How do I pick a name for my company?

28 May 2021

There is a lot involved in starting up a business. A financial plan, a deed of incorporation, … it takes some time. You’ll need a name too, and for many that is perhaps the most difficult hurdle to take. How do you choose a company name that is safe from both a marketing and a legal point of view?

We should distinguish between two situations:

  1. Your company name will remain purely administrative. Your company name will be used and appear on invoices, but your products or services will bear another (brand) name;
  2. You will also use your company name as a brand name. Whether you place it on products or offer services under this name, it is a recognition mark for your customers.

Purely administrative

In the first case, the task is less daunting. From a legal point of view, you only need to ensure that no company with the same or very similar name exists. You can quickly look this up in the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises.

If you are not going to use the name to (potential) customers, you should not take much account of its appeal. Of course, don’t go overboard; you wouldn’t want to ask a supplier to invoice Smoochie Ltd, would you?

Company name and brand name

The second situation requires more effort. You need a name that attracts, makes you curious, is not confusing and will not cause any legal issues. Keep these five tips in mind:

Not too long, not too short

Have a look at Interbrand’s annual ‘Best Global Brand’ list and you will see how often they are between five and ten letters long.

This, of course, is no coincidence. Overly long company and brand names are difficult to remember. Short abbreviations, on the other hand, are easily confused. Was it CFD or DCF?

Avoid negative connotations and difficult pronunciation

The name you have in mind is reminiscent of your childhood – but means toilet in Lithuanian. You thought of a nice pun on your own name – but this is also the name of a wanted terrorist.

Even if you deliver products or services offline, your company name will be frequently typed into search engines. You want your leads and suppliers to find you, not toilets or terrorists.

Tip: Write your company name into Google Translate without selecting a language. If it has a meaning in any language, it will be selected automatically. In any case, search extensively via search engines and social media for uses of the word in question. Especially if you want to be active internationally, this is essential.

Also make sure that your company name is easy to pronounce. You don’t want staff to have to introduce themselves on the phone as salesmen of @M@~i BV.

Not descriptive

In order to clearly indicate what the company offers, many founders look for a name that is descriptive. A new garage becomes “The Garage”. A lighting business becomes ‘Light’. It’s trendy, but not always a good idea.

On the one hand, you will never be able to register this name as a trademark, so that you cannot stop competitors from using it too. On the other hand, it is very difficult to come out on top in search engine results with such a name. Often, a combination of the two will happen to you: an established name in your sector with great SEO sees that you are successful, puts your descriptive name on its website a number of times and nobody can find you. Very annoying.

If you want your name to reflect what you do, try to give it a twist that will make it stand out.

Trademark and domain name available

When a trademark is registered, the owner of the registration gets an exclusive right to use this trademark or a similar one for identical or similar activities. You should therefore check beforehand that nobody has such a monopoly on the name you have in mind. Hint: we can help you with this.

In many sectors, it will also be important to have a website to attract and inform customers. For that, you need a domain name. Nowadays, there are many alternative top-level domain names in addition to the classic .com, .be, etc. So here you have some room to be creative. If .be or .com does not work out, go for .travel, .tattoo, .lighting or something else that is relevant to your sector.

Also make sure there are no social media profiles that could be confusing for your customers.

Be creative

Conclusion: Will your company name also be a brand name? Then think carefully about this name.

Good names create, without being descriptive, a visual image to which you can later relate your expertise and style of working. The classic Flemish solution *first letters of the partners’ names* can work, but you can also be more original: a flower, an animal, a historical figure you look up to, a musical genre :), … it can all serve as a starting point for a solid company name.

Try not to ‘fall in love’ with the first good name you think of, but wait until you are sure that you can use it as a brand and domain name. Also, avoid overly descriptive names if you want to prevent others from benefiting from your efforts.

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