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What’s In Your Company Name?

Just how important is your company name? Does it let customers know what you do? Is it memorable? Is it difficult to pronounce? Does it tie into what service you provide? Does it make sense?


For example:

  • Xerox (the original copier company): comes from Xerography = greek word ‘Ceros’ which