Choosing a Business Name – Top 10 Don’ts

Choosing a name for your business is one of the most important decisions you will make. It can have a major impact on the success of your business.

You will spend lots of money and time promoting the name of your business so you should give it a lot of thought. You will need to register your name with government or regulatory authorities so you must also meet their requirements. Following the list below will help you avoid problems with registration.

Although you can change the name of your business in the future this is something you should avoid. It can be very costly and time consuming. All of the marketing effort you put into your former name would be lost, not to mention the cost of redesigning materials with your new name such as your website, packaging and signage.

In this post I will give you my Top 10 Don’ts to help you avoid the pitfalls of choosing a bad name. In my next post I will tell you the Do’s for choosing a good name and give you a list of helpful resources.

To save you the time, money and aggravation of choosing a bad business name –

10 Things to Avoid

1. Don’t Lie

Don’t choose a name that can be misleading. A name like “The Bankruptcy Helpline” is not a good choice for a commercial enterprise because it suggests that services are being provided for free. You also can not use a term in your name that is not true. For instance, you cannot use “factory” or “manufacturer” if your company is not in the manufacturing business. If you are a professional, most professional bodies will not let you use the term “and Associates” (Jane Doe and Associates) if you do not in fact have associates.

2. Don’t Cheat

A name can’t suggest a connection that does not exist. For example, I.R.S. would not be allowed as a company name because it suggests an affiliation with the Internal Revenue Service.

3. Don’t Steal

Don’t choose a “copycat” name. A copycat name may cause confusion with an existing trademark or business name and will be refused registration by most regulators. You are not allowed to benefit from somebody else’s name recognition and branding. For instance, a recent lawsuit has been filed by against Both businesses are located in Los Angeles and both sell body baring clothing for women. Nasty Gal established the brand and has a trademark on it. It is alleging that is trying to benefit from the brand recognition of Nasty Gal by suggesting to the public that New Nasty is a new version of the Nasty Gal business and is associated with it.

4. Don’t Think Small

Avoid a name that is specific to a geographic location or a certain product. If you change locations or your product line the name may be too restrictive for your business. For instance, Birmingham Street Grill may re-locate to Spring Street. Not only is the name no longer appropriate but it may cause customers to go to the wrong location. Similarly, if you name your company “Ace Bicycles” and then decide to expand your product line to ski equipment, snowboards and skates customers may not realize that you sell these other products.

5. Don’t be Boring

Don’t choose a name that is too generic or ho hum. Not only will it not be memorable but if you wish to get a trademark for it you won’t be able to if it is generic. For instance OK Service for an automotive repair shop is not only boring but it suggest a level of service that most of us would like a business to exceed. Another example is Although this is a good domain name, most regulators would refuse to register it as a business name because it is too generic.

6. Don’t be Offensive or Obscene

Most regulators will not let you register a name that contains an obscenity or is offensive. So if you are considering registering a name such as Deep Shit Cattle Ranch it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

7. Don’t be Lazy

Make sure that the name you are considering is available in the online world. This includes the domain name and any custom URL’s on social media services you plan to use. Finding names that are available on-line is hard work so be prepared to put in the time.

8. Don’t be Obtuse

Your name should not be too long, obscure or hard to spell. This will make it difficult for people to remember or to find you. We once considered naming a technology business GATTAG thinking that a clever reference to DNA would be cute but we decided against it because it was hard to spell and the hidden meaning would be lost on most potential customers.

9. Don’t be Stupid

Think about the implications of your name or any hidden or unintended meanings. I recently saw a business called “Chewies Oyster Bar” and thought I would never want to go there because the last thing I want is a chewy oyster. If you are doing business in foreign markets you should be aware of the translation of your name. Chevrolet made a legendary mistake when it tried to market the Chevy Nova in Latin American. No Va means “No go”. Who wants a car that won’t go?

10. Don’t Ignore the Law

Make sure your name meets all the regulatory requirements. This includes government bodies, industry regulators, professional bodies and organizations like the Better Business Bureau. Figure out which bodies you need to comply with and make sure you do. Otherwise you risk having your name be refused registration or potentially being forced to change it to comply.

Now that you know the Don’ts my next post will tell you what you need to Do and how to get it done.

Have you had any problems getting a business name?


Photo Credit:  Robert Occhialini

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