Have you ever wondered where the company name “Apple” actually comes from? The brand’s founder, Steve Jobs, came up with it after visiting an orchard. He thought the word sounded “fun, spirited, and not intimidating.”
While the company started out as “Apple Computers,” they now go by just plain “Apple.” And it’s perhaps the best example of a company name that doesn’t have any ties with its product—yet is famous as one of the world’s most recognizable brands. So, is there a trick to coming up with a business name that everyone loves?
In this article, we’ll show you how to name your business in 6 easy steps (orchard tour not included).
1. How to name a business legally
The legal requirements of choosing a business name are different depending on your country and business structure—ie. if you’ll be trading as a sole proprietor, a business partnership, a limited company, or a corporation.
Please note that Jimdo cannot and does not offer legal advice. In case of uncertainty, we recommend contacting a legal expert.
General rules that apply to every business name:
- It must not be misleading. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor you shouldn’t use a business name that ends in “Ltd.” or “Limited” as used by limited liability companies. Likewise, you shouldn’t call yourself a “furniture factory” if you only run a small carpentry workshop.
- It must not contain sensitive or offensive words.
- It must not be the same or very similar to an existing registered trademark.
You shouldn’t use a business name if:
- It’s the same or very similar to the name of a well-known company in your industry.
- It’s already been registered as a trademark (either as a federal trademark or a trademark in your state).
Always check for restrictions specific to your state, area or country. In the UK, for example, you’re not allowed to use a business name that suggests you’re connected to the government or local authorities unless you have permission.
Registering a business name in the US
Depending on your state, you may choose or be required to register your name as one or more of the following:
- An entity
- A trademark
- A DBA (Doing Business As) name
- A website domain name
You can learn more about how to register your business name from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Whichever option you choose, it’s important to:
- Check your name against several different sources. We cover this in more detail in Step 6.
- Check if your preferred name is already a registered trademark. Look in your state’s list of registered trademarks as well as in the list of federal trademarks, which apply in all states.
You don’t have to register your trademark to have one, but doing so will help you protect it if you ever need to.
Registering a business name in the UK
How you register a business name in the UK depends on your business structure—ie. if you’re a sole trader, a limited company or a business partnership. You can learn more about registering a business in the UK and how to choose a company name from GOV.UK. Here’s a quick guide:
- Sole trader. You don’t need to register your business name. But you might run into problems if customers are confused between your company and another business.
- Limited company or limited liability partnership. You need to name your company because even if you’re the only person who works for your business, it’s separate from you. Before you use a name, you’ll need to check if it’s available with Companies House and that it’s not already a registered trademark. More on this in Step 6.
- Business partnership. You don’t need to register your business name. You can choose a business name or use your own names, but you need to include all this information on paperwork like invoices and letters.
2. What does your business stand for?
Like your professional logo, your company name should reflect what you do and what your business stands for. Not sure? Start by asking yourself:
What is your product or service?
You know what you do, but how do you explain it to others? Try to describe your offer in a few words, just like you would in a quick elevator pitch. This will help you pin down the key messages you want to communicate to customers.
Who are your target customers?
Are your hand-knitted wool hats meant to be a fashion accessory for ski bunnies, or to keep Grandma Smith’s head warm in winter? Your company name should match the people you’re speaking to, just like your brand tone of voice does.
What are your company values?
Your core values are the things you believe as a business. Are you committed to using sustainable materials, sourcing local suppliers, or taking risks? Your values tell the world who you are and how you do business.
Of course, your name doesn’t have to reflect all of these things at once—just the essence of your business. It should convey the same feeling your customers get when they first hold your product in their hands or meet your team.
3. Find the right words for your company name
Now you know what makes your business special, it’s time to get creative!
- Brainstorm words and phrases that describe what you offer. For hand-knitted hats, for example, we might write down “handmade,” “wool,” “warm,” “unique,” and even “with love.” You can do this on your own or get your family, friends or business partners to help.
- Make a list of all your favorite words. At first glance, these words might not say much about your business but they should evoke some kind of positive feeling.
