Insights from 19,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

How to Avoid Having a Cringey or Embarrassing Business Name

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This article first appeared on MediaPost.

Put yourself in this scenario: you’re ecstatic about your new business, and you’re excitedly telling everyone you know about your plan. Suddenly, someone asks what your business is called. When you give them an answer, the last reaction you want is awkward silence or laughter.

No matter how innovative your business idea is, if you pick the wrong name for your business, you’re in trouble. A business name should appeal to your specific audience and help you succeed. Bad or embarrassing business names drive customers away, especially if they are offensive, dishonest, or embarrassing.

Your name sounds like its copying another, similar business

Infringing on another company’s brand, even if it was unintentional, looks bad. Customers gravitate away from dishonest or untrustworthy brands, so it is important to do your research before you settle on your brand name. If the name seems too perfect to be true, it might just be.

Hypothetically, let’s say you’re looking to open a coffee company. You want to focus on quality beans and expertly-extracted espresso. You decide that your shop will have a hunting lodge theme because your favorite time to enjoy a warm cup of coffee is after a long day of hunting; the perfect name will reflect this. In your head, independent of influence, “star” for number one and “buck” for deer are perfect. Star-Buck! What a great coffee shop name!

Alas, the name StarBuck is far too close to the global coffee giant “Starbucks.” If you had decided to move forward with “StarBuck,” you would run into a few problems. One, your audience would be confused, wondering if you were affiliated with Starbucks. Two, you might lose the trust of your audience because your name is misleading. Three, you would run into legal issues.

Trademark law is a daunting subject, but doing your research pays off. Go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to run a trademark search on all the business names you are considering, or hire a trademark attorney to do a thorough check for you. That way, you can avoid dealing with cease-and-desist letters or legal battles.

Your name means something offensive in another language

In today’s world of globalization, you should always consider the possibility that your brand will reach across borders.

In 2011, Nokia released a phone under the name “Lumia.” If they had done more careful research, they would have realized that “Lumia” is a Spanish slang term for “prostitute.” This is a negative association, and as such, the phone did not perform well in Spanish-speaking markets. Coca-Cola ran into a similar issue when the name translated to “Bite the Wax Tadpole” in China. They had to rebrand in the Chinese market, and now is known as Kekoukele, which translates to “tasty fun.”  

Run your potential business name through translation software and do a quick Google search. Otherwise, you may end up driving away a demographic that would otherwise consider your product or service.

Your name targets the wrong audience

Your brand name is not just about you and your values, it should also appeal to the values and desires of your audience. If you miss the mark on this one, you may drive your audience away the way Pepsi did with their 2017 Kendall Jenner commercial in which Jenner uses a can of Pepsi to resolve a riot. The ad sparked outrage among pro  

Think of your business name as an essential part of your branding strategy. If it does not fit into your desired presence, how will it fit into the lives of your desired audience? Let’s say you’re building out a brand of headsets and controllers geared towards serious video gamers. Most video game gear brands have edgy names like Razer and Alienware, and that’s because the audience largely responds to these themes. If you decided to call your product line “Peace Valley,” you probably will not snag the gaming demographic. Maybe you love the name (and we do too), but just not for this audience and this brand.

Before settling on a business name, take a look at successful businesses in your industry or some winning name ideas. Make a list of the best names’ strengths, then try to come up with original ideas that reflect the values of your audience.

Though you may think you have the perfect business name, extra research and time will ensure that your name will not drive an audience away. There is little worse that coming across as underprepared or foolish in the business world. Rebranding is a costly, time-consuming process, and being proactive about your brand pays off.

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