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A company’s name is the start of its story. With a single word or phrase, your name should convey what your company stands for—figuratively, literally, or sometimes both.

Too often, owners of small and medium-sized businesses underestimate the complexities of the naming process and fail to give it the time it deserves. Let’s take a look at what makes a name great and consider a process for choosing an exceptional name of your own.

What Makes a Company Name Exceptional?

I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort

Business owners know a good name when they hear one. Amazon, Pinterest, Burberry, the list goes on. But understanding what makes a strong name isn’t so simple. For the most part, exceptional company names accomplish the following:

Communicate something about the business

This can be done explicitly, the way Facebook literally suggests a book of faces, or more subtly, the way Target speaks to finding exactly what you are looking for.

Possess storytelling power

Your name is the foundation of your brand. An extraordinary name strikes the right tonality for your company and lends itself to creative storytelling. Think of Burt’s Bees, SoulCycle, or Method. All of these names laid the groundwork for effective branding.

Stay in the mind

Exceptional names get stuck in your head. They conjure something up or perhaps even make you feel something—like Pinkberry or the luxury travel platform Skylark. These kinds of names are just plain “sticky.”

It can be hard to objectively consider the merits of a name once it evolves into a well-known brand. The abovementioned names are etched in our collective consciousness, not just because they are good, but because the business owners successfully shaped their meaning. That said, you don’t have to have a six-figure marketing budget to create a fantastic name for your business. The process below will help guide you.

A 5-step Process to Naming Your Business

Naming Process


Photo Cred: Graphic courtesy of the River + Wolf eBook, “Hitting the Mark,” available for download at

Conduct Research

Before you can name your business, you need to understand what it does and what makes it unique. Take some time to document your value proposition and position in the marketplace. What makes you different from your competitors? Write down your answers, as the process could turn up some interesting words or phrases.

Establish Parameters

One of the hardest parts about naming is knowing where to start. Establish parameters so you can focus your efforts. Before embarking on the name development journey, consider the following:

  • Your key message. What do you want your name to telegraph? A name can generally convey one or two communications.
  • Your target market. Who are your customers? Think about their likes, dislikes, and common vernacular. You need a name that speaks to them.
  • Your main communication. For a new business, this can be challenging. You may not have a handle on your brand image yet. Don’t worry. Just be sure the name is broad enough to encompass company evolution. In example, the name Amazon was able to encompass the leap from an online bookstore to the digital juggernaut it is today.

Some common company naming tone choices include:








  • Your naming category. What kind of naming construction best fits your brand and message? There are lots of different types of names, from descriptive ones like BestBuy to fanciful marks that use made-up words to derive meaning, e.g., Zappos and Uniqlo. (You can read more on types of brand names here.) Decide if there are any types you prefer to focus on.

Develop Names

Okay, now it is time to get naming. This process entails different things for different people. Perhaps you begin working with different naming pathway routes individually, or maybe you prefer a less structured process, jumping between different routes. Maybe you will want to work alone, with others, or some combination. Whatever you choose to do be sure to carry a notebook as you move through your day—some of the best ideas arise unbidden or when seeing words in use. Be sure to come up with as many ideas as possible, and don’t become too attached to a mark until you’ve completed the screening process.

I like strong words that mean something

Create a Shortlist

After you have a list of at least 100 or so choices, review each one. Using the River + Wolf evaluating tool found in the River + Wolf naming guide, remove the bad options, highlight the good ones, and create a just-in-case list for the ones that fall somewhere in between. And remember your upfront strategy work. Is this name delivering on what you set out to do?

Try for a few strong options, because odds are all your choices won’t all “survive” step five.

Screen Your Names

Now you need to see if your finalists are legally viable. Please note, trademark law is a complicated subject. A brief section in a blog article is in no way a substitute for legal counsel.

You may be able do a preliminary screening (also known as a knockout search) yourself, in which you remove names that are obviously taken. This can be performed by using the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).

Even at this stage, however, we recommend using a qualified IP attorney, as there are so many variables when conducting a risk assessment. And once you get to full search, a top trademark attorney is essential. For more information, visit The United States Patent and Trademark Office Website.

As part of your screening process, you will want to see if a strong domain name is available. Don’t rule out a good name if its dotcom is taken or too expensive. URL workarounds have become increasingly common. Google chose for its company, Alphabet.

Visit Donuts for a list of creative and effective options.

You will also want to check social handles, if this is important, and if you are working in global market, a global linguistic search is strongly advised. We recommend Transatlantic Translations Group.

So there you have it – a five-step process to get you started on finding an impactful name for your business.

The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. Consider contacting a professional branding and naming firm to help guide you through the creative process and the legal complexities of naming your small business.

Margaret Wolfson
Margaret Wolfson
Founder + Chief Creative at

For more than a decade Margaret Wolfson has worked as a brand naming specialists for global and boutique agencies, leading out projects and developing names and brand stories for both established and emerging companies. In 2014, she founded River + Wolf, a brand naming service and messaging company. A sought after thought leader, she has been featured in media, including Forbes, The Next Web, the New York Times, and NBC to mention a few. In addition to her branding pursuits, Margaret is an award-winning author and accomplished artist-entrepreneur with a long history of producing/performing spoken arts concert throughout the world.