What’s in a Business Name?

Published February 14, 2019 By Angela D’Alton

how to choose a name for your small business by Angela D'Alton

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“…that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”

Juliet, a Capulet
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Well Romeo is likely to be a sweet name in anyone’s opinion, but honestly it sounds like he was such a hottie that it didn’t matter what his name was.

Does that work for a business name though? Not really, no.

My husband and I have a bit of a running joke when we are meandering through traffic and see the variety of businesses along the roadside. If we see a business that’s called something über simple like “Brookvale Chinese Restaurant”.

“….long meeting”.

It’s a sarcastic wink to the fact that it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s in Brookvale, it’s a Restaurant and they serve Chinese food. Business name meeting done and dusted in 5 minutes.

Now there’s ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with making that choice, it’s just interesting to note that some business types are skewed to practicality and sticking to the basics, whereas for many other industries, business names are a creative force to be reckoned with.

Like the famous punny business names that hairdressers employ, for example.

Now thinking about you and your business, and what you’re going to call yourself when you’re just getting started….. whilst it can be a short meeting (see above) it can also be something you could labour over forever.

Don’t do that though, because you want to get started running the business eventually.

So, here’s a few guidelines on how to choose the business name that’s right for YOU.

Firstly, you aren’t in a position to register a business name unless you have an Australian Business Number (ABN).  To find out more about that check the Australian Business Register website or have a chat to your accountant about what business set-up is best for you.

1. Brainstorm

This is where you get to go as crazy and outlandish as you wish and play around with the different business names you like.  

Is it just going to be named after you?  That’s easily unique for most people, but if you have a name that’s more ‘common’ you may wish to steer clear to avoid consumer confusion.  Rare or exotic names lend themselves to this option.

Think not just of your business but of your brand and what you want to convey.  Think of how to shortcut the communication of what your business is about to your potential customers.

Some industries PRIDE themselves on having obscure, hybrid, difficult to understand business names in an effort to appear somewhat superior and esoteric. Sure, sometimes that works too.

Think long term though, because boy do you have to say it a LOT.  Think about how it might look visually, the shapes of the letters.  Be creative and have a play around.

Now consider those that are the “stickiest”.  The ones that you feel you can say several times a day with confidence.  The one that rises to the top of the pile. The one that doesn’t make your friends screw their noses up.  The ones that you think will still be relevant in two years, five years or even 10 years. How does it go in Google search?

Think about the product offerings and making sure you haven’t narrowed your growth potential by being too specific.  

For example, if all you’ll make is watches for the foreseeable future, by all means consider including those products in your business name.  If you end up extending your business however, to repairs or jewellery design or engraving or key cutting it will be harder to communicate long term if you’ve boxed yourself in with a name like “Jane Doe Watchmaker” or “Watchmakers R Us”.

Start to whittle that list down to your favourite few to begin the research phase. Often the brainstorm and research actions will need to be done in tandem so that you don’t invest too much time and effort into possible business names you can’t use.

2. Research

This is why it’s important not to get too attached to one business name too soon.  The fact that it might already be taken.

You will need to check the ASIC business names registry to see if it’s available firstly, and again if it’s too similar to other business names and trademarks that are already registered.

As part of this research, and probably most importantly, you will need to see if the domain name is available for that business name that you’re seeking as well.  You don’t want to spend time and money registering a business name only to find out the domain name that matches it is taken.  Make sure you look closely at the .com and .com.au variations of the available domain names because you don’t want to have to use a .org (usually a non profit) or something like a .biz domain, unless you’re desperate (those never really caught on).

You will also want to have a good think about how that business name looks as a domain name.  Some words when placed directly next to one another can form some dubious secondary words that you may not wish to have associated with your brand or your business.

It’s also a good time to think about your competitors.  What are they called?  How do they communicate what they do to your shared target market?  How will you differentiate yourself from them? You could consider starting to assert your unique selling position using the name of your business, but perhaps it will form a larger part of your brand strategy which includes colours and other methods of communication to express your offerings.

If a lot of your business marketing strategy relies on Instagram or any specific social media channels, you may also want to verify the availability of handles within that medium to ensure they are as closely matched to your actual business name as possible.

Many of you who are starting larger businesses will also want to consider searching the IP Australia website for trademarks that may have been registered that might contain the wording of your potential business name.

3. Registration

Now that you’re ready to get serious and you’ve decided on your business name, it’s time to make it official.

Firstly, please don’t be fooled by Internet search engine advertisers that propose you use them to do this for you.  There’s a few businesses out there set up just to “really simply and easily” help you to set up your business by registering your business name and domain name for you, for a nominal fee.

This is, in my opinion, a waste of money.  These businesses charge what I consider an excessive amount for something you can very easily do for yourself.  It not only means you’ve spent additional money on starting your business, but it can cause issues later when you need vital domain ownership information for your web developers and it can get confusing, difficult, dramatic and sometimes nasty.

My strong suggestion is to do it all yourself, track all of your transactions, store all of the details and information securely and manage that yourself from the get-go.  You will find doing that extra bit of work up front may prevent icky situations later.

To register a business name as a sole trader, you simply follow these instructions found on the ASIC website.

Registering your domain name and setting up your website hosting service will be covered in an upcoming article soon, but the most important suggestion I can make to you based on my experience is to do BOTH of these things with the ONE business.

For example, if you know you’re going to want to host your website with a business such as NetRegistry, it will be about a thousand times easier (possible exaggeration for effect) if you’ve also registered your domain name with them from the get go.

So be clear, be simple, be creative and communicate as much about what you do from the very beginning as much as you can.  Ultimately you’ll have to say your business name a LOT, (a LOT), so it has to be something you’re OK with, that’s legally registered, and that works for you and more importantly for your business.

Caveat: This advice is for businesses based in Australia. No liability is taken by DBP in providing this opinion-based advice.

Through our mentorships, DBP can support you in your choice of business name, business planning and brand strategy for both sole traders and small to medium businesses.


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