- Research, research, and research some more. Get on Google and search for the names of your competitors, or other websites and businesses you like. While you shouldn’t copy someone’s name, you might be inspired by a concept, idea, or just the way they’ve put words together. Open your dictionary, look at what’s around you, listen to music—just gather as many ideas from different places as you can.
Need inspiration? There are lots of free online tools you can use to generate a business name. Most of the time, they simply combine the terms you enter with random words, but it can help shake up your thinking.
4. Experiment with your favorite words
Hopefully, after brainstorming and researching, you still have a little creativity left. Take the words you’ve collected and play around with them. Combine them with each other, add different endings (like “Spotify”), translate them into other languages… Let your imagination run wild.
Exciting company names can even emerge from your own name. Sports brand “Adidas” was named after its founder, Adolf “Adi” Dassler, by shortening his name. And car manufacturer “Audi” is the Latin translation of founder August Horch’s surname, which is German for “listen”.
Pay attention to the following when creating your words:
- The name should be easy to pronounce. “Fantazmahats” might suggest you sell fantastic hats, but it’s not easy to say or spell.
- It should be catchy. “Dream cap and hat shop” is easy to pronounce, but it’s boring. Short is usually best, so something like “Dream Cap” would be better.
- Ideally, it conveys a message, a benefit or an image. This can be more abstract like “Apple” or more specific like “Audible.”
- Don’t limit yourself. Avoid using city names, genders, or other terms that could unnecessarily restrict your customer base. “Hamburg Hiking Gear,” for example, gives the impression that you’re only active in Hamburg. And if you sell products for men and women, “The Fashionable Man” is not a great name.
What about using your own name as a company name? Here are some pros and cons of that approach.
5. Test your business name
Now you should have a few potential business names. But what does the rest of the world think of them?
Share your top choices with your friends and family and ask for their honest opinions. Even if the feedback isn’t positive, it’s better to hear it now rather than after you’ve printed up your business cards, branded your products, and opened your online store. Good or bad, feedback can give you a fresh perspective and help you come up with an even better name.
You don’t want to go public just yet, especially if you haven’t checked the availability of your potential business names. So resist posting anything online or creating a poll on social media.
6. How to check business name availability
Did any of your favorites pass the family and friends test? If they did, it’s time to check if those names are available. If you’re struggling to decide between a few options, this might help you decide.
Can you have the same business name as another company?
These days, it’s hard to find a business name that’s truly unique. The exact rules depend on where you want to trade.
But the basic rule is that several companies may have the same name, providing they are geographically far away enough from each other, not in a similar industry or selling a similar product, and not on the same trademark register or—for limited companies in the UK—not using a name that’s already registered with Companies House.
If customers are likely to confuse your company with a competitor or another business in your local area, you should avoid using that name. All it takes is a quick Google search to get this information.
The situation is different if the other company has registered its name as a brand. Then the trademark law comes into play, which is much more complicated. For example, brand awareness and age also play a role. Without going into too much detail, the chances that you can call your business “Apple” or “Adidas” are pretty much zero.
That’s why it’s really important to do a trademark search for your favorite names. Here are some essential sources for the US, UK, and Europe:
- USPTO Trademark Database (US). This database includes all trademarks that are registered in the United States, at the federal level.
- Check for trademarks registered in your state (US). Not all small businesses will register their name as a federal trademark, especially if they only operate within their own state. So it’s essential to check your local trademark database too.
- Company name availability checker (UK). The Companies House Register includes the name of every limited company in the UK, so if you plan to be an Ltd. you should run any potential names through this first. This list doesn’t include “sole traders” who might be using the same name.
- Intellectual Property Office (UK). You can use this to search all trademarks that are registered in the UK.
- European Union Intellectual Property Office (Europe). This database lists trademarks registered at European level.
If you want to trademark the name of your business, product or brand name, you can submit an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
If your new business name (or one very similar to it) doesn’t appear in any of the relevant databases, then you’re probably on the safe side when it comes to trademark law. If you’re not sure, get advice from a legal professional.
Check if the domain is available
If your business name is available, great! The next step is to see what domains are available, since your new business will need a website. If your ideal domain isn’t available, don’t worry. You might be able to use a variation or another domain ending.
Click the button below to use Jimdo’s domain search and see what options are available!