Choosing a Business Name
By Julie King | March 29, 2016
Article update March 29, 2016. Original publication date 2000.
Anyone who has ever spent days deliberating over a business name choice will understand that this seemingly simple activity can be one of the most challenging aspects of starting a new business.
How can you choose a good business name? What should you consider when making your selection? These are just a few things you'll need to consider. You will want a name that can grow as your business grows. A name that has a decent '.com' or alternative Internet name available. A name that does not violate the intellectual property rights of another business or organization with the name you choose, which could put your ability to use the name in jeopardy.
CanadaOne wasn't my first business venture – and it surely won't be my last. Through the process of building several businesses, I've learned a thing or two about choosing a business name. This article outlines some of the things I take into account when naming a company.
When you are starting your business, you have great plans, but may be thinking more about the details you face today than the possibilities of tomorrow. My recommendation: think about tomorrow when choosing your business name, and think big!
If you are successful with your new business, your choice will be with you for a long time. Not only that, but it could also influence the growth of your business.
For example, someone starting a specialty fast-food restaurant in Moose Jaw, Sask., might have a good reason to choose a name that reflects the local nature – or owner – of the business. However, if they someday find they're in the position to sell franchises, the name Mike's Prairie Diner might not have the same appeal as The Prairie Dog Café.
A business name automatically contains a marketing element; your job is to choose a name that will help your marketing efforts. The name The Prairie Dog Café tells prospective customers a story about the origins of the business, while hinting at its uniqueness. The name Mike's Prairie Diner implies a completely different type and scope of business.
These two names also imply different visual identities. The Prairie Dog Café name could easily be associated with a western motif and an overall stylish corporate identify. Mike's Prairie Diner would seem better suited to a 1950s style with a small, owner-run image.
Don't pigeon-hole your business
Including a descriptive term, such as paralegal, in your business name can be useful when marketing your products and services, as the nature of the business is expressed in the name. In some provinces, such as British Columbia, a descriptive element is a requirement, rather than a choice.
However, a descriptive term may also work against your business as it grows. Businesses are organic entities that evolve around the customer rather than a business plan. In many industries, especially rapidly evolving sectors such as the Internet and information technologies, the core terminology or the services in demand can change rapidly. This can wreak havoc on a business that finds that it has a descriptive phrase in its name that is either out-of-date or inaccurate due to evolution of the business.
My partner and I encountered this problem with our first business, nVision Multimedia. It wasn't long after we started nVision that the majority of our clients were interested in Internet rather than multimedia services. Having the word 'multimedia' in our name confused customers who were coming to us for web work. Because of this and other factors we eventually closed down nVision Multimedia, replacing it with first Biz-Zone Internet Group and now bizZone Inc.
The bottom line: including a descriptive component in your name can help customers understand the nature of your business. However, avoid including descriptive elements that could quickly become out of date or inaccurate.
The sound & spell test
The last thing you'll want to hear from people after you've selected, registered and imprinted your business name on everything from business cards to signage is, "Huh? How do you spell that?" That's where our sound and spell test comes in. Here's how it works.
Scenario 1: Your business is a booming success. You've just booked 30-second radio spots on stations across the country. Your marketing team is working on a series of ads that will drive traffic to your businessname.com.
The test: If someone were to say your business name over the radio, would people be able to remember it? Spell it correctly? Easily translate it into a properly spelled dotcom address for surfing at another time during the day? A good name is something that can be mentioned on the radio or over the phone, without a lot of explanation. A great name does this and is memorable.
Securing your domain name (URL)
When you start your business, you will want to make sure the you choose a name where you can also register a good domain name with the same or very similar name. When choosing a domain name, length, clarity and variants that may be in use by other companies are all important considerations.
For example, one business owner purchased a Canadian (.ca) version of a domain name that was already in use be a well established company in the US with the same name registered as the .com variant. Since .com domains are still sometimes the first things people check, there is often confusion about whether the US company is his business. In one case, one of his clients sent a cheque for over $70,000 to the US company by mistake. The fact that the two businesses offered almost identical services really confused the situation.
In addition to the well known .com and .ca domains, there are many other "top level domains" (TLDs) available, most of which contain descriptive whole words. There are over 500 newer TLDs with many interesting options to choose from including .biz, .work, .space, .ninja, .online, .buzz, .finance, .club, and .xyz,
There are many cheap domain registrars and almost all offer search tools that help you look-up potentially available domains. You will likely find that many of the best domains are already registered, in which case you may need to purchase a domain.
When purchasing a domain, there are a few options so do your research. Some domains are offered at a fix price and usually start in the $2000 USD range.
You can also participate in a domain auction and potentially get a name at a more competitive price. For example, when we first tried to purchase bizZone.com we were told the price was $10,000 USD, so instead we registered a variation of the name and company with a dash (biz-zone.com.) Many years later the name went to auction and with the wonderful assistance of Name Ninja, a Toronto-based company founded by Bill Sweetman, we were able to finally secure bizzone.com for a fraction of the original asking price.
Tread lightly on trademark & other legal issues
Just because you've found a name and it appears to be available, it does not mean that you are free to use it for your business. If your name conflicts with an existing trademark, tradename or someone's intellectual property, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit and the possible loss of your business name.
If you will be incorporating your business, a Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search (NUANS) – should identify possible conflicts. Jonathan Mesiano-Crookston, a lawyer with Goldman Hine LLP, explains that you can do a NUANS pre-search for free to identify potential conflicts without paying for a search, When you are ready to run the actual search prices vary depending on the source used. To do the search directly yourself, you can go to the federal government's NUANS website. The current cost for a search there is $21.47 plus tax and .
When doing a NUANS search you have two options: doing the search directly through the government or using a search house. In some cases search houses will offer more competitive rates and some offer pre-searches for free. The government has a list of all search houses that offer online services.
Finding a name isn't always easy, but if you invest the time and effort, you should be able to come up with a great name for your new business. In the long run, this effort can add considerable value to your business – and the bottom line.