How-To: Name your small business – Advice from Toronto’s ABC Namebank and Jump Branding

When Richard Ward bought out his business partners, renaming the company just made sense.

“While we were proud of our history as E.K. Purdy Ltd., we wanted something that better reflected the value we deliver and our service promise to clients,” says Ward, president of the Kingston, ON-based company, now renamed Pure Ingenuity, which fabricates custom stainless steel equipment.

With the former partner for whom the company was named no longer on the letterhead, the moniker had lost its significance.

“Our current name tells you who we are, what we can do for you, and how we do it best,” says Ward. “It tells people that we’re a creative solution provider, not just a company that bends metal.”

Naseem Javed, is the author of “Naming for Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World” and CEO of ABC Namebank, a branding consultancy with offices in Toronto and New York. He says “a good company name shines and attracts customers. The wrong name? It’s a slow death.”

So, how do you find a name?

Begin with brainstorming

Ward’s renaming exercise – part of a complete rebranding – was a year-long project that included weekly meetings spearheaded by a marketing consultant. She led him and three senior employees through exercises that helped them formalize their corporate values. This then flowed into the brainstorming of possibilities for a new name.

“A successful brainstorming session should give you 100-200 adjectives, verbs, phrases, nouns and syllables that have been triggered by the company’s value proposition, brand personality, etc.,” says Jason Hemsworth, a principal at Toronto’s Jump Branding and Design Inc. – whose clients include Yogen-Fruz, Labatt and New York Fries.

Hemsworth’s firm takes a different approach, mostly keeping clients out of the brainstorming process and generating ideas with his creative team instead. He finds clients can sometimes bog down the energy flow, and don’t always follow the “every idea is a good idea” principle.

The naming service – which typically charges $1,000-$1,500 – generates as many as 60 potential names that it then whittles to a client shortlist of five or six suggestions.

Rise above the crowd


The top criterion for creating a winning name is that it be distinctive and memorable, says Hemsworth. This means staying away from too-common prefixes and suffixes – like tech, e-, pro, corp, tron and quali – that lump you in with competitors.

But entrepreneurs shouldn’t stray too far in the other direction. A handle that is too complex, has an unusual spelling or a questionable pronunciation may alienate you from potential customers.

Hemsworth recalls one client who initially championed a quirky combination of two foreign words.

“It was only meaningful to him,” he says while struggling to recall the name. “If people can’t remember the name or spell it, they won’t be able to find you.”

Consider short and catchy

Short names are always good, says Javed, whose 30-year-old firm is responsible for names like Telus, Celestica and Vincor.

“With names like CNN and Sony, for example, you don’t struggle to remember them, spell them or type them,” he says. “They’re right on the tip of your tongue, because they’re not cumbersome.”

A too-long moniker also creates the risk of customers shortening it themselves.

“Then you have the consumer creating your brand, instead of you creating it,” says Hemsworth.

For a name with the ultimate sticking power, go with a short verb that creates a picture in your mind – think Zumba, Hatch, Klick and Google –energetic words that are fun to say and roll easily off the tongue.

These kinds of names also create a strong jumping off point for graphic designers who are tasked with creating logos and making a handle standout on business cards, advertisements and signs.

And remember to test your name to ensure the web address version (without spaces and capitalization) doesn’t baffle the eyes, says Marcia Yudkin, author of The Renaming Handbook: How to Wisely Change Your Company Name, Organizational Name or Product Name. For example, she says, the email address for a name like Mad River, when written out as “madriver”, could easily be mistaken for “MaDriver.”

Think big

Though your business may be humming along nicely today, a geographical name like East Toronto Engineering can be surprisingly limiting if you expand, relocate, or add international sales.

Likewise, naming your company after a sole product is liable to stick you with an expensive renaming and rebranding process if you add more offerings.

And using an owner’s name in a company name is an acceptable, if uninspired, option, say the experts. But consider this issue: if you sell the business you’ll be selling your name too, without having control over how it’s used.

Also consider that the owner’s behaviour can have positive or negative repercussions on the organization.

“For example,” says Javed, “the value of The Trump Organization moves like a yoyo as the stock market responds to Donald Trump’s personal life.”

Wrap it up

Once you’ve finally settled on a winning name, choose four or five more. Then, check to see that your competitors haven’t already purchased the domain names or trademarks. There will be a major problem if you receive a cease-and-desist letter after already printing marketing materials or advertising a launch.