Kathleen Brooks
Q. I’ve got a great idea for a business, but I’m struggling to find a name. How do I go about it?

A.The first step is to look at the nature of the service you are providing and use that as a way to come up with conceptual themes, says David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, a leading brand valuation firm. For example, if you are starting a financial services firm the themes you might think of could include simplicity and value for money. Once you have a long list of potential names now is the time to do a trademark search to make sure that no one else “owns” that name. If you don’t do this then you might find out that another company owns it after you have launched your product or service. This is disastrous, since the company that owns the name can get a court injunction that can stop you from trading. Haigh’s advice to an entrepreneur is to seek advice from a trademark attorney who specialises in searching for trademarks against your chosen name. Haigh says that this process can take months and entrepreneurs should factor that in when planning their business.

Q. I am thinking about using my name for my company, what is your advice about this?

A.What’s in a name? Well, a lot actually if it’s your identity as well. “You have to be sure not to muddy your name because it will be the first thing that customers see,” says Tim Jeffrey director at brand consultant i-am associates. It can also have implications if you want to sell your business in the future. Jeffrey says that you need to make sure there are caveats in place so that your name does not become associated with something you would not be happy with. Jeffrey points out that some of the most successful brands in recent memory have not included the name of the entrepreneur behind them. For example, Richard Branson’s Virgin and Anita Roddick’s Body Shop.

Q. So if I don’t want to use my own name, where can I get inspiration from?

A. The cardinal rule is that the name should reflect your brand’s strategy. Both Haigh and Jeffrey recommend that you don’t come up with your name before you have your strategy, target market and business proposition clear in your mind. “The quality of what you can offer will be more important than a name or a fancy website,” says Haigh. “Although both of those things are extremely important, your success comes from what it is that you can offer that’s new, not your brand.” Haigh says that there is a trend to choose a name that doesn’t actually mean anything.
This has worked well for document management firm, xerox. They can also be easier to trademark. Once you have gone through all the steps noted above and have found a name that is not owned by someone else, you also need to make sure you do a rigorous linguistic and colloquialism check. This is especially important if you plan to move into foreign markets. Haigh gives the example of when General Motors tried to launch the Chevrolet Nova in South America. Apparently they were unaware that Nova in Spanish means “it won’t go.”