The Startup Name Game

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The Startup Name Game


One of the issues that I find many startups struggling with (including my own) is coming up with a suitable name for the company.


Entrepreneurs often spend either too little or too much time on this area.  Too little is not giving it hardly any thought under the assumption that “it really doesn’t matter” (trust me, it does).  But, it doesn’t matter so much that you should go and spend thousands of dollars on a naming consultant.


In my past experience, I’ve come up with my own “rules of thumb” when it comes to naming startup companies.  Here they are in no particular order:


  1. The name should be clear enough to have unambiguous spelling.  No play on words or tricks with spelling.  If someone hears the name spoken, they should be able to know how the company name is spelled, without doubt.  Example, don’t use something like “SightSoft” (as this could be easily confused with “SiteSoft”.


  1. The name should be relatively short (so “Really Fast Computer Software, Inc.” is not a good idea).  Generally, the shorter the better.


  1. The “.com” and “.net” domain names should be available – without word games, hyphens, dashes or other “decorations” needed.  So, if your name is going to be LucidLeap, then you need to make sure is available (which its not, because I own it).


  1. The trademark should be available (check on  


  1. The name can be somewhat descriptive of what the company does (though many will argue that you want an “empty vessel” name that can be used for a variety of things as the company grows).


  1. The name should be easy to remember and convey some kind of clear “mental image” to those that hear it.


Generally, its really hard to come up with a name completely on your own.  I’ve often found it helpful to collaborate with a couple of other people (friends and family) as they will often come up with possible flaws in a name.  If you ever have a name you want to get some feedback on, feel free to email me.  I’ll give you an honest opinion.




Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Sun, Nov 27, 2005


How about ?
what I like about this domain is that it has only 5 letters. I think (hope) it reminds of such words as 'edit', 'view', 'education'. What do you think?
The spelling can be ambiguous. But I never spell youtube right. In fact there is always ambiguity in the English spelling. Unlike in Russian or German.

posted on Friday, February 08, 2008 at 3:30 PM by Vitaly

Vitaly: meh. I have no idea how to pronounce "ediew" -- I can't even figure out the first sound, or how many syllables it has. Ee-dee-ew? Eh-di-wh? A-diew?
YouTube is a compound of two common English words. Ediew is not the compound of any English words.
Oh, and I disagree about German. I've only studied German for a few years, but it seems to have ambiguity, too: how can you tell if a consonant is doubled? Compare Turkish, which has no digraphs or diphthongs.

posted on Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 2:36 PM by ken

You're quite right to bring up the issue of trademark availability for registration -- coming up with a good name is a key strategy -- but all the hard work can be ruined when you receive a trademark cease and desist letter from another company using the same name that you just adopted.  
What most people miss is that the issue of potential trademark liability is just as important in selecting a company name for a new startup as the issue of trademark 'registrability.' 
In the US, registration is not required for trademark rights -- this is the opposite of almost every other country. The US has a common law trademark system, with state and federal registration systems that coexist (they coexist in a messy way, and it's expensive for all trademark owners to identify acceptable names and then police their rights against latecomers). 
The first person in the US to adopt a mark and use it, is the trademark user with superior rights. Being first in time to use a name for a particular product or service will beat out any subsequent uses for the same product or service, even a later user who receives a registration without knowledge of the prior user. 
For this reason, merely checking the USPTO is not enough. That only contains registrations used in interstate commerce, ie, sales and services across state lines. You must also check each state's trademark registry for long-term owners who only provide services in one state (or risk being shut out of using your trademark in that state). And that only covers the registrations. There may still be users out there who have used the name you want for many years. They would have what is called 'common-law' rights. You can only uncover these types of users via a comprehensive searching strategy with access to multiple paid commercial and goverment databases -- such as the trademark searching service provided by Thomson and other companies who do this professionally. A Google search will not be adequate because it will not turn up all the corporate name activity -- that information is not available on the internet for free. 
I agree with the other information you've provided here: keep it short and memorable and make sure the domains are available (and make sure you register a domain at the time you search it...or a registrar will pick it up based on your search and it may become unavailable except at an auction price - for this reason you should not check domain availability at any of the providers like GoDaddy or Network Solutions.) 
"Memorable" doesn't always result in a protectable trademark. You will have a far stronger brand if you pick something arbitrary and associate it with something for which there is no connection. For example: 
"ARROW" for shirts 
is much better than 
"WORD WRITER" for word proccessing software. (This one was rejected for registration as being 'merely descriptive.') 
I have articles about trademarks on my blog. 
Carol Shepherd, Attorney 
Arborlaw PLC

posted on Friday, August 15, 2008 at 2:29 PM by Arborlaw

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