Ready, Set, G… wait, we need a real name

Really, is this the most productive use of a start-up’s time?

Unfortunately though, once you start brand building you want to stick with your name and it needs to be something that can grow with you.  With today’s paltry .com selection, bit.ly’s trend setting .ly cooling since it stands for Libya, and del.icio.us actually becoming delicious.com, what’s a start-up to do?

In the process of trying to find a name, I came across a lot of very useful advice on the internet.  For example Guy Kawasaki suggests choosing names that start early in the alphabet and have verb potential.  ahundredmonkeys.com suggests not to “caught up in anybody’s rules about how to name a high tech company, like beginning with letters early in the alphabet or only looking at names that can turn into verbs.”  Of course, that was rule number 3 of 10 from a company that sounds like a Bruce Willis Sequel, but what do I know.

So while I can’t help you pick a good name, perhaps I can save you some effort from picking a bad name.  Here’s my top 5 list of failed techniques to naming a start-up:

1Dot-o-mator: Good fun, and while CrimsonSphere.com sounds cool, it is actually already taken and doesn’t really seem like it will stand the test of time.  Sounds a little too much like SRI’s failed consulting firm name AtomicTangerine, clearly a dot-o-mator early customer.

2. Morse Code: While cool for the Stig, not cool for a company name.  dotdotdashdotdotdotdashdashdotdashdotdashdotdash.com

3. Names and Initials: While it worked for Bill Ed and Alfred down at BEA and Tom Seibel at Seibel Systems, times have changed and today’s dot com needs a little less (obvious) personal ego. (Plus, Mackinaw.com was taken, stupid island).

4. Use a Foreign Language: Well, unfortunately there are actually people that speak those languages and register domains in their native tongues.  So that leaves Latin.  While I personally liked Ecdicus.com, it was turned out to be not very clever since it was already taken and I was the only one on the team that could pronounce it.  On the upside I can now confidently tell my high school latin teacher that it really was a waste of time.

5. Desperation – Scrabble Grab-bag: Hands down the most effective tool at finding available .com names!  Unfortunately, xdtfuvq.com doesn’t roll off the tongue.

In the end, the only advice that I came across and would offer as legitimate is as follows:

  • Use the thesaurus
  • Keep it to 2-3 syllables and use it in a sentence out loud – would you want to say it 30 times in a customer pitch?
  • Don’t make a rash decision, select your top few and use them all for a week – the team will naturally gravitate towards one
  • Consider Hyphens – many will disagree with this I’m sure, but if your choice is between a hyphenated name that you like, or something completely random, hyphens are not the end of the world (as long as the non hyphenated version isn’t a competitor).  Eventually if you grow big enough, you will want to pay the premium for the other URL.  I don’t feel it’s any worse than creative spelling of a company name, people will still find you.
  • Search to make sure it’s not trademarked (thanks to Rand Fishkin for the link)
  • Ask others and see how they react
  • Keep at it!  While it might not be your first, second, or even 100th pick, you will find one that is acceptable that will grown on you over time
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