When it comes to naming your business, something seemingly so trivial is actually a big deal. If you take a look at some of the big brands like Nike, Starbucks or Nordstrom; there isn’t really a direct link in each name as to what their product is, yet their names garner instant recognition. On the other hand, there are also tons of other successful businesses that have very utilitarian names. Take Wapiti, for example; our name is very utilitarian. What do we do? We help you shout your brand.

In this article, I’m going to lead you through some of the questions you can ask yourself to help you choose a name fitting for your business.

Initial branding: Choosing a name for your business 

One of my recent business ventures just went through this process of choosing a name, so I’m going to use it as an example to help point out the best questions you can ask yourself. The business was building an online training course for teaching people to paint with acrylic paints. It's a pretty cool system, it works really well, and the videos are ultra high quality. The gentleman that I'm doing this with is a great instructor, a really intelligent guy and a very good artist. We came up with the idea of what we wanted to do, made our agreement and got to work. 

The first question that came up was what do we call this business? We had to develop a little bit of branding to get moving. After much thought and discussion, we came down to the decision that it should be called Acrylic University. That decision wasn't made easily - looking back, it seems like such an easy answer now, but there was a lot of debate and a lot of time involved in choosing that name. Besides simply choosing the name, there were extraneous things to think about, too: was the web URL was available; if not, what's the best one we could get? An unavailable URL can literally destroy the name ideas you come up with, especially for an online company like Acrylic University, and you'd have to go back to the drawing board. 

What do you sell/do?

When you're trying to figure out your branding, the first question you need to ask yourself is what do you sell, or what do you do? Looking again at Acrylic University as an example: it is an online training course for using acrylic paint. The keywords “acrylic” and “online courses” sound kind of university-esque, so the name seemed to really fit with what we were trying to accomplish. We were able to find a name that strongly targets the “what do you sell” part of this question. If you are a sweet old lady who sells knitted boots, maybe your name is “Grandma's Knitted Boots” or something to that effect. You've got a name that really appeals to your target, and it also talks about what you do, or in this case, what you are selling.

Who is your target?

The next question is who is your target? For Acrylic University, our goal was to target people who want to learn how to paint, have great instruction, and have different things they can print out and use. Also, they want to have a full-time, professional artist teaching them. Therefore, the word “university” seemed to appeal to what we were trying to target. Again, we were also trying to target people who wanted to paint specifically with acrylics. We felt “Acrylic University” played to what we were trying to accomplish and target - people who want to learn from the best how to paint with acrylics.

Should your name be witty or normal?

Another question is if your name should be witty, or should it be normal? Take the photo management site Flickr, for example. Flickr was started as a place to hold your photos and show off your photos. The word Flickr kind of makes you think of a camera clicking, which seems “normal” for a photo site, but then the way it is spelled makes it more of a “witty” brand. I consider Wapiti to be a bit witty. It plays to the shouting your brand, or in other words, communicating what it is you do to the world. Acrylic University, on the other hand, is not witty at all. Somebody may interpret the university part as slightly witty, but it's made to be very straightforward, targeted and focused on who it is that we are targeting as clients and on what we're offering them. 

Should your company name contain keywords or be unique?

The last question is should your company name contain keywords or should it be unique? (Of course, there are plenty more questions you can ask, but I want to keep these articles to a snackable size where you can take in some info, and then take some action for your business.) Wapiti is actually a pretty keyword-centric name. We are a branding company, so putting the word “Brand” in there is pretty powerful. “Shouter” gives it a bit of uniqueness, but it's still pretty keyword heavy; it's really focused on our target. Acrylic University is the same, following a keyword-centric, naming model: it is an e-learning course for learning to paint with acrylics. 

Conversely, Nike is NOT keyword driven. Nike is a big enough company now that their name could be considered a keyword, but their name in and of itself does not tell people what they do or sell. If I started a new business today called Nike, my business name is not going to help me find clients, and it's not going to help clients figure out what I do. I'm going to have to rely on other marketing to do that. 

An example of a company that is a blend of unique and keyword driven might be MOD Pizza. It’s becoming an increasingly popular chain restaurant and one I like to frequent to build my own pizza. “MOD” is kind of a unique name, meaning nobody's going to go online and search for MOD Pizza without actually knowing the brand exists. I’m guessing it stands for “modified” or “modifications” but I certainly wouldn’t search for “MOD” to find a restaurant where I can build my own pizza. On the other hand, “pizza” is very keyword-centric. It's pretty straightforward. 

What’s in a name?

You need to make the decision between how your name fits who you are, how your name displays you to your potential clients, is there something clever about your name that makes it stick, or is your name just so obvious as to what you do that it sticks in that regard?

I think so many people make a big deal out of their business name. I have literally spent days chatting with people about different business name ideas, and in the end, the conversation has gotten to be so long that you just settle on something so you can move on. It’s usually a really good name, but you feel like you're settling. Or, you waste so much time and end up being frustrated because you can't find that name that just clicks with everybody.

The reality is there you can have success regardless of your name and this is something to keep in mind while picking. Don't get too caught up on the details – you could pick an amazing name and go out of business, and you could pick a horrible name and be successful. It's really about your business more than it is about the name. That said, your name can help and play a part in your success as a business.


The point I want to drive home is this: you want your name to answer the four questions I asked.

  1. What is it that you sell or do?
  2. Who is your target?
  3. Do you want it to be witty or do you want it to be normal?
  4. Does it contain any keywords or are you going for something just absolutely unique?

Your name does not definitively decide your company and how it succeeds, but it definitely is a connector to people's minds. Therefore, you want to think it through and come up with something good that reflects all of these questions. Once you've done that, you are ready to get moving on building your brand under that name.