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What's in a name? Your success or failure

Posted by Jason Keith  October 28, 2011 06:00 AM

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Quick, what’s the most recognizable company in the world? 

Is it Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart, Target or McDonalds? 

There is no right answer, but each has a unique name and brand that is associated with it.  Did you know that Google’s name was actually “Back Rub” before they did some brainstorming and decided on Google?  As it turns out Google is a play on the word “googol,” a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. The use of the term reflects founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. Imagine where we’d be if we had to say we “back rubbed” the answer to a question online?

No one could have predicted what the power of that name would actually be, becoming a verb and synonymous with online search, but it was unique from the start.  Naming a business is never easy, nor is it something that should be taken lightly.  Some of the biggest companies in the world have changed names and “rebranded” because the old name or brand was no longer effective. That’s always risky, and there have been a number of branding disasters, including Coke going with a “new recipe” as an example.  There’s a commercial running now where the auto body shop is named “AAAAAAAAAAAAA+ Auto Body,” because the owner wants to appear first in the phone book.  It’s a clever way to show how a name is important, but should be thought out. 

While no one should adopt a shameful tactic like that one, what a small business owner should do is really consider what the name of a business to be, how it will resonate with customers and also what its staying power will look like. Think about whether or not the name should be trademarked as a business name as well.  While every business name is unique, they all fall into a specific bucket. Here are some of the categories as well as the caveats to consider when choosing a name.    

The family name:  Easily one of the most popular options, this one is traditionally passed down from generations. Craftsmen and restaurants tend to use the family name.  Well established businesses usually don’t have to worry about keeping mindshare, but if you have a common last name you could be in some for some competition.  Another thing to consider when using your name for a business, it might be harder to get a corresponding web domain, something you should always research ahead of time. 

The Acronym: ASICS shoe company is a good example of a company that uses an acronym for its name. ASICS actually stands for Anima Sana ICorpore Sano, which, translated from Latin, means "Healthy soul in a healthy body." Where this can help is with the domain name you ultimately have to buy, and it may help you be more recognizable or memorable to a customer. The only downfall to this approach is that oftentimes the meaning of the acronym is lost over time, though that may not matter as much to an individual. 

Play on Words:  Think of names like “Hair and Now,” as an example.  The upside of these types of names is that they are very memorable and when well thought out, immediately remind the customer what the business does.  The downside is that because you’re potentially competing online, the chances are greater someone has thought of a generic name that’s a play on words.  It’s also potentially trademarked, which could bring legal problems if duplicated.  But one thing that a playful name can help tremendously with is marketing materials.  Incorporating a great name with a unique logo can put a brand image over the top, even if it’s just a local business. 

A few alternative things to keep in mind when coming up with a name: make easy to pronounce, simple to remember and quick to resonate with customers.  In other words, make sure the business name tells people what you do quickly and effectively, no matter which tactic you choose.  Leaving people guessing will mean they move on to someone that does make it easy to relate to. 

How did you pick your business name?  Were you forced to change, or have you been thinking about changing?  

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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