Half a million businesses launch every month in the U.S. and each one needs a name. A name should be memorable, distinctive and be available as a legal trademark. For a name to be registered and legally protected the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) must determine whether it has already been taken. Almost every naturally occurring word has been claimed and so often names are derivations: Accenture is derived from “accent” and “future”, Flickr and Tumblr each dropped a vowel and Lyft swapped out a letter. Acronyms used to be commonplace: IBM was International Business Machines, while Yahoo! stands for Yet Another Hierarchically Organized Oracle. If your in pharma you’ve got to deal with strict government regulations when it comes to naming a new drug. For instance the F.D.A. will running handwriting tests on potential names to check that pharmacists won’t confuse it with another drug when written on a prescription. There’s an art to creating a good name (one for which naming and branding companies charge hefty fees. And there’s a little bit of science too. Stanford University linguistics professor Will Leben found from experiments that “the physical characteristics of sound are what determine associations.” He asked students questions like: Which sounds faster, “fip” or “fop”? “Fip” was faster than “fop” because of the way the sounds were generated in the mouth. “Fip” feels lighter and faster because the vocal tract is open only a small amount. Pentium begins with a plosive that signifies energy, power and dynamism. The “S” of the Swiffer mop makes it sound fast and easy. Karl Ulrich of Wharton studied the traits of domain names that attracted more traffic to a website. Domain names of seven characters or less tended to yield higher traffic. Visitors to a website would decrease by 7% if the domain name was expanded to 10 characters. Adding a number to a domain name also helped increase traffic by 8.19%. Using a hyphen the name can lower a website’s rank by 2.9%. While there are few hard and fast rules for creating a great name, here are some useful guidelines.
A great product is more important than a great name. A great name can’t fix a bad product, whereas a great product can fix a bad name. Names that seem dumb at first will grow to be loved if the product is truly useful. Google isn’t a clever name unless the search engine is truly faster and smarter.
Spell it like it sounds. If you have to spell out a name for it to be understood you’ve created an extra barrier. There are many exceptions (Lyft, for one) but with the rise of Siri, Alexa and other voice recognition software try and make the name as easy to understand as possible.
Keep it short. People need to process information quickly. Small mobile phone screens accentuate this need. Y Combinator tries to keep startup names down to two syllables, names like eBay, Yahoo!, Google, Reddit,and so on.
Make it distinctive in the category. Distinctive names get more attention, arouse curiosity and have a better chance of being accepted as trademark.
Start it with a plosive sound. Plosives are consonants such as b, c, d, g, k, p, and t, which, when pronounced, produce an explosive, popping sound. Brand names beginning with plosives produce significantly better recall and recognition.
Make it meaningful. It should be reflective - though not necessarily descriptive - of product benefits. Names like Budget, Sprint, Slender are pretty straightforward claims, while others may conjure up a mental image. They suggest a spirit, feeling or emotion (Lunesta is like the moon). Match the emotions aroused by the name with the emotions you want them to experience.
Keep it simple. Simple information is more easily understood and learned. If you don’t make it simple enough often consumers will do it themselves For example, a Chevrolet becomes a Chevy, a Corvettebecomes a ‘Vette, Coca-Cola becomes Coke and Pan American Airlinesbecame Pan Am.
Try for the dot com. Even though there are now hundreds of other top level domains (TLDs) available (like .co or .pro) a .com is still the best choice if you can get one. It’s less gimmicky and usually gives better SEO results. Some TLD’s have baggage: for a while the .ly was really popular, but then the civil war happened in Libya.
Don’t bank on trading-up your URL. Many tech startups start with a URL they plan to simplify later when thy have the money. It’s a risky strategy because as your company becomes more successful the higher that simpler name will cost you. Ultimately, Box.net bought Box.com, Flickr.com bought Flicker.com, and GetDropBox.com bought DropBox.com but they were only able to make these acquisitions because they had enormous capital.
Give it tension. Names that combine ideas or that aren’t normally found together have an attitude and make a statement (Punk + Marketing = Punk Marketing).
US Patent and Trademark search
Sketchengine.co.uk to discover typical and uncommon words
Onelook.com for word search
Rhymezone.com to find words that rhyme
LeanDomainSearch.com to generate word combinations
Domai.nr to generate clever abbreviations
Wordoid.com to generate fictitious word derivations
BuyDomains.com and Sedo.com to buy domains already owned but available to buy for a price
NameLayer.com and Namecore.com for inventories of premium domain names
Namecheckr.com to see which social handles are available