Hard truths of naming: Face them now and save time

Originally published Jun 15, 2011

Naming isn’t all soft, fuzzy language stuff. Mind you, The Name Inspector loves the soft, fuzzy language stuff. It’s his job to love it. But he realizes that businesspeople often have more practical considerations on their minds, as they should. So here are some hard practical truths about naming that The Name Inspector often shares with his clients, and that he discussed recently while speaking at a TechCafe Happy Hour and serving as a Mentor at the Founder Institute.

Before you start trying to come up with a name, you have to get real. Recognize your true goals and fully acknowledge your practical constraints. That will save you time down the road. Get started by answering these questions honestly.

What does the name have to do?

First you have to decide what the name is going to do for you. Does it have to communicate clearly and directly, or serve as the basis for a brand? These are really the two main possibilities. A name has to communicate clearly, for example, if you’re hoping it will turn up in results for generic web searches like “sandwiches in seattle”. (But remember, it doesn’t have to be your name that captures search traffic like that.) If you want a name that will help people remember you and think good thoughts about you, then you want a brandable name. Brandable names almost always communicate indirectly. More on that in a future soft, fuzzy, language-y post.

Do you need a .com domain for this name?

If it’s a company or service that exists primarily as a website, you probably want a brandable domain name, and a short, memorable .com domain will lend you the most credibility. Still, you can get creative and use a different domain extension until you make it big (or get funded) and can afford to acquire the .com.

If you’re naming one of several products or services, you can probably get by with different pages on your main company site.

Are you prepared to spend serious money on a domain name?

If not, then you have to rule out using a single correctly spelled real word. A name like Amazon or Gist is out of the question, because all the real words that are even semi-common have been registered, and the ones that are for sale have asking prices in the thousands.

Is it important for you to choose your name within a couple weeks or so?

If so, buying a domain is not the way to go, unless you find one that you can buy immediately for a specific price. Otherwise, contacting the owner of a domain and negotiating a sale takes too long.

Do your criteria for choosing a name match your goals and constraints?

Too often people use vague criteria for choosing a name, like “It has to jump out and grab me” or “It just has to feel right”. Of course, it’s great for a name to grab you and feel right, but these vague criteria often mask implicit, unrealistic ones that will never be met, and can doom a naming effort to endless stagnation. Occasionally The Name Inspector has a client who is willing to spend no more than $500 or so on a domain name, but who wants a name “like” Twitter or Apple, and not one that’s just “squished together words”. Big red flag. What such a client really wants is a cool English word available as a .com domain (see above) that everyone else has somehow overlooked. Such names might be available for pennies on Fairy.com. If not, it’s time to take a hard second look at goals and success criteria and make sure they’re consistent with practical constraints.

OK, now that you’ve faced these hard truths, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get naming! Of course, you don’t have to do it alone.

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