What’s in a Name?

The other day driving from a scouting session for real estate with my best friend, we came across a bed and breakfast motel called The Paclice Inn. I remember asking my friend why anyone would want to give their inn a name that would associate them with the little bugs that nobody wants to see or hear about in their homes let alone in a hotel! He told me to quit being critical and this being Africa, it was possible that the hotel name was owned by partners who had abbreviated their names – something like Pascal and Clarice. As we drove we discussed how people named businesses and that formed a base for our discussion in Esteemed.

In a lot of cultures, people have a great value for their family names and they would fight to have them up there on a tall building with neon lights, so people can know who is responsible for the products and services. There are certain professions like the legal fraternity where law firms maintain the founding partners’ names and that’s okay unless the names suggest dishonesty or something weird that would make people wonder what they are dealing with. However, when we are dealing with services and products that require brand recognition, it is not advisable to use family names at all. Let us look at some pointers about business names.

Uniqueness – This is pretty obvious given that a business cannot be registered in the name of another business. However, beyond this obvious fact, is the fact that one should try as much as possible to get a name that makes them stand out of the rest of the pack in the industry. In a location where there are 50 salons and majority of them are named after the owner or after the owner’s children, you can go a step further in your creativity to get a name that is unique and represents your values, or the kind of service delivery you are to be known for. For business that would go beyond its humble beginnings into the national or international scene through franchise or purely expansion, your unique name will make it easy to enter into bigger markets.

Ease of pronunciation & remembrance – In choosing a name, place yourself in the position of consumers, potential business partners, investors, venture capitalists, and the media among others who are outsiders to your business. The more complex your business name, the easier it is for people to misspell it, mispronounce it and miss you all together. Your name will appear on your business cards, or your website URL, social media handles, email address and even on your packaging and branding materials. You don’t want people missing out on the positives about your business because they are trying to spell or remember your company name! When doing business with foreigners, you don’t want them in the awkward position where they spend five minutes being taught how to spell your

name and eventually spend the rest of the meeting referring to the business as your company.

Separate the brand from the company – When many people think about buying milk from the shop, or tissue paper or any of our daily use products, they barely check the name of the company. They look for the brand and only when something happens and the company behind the brand is highlighted, do we get to know that the brand is owned by the company. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the product segment.

In the services sector, the hospitality sector also stands out as one which builds the brand more than the company that owns the brand. A little well-known secret is that when mergers and acquisitions or buy outs happen, it is not so much the company behind the product! It is more about the brand and its equity in the market. With this, unless your company name is your brand, it pays greatly to let the brand take a life of its own rather than have it stay in the shadow of the company name.

Associative – Meaning that the business name would easily depict and be co-related to the product or service. The question to ask here is, when customers hear or say my business name, what is the first thing that comes to their mind? I have seen an IT company with a name that suggests that they do detergents.

For a while I even believed that they did until I saw their billboard advert with a tagline that made me know they were heavy players in the telecommunication sector. I have also come across a frozen yoghurt brand whose owner had named the same as the company/ business name. The problem was that the company had started as a cafe that was well known for herbal tea and its name had the word ‘tea’. When they expanded into yoghurt, they gave the same name to the yoghurt. When the business grew, and they were set to go into ice cream manufacturing, clearly the name was no – no for them. Even their bankers thought they did tea processing. Business owners should strive to name their business in a way that it will conjure up the idea of the industry they are in or product they are giving to the market.


The process of naming your business is not cast in stone but we can make a few helpful suggestions that will set you on the path of having a good business name.

Brainstorm a list of words that describe your business. It helps to sit with your circle of influence (i.e. the significant people in your life that you consult when making life changing decisions) and get various ideas for the appropriate name to give the business. Your circle of influence knows you more than anyone else and more often than not, they are people who are well meaning in your life. They would not like to see you fall and that is why they give you honest feedback and information. You can also brainstorm with identified business partners and see what you come up with. It helps to also include a consultant who has been in the field for a while to advise if it will work or not.

Test it out. Once you have settled on a name, try it out with the circle of influence and even beyond in the market place. See how it sounds when you introduce yourself. Depending on the reactions of those who hear it, you can know whether or not you have a selling name for your business. The way to look at it, can you see your staff members wearing branded attire saying they are proud to work for a company called ……………?

See the end then come back to the beginning. Start-ups and small businesses can be compared to newborns or little children. The names by which you call them can influence either their acceptance, ridicule or outright shunning from those they interact with. I know of a company which introduced a brand in one of the East African countries where the Chinese brands had really become dominant. Because they were an international brand they could not change their name which sounded Chinese (synonymous to low quality in the public eye). It was an uphill task for them to overcome this perception. You must see your business from where it will be long after you are gone from it, if that is your vision. That way, you will give it a name that reverberates across the globe.

Learn from your competition. Mr. David Placek of Lexicon suggests that you list the names of all your competitors

and make a commitment not to copy them. I would dare add that that you should also list down their tag lines and

commit to generate something unique that is not seen to be in competition or a direct opposite of the competitor. Your business is unique and set apart. That only forms a basis of a unique name.

Trademark your name. While it seems like an expensive and tiresome process, it is not. The name you choose for your business is an asset in the making and you don’t want it messed up later because it wasn’t protected from the start.


The right name can make your company unforgettable in the minds of people. The wrong name can cripple you even before you start.

In a perfect setting, your name should primarily reflect your values, your uniqueness and your promise to the customers.

An effective marketing strategy capitalizing on your name is recommended as you start out.

Consider talking to a business image consultant who has more experience in image management especially if the success of your business will be influenced by the name you use.

People prefer words they can relate to and understand.

Protect your unique name with a trademark. It helps especially

when you spread to the international space; not to mention in case of a buyout, you not only sell the company, but the name normally fetches handsomely when trademarked.

Avoid using a map to name your business. When you expand, your location name will not have an appeal with the

international market.

Do not be afraid to rebrand. It can make a huge difference when people see you differently. Even big companies rebrand.

Even the creators of Google had a hard time naming their soon-to-be-huge business. At first, Larry Page and Sergey Brin—the creators of the well-known search engine—called the site BackRub. When the site started gaining popularity, they realized it needed a better name and came up with Google, which refers to the number 1 with 100 zeros behind it. It’s meant to reflect the infinite amount of information that can be found online.

The shorter the name the easier it is to remember. People have too much to think about and a long product name is not their priority.

Naming the business is the first major decision any entrepreneur needs to make right after deciding what

business they want to be in.

For more insights to help with the dynamic issues around public relations we recommend the book “Naming Your Business and Its Products and Services: How to Create Effective Trade Names, Trademarks, and Service Marks to Attract Customers, Protect (Small Business Bookshelf Series) by Phil Williams”



“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” DR. SEUSS

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” MAHATMA GANDHI

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” J. K. ROWLING, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

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