There’s a lot wrapped up in a name: feelings, emotions, connotation, unconscious bias, personal history. It’s an identity — it gives something meaning and importance.
In leading marketing and brand at High Alpha, I think about naming quite a bit. As a venture studio, we co-found and launch five to 10 new software startups every year. It is my team’s responsibility to create and build out the brands for all the new companies we start, including everything from naming and domain acquisition to brand identity and websites. Over the past five years, we’ve named more than 30 software startups at High Alpha.
Over the past five years, we’ve named more than 30 software startups.
As a soon-to-be first-time parent, the idea of naming has taken on a whole new meaning and importance in my life. Even though I help name new companies for a living, I now fully understand the paralysis that often comes when faced with the task of deciding the name for someone or something that’s especially important to you.
Because of this, I’ve always tried to take an objective, pragmatic approach to naming a company with our CEOs and other startups. Naming is an incredibly difficult and nuanced process. It’s fraught with subjectiveness and personal preference. And to top it all off, most founders have zero (or very little) experience in naming.
The truth is that business names fall on a bell curve — you have a small number of outliers that actively contribute to your success and a small number of outliers that actively impair your ability to succeed. The vast majority, though, fall somewhere in the middle in their impact on your business.
So, how should a founder go about effectively naming their baby startup and not picking a name that will hurt them? I’m sharing my own criteria and lessons for how to go about naming your startup, how to evaluate a company name and what makes for a good company name.
Is the name ownable?
As a founder, one of the first criteria to look at is ownability and URL availability. Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a name where the .com is still available. I oftentimes will look at .io, .co, get_______.com, or _____hq.com as my top alternatives to a .com, but I always still prefer if the .com is potentially attainable in the future. It may be parked by a domain investor or someone asking a ridiculous price, but that’s always better than an established business using your .com. If not, you will always be fighting a search battle with some other brand that owns your .com.
This goes much further than just the availability of the coveted .com domain, though. You should evaluate the competitiveness and search congestion around your branded keywords. A company named “Apple” or “Lumber” is going to have a really hard time competing for search placements, even if they don’t sell computers or building supplies. An established name and word is also going to come with existing connotations and previous experiences in your audience’s mind. You want a name free from as much baggage as possible so you can easily build your own connotations and memories.