Look for visual cues like two of the same letters (e.g., the ZZ in Fizzle), symmetry of the word(s), number of letters, etc.

2. Sound: The name WILL be heard, in radio or television commercials, being presented at a trade show, or simply being discussed in a cocktail party conversation. Sound is twofold: not only how a name sounds, but how easily it is spoken by those who matter most — the potential customer. Word of mouth is a big part of the marketing of a company, product or service with a great name, but if people aren’t comfortable saying the name, the word won’t get out. One quick question to ask yourself about sound is: how easily could you communicate this name to someone over a static-y phone call?

3. Distinctiveness: How differentiated a given name is from its competition. Being distinctive is only one element that goes into making a name memorable, but it is a required element, since if a name is not distinct from a sea of similar names it will not be memorable. It’s important, when judging distinctiveness, to consider the name in the context of both the product it will serve, and the competition it will spar with for the consumer’s attention.

4. Positioning: How relevant the name is to the positioning of the product or company being named, the service offered, or to the industry served. Further, how many relevant messages does the name map to?

5. Depth: Layer upon layer of meaning and association. Names with great depth never reveal all they have to offer all at once, but keep surprising you with new ideas. Did you know the first use of the word fizzle was to describe a silent-but-deadly (SBD) fart in Victorian English? Depth, baby :)

6. Humanity: A measure of a name’s warmth, its "humanness," as opposed to names that are cold, clinical, unemotional. Another — though not foolproof — way to think about this category is to imagine each of the names as a nickname for one of your children.

7. Energy: How vital and full of life is the name? Does it have buzz? Can it carry an ad campaign on its shoulders? Is it a force to be reckoned with? These are all aspects of a name’s energy level.

8. Magic / Evocativeness: The force of brand magic, and the word-of-mouth buzz that a name is likely to generate. It’s that certain something that makes people lean forward and want to learn more about a brand, and to want to share the brand with others. The "magic" angle is different for each name.

9. Trademark Availability: As in the ugly, meat hook reality of trademark availability. Scoring is easy here, as there are only three options, and nothing is subjective: 5 = likely available for trademark; 3 = may be available for trademark; and 0 = not likely available for trademark. (There are some trademark search options in the resources section below.)

10. Domain Availability: Is there a version of this name available at a domain name you feel comfortable with? YourName.com may not be available, so you’ll have to see if some suitable version of that name is available. (E.g., Dropbox used GetDropbox.com; fizzle.com wasn’t available, but we were comfortable with using fizzle.co.)


The name evaluator worksheet

The Fizzle Business Name Evaluator example

Here’s an example of the Fizzle Business Name Evaluator. The names mentioned here are all real options discussed in episode #5 of the Startup podcast linked in the resources below.


OK, it’s time for you to download the worksheet and get crackin’. You can download the worksheet below.

Here’s how to use the worksheet:

  1. Write all your business name ideas in the left column.
  2. Score the names in each category; 0 for extremely poor, 5 for excellent. You’ll have to use your gut on these scores.
  3. Add up the scores at the end of each row to see which name performs best.
  4. Optional: give the worksheet to a few friends to have them fill it out as well. Compare your scores with theirs for more objectivity.
  5. Start a business and make a million dollars with your new great name! When you get there, maybe send out a tweet on our behalf?

Download the Fizzle Name Evaluator:

Download the worksheet, pick a name, and keep moving forward with your business!


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More Resources

Must-listen podcast episodes:

Tools:

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  • Perfect timing – I know what my name sounds like, I just don’t know what the words are. Thanks very much

  • Amy Cooke

    Great article! Really useful info – thanks!!

  • Too many business owners forget the step of double-checking the trademark, so kudos for reminding us of the importance of it.

    Two related notes:

    1. Existing trademarks only matter if they are in the same kind of business you are in. I could get a trademark for fizzle for hard cider because that’s totally unrelated to what your trademark is for (assuming that someone else hasn’t already nabbed that!).

    2. You don’t want to search just for exact matches either, but things close enough that your customers could be confused about. For example, I couldn’t name my business phizzle if I wanted to provide training for entrepreneurs, because it sounds just like your name.

    Doing a good trademark search is worth it because having to re-brand your business months (or years) in is NOT fun. :)

    • Chase Reeves

      Great points! Thanks, Kiffanie.

  • Hey guys, I needed this last week. I came up with a name and built this on the weekend. http://careershit.com It’s either going to be a hit or shit. If you know what I mean ;-)

    PS Love what you do and listen to you as I drive around outback Queensland. I spend hours in the car as part of my day job and you guys make it awesome. Cheers!

    • chasereeves

      Ha! “Hit or shit” is a great way to think of it, Trudy :)

    • Steve Fossey

      @Trudy … quick spellcheck on your site… “I’m wrapped you’re here” should be “I’m rapt you’re here” if you’re attracting English teachers…

  • Julie Sczerbinski

    Your timing couldn’t be better!!! I’ve been going crazy over this name thing. Whew! Now, I actually have a tool to work with. Thanks guys!!

  • Picking a business name can be really subjective! I agree with you on picking the least worse name. It helps if you already have an idea of your brand, and see if the name meshes well with what you’re trying to communicate.

  • Smallbiz-emarketing

    Superb article that helps with a real problem for startups. I settled on my business name after going through many options, mainly based on available domains.
    In the end I chose something that describes what I do/my clients with a myname.com. It has taken many months to grow into it like you said.

  • Tommy Coffee

    A great resource for business names is also Brandroot – https://www.brandroot.com/names

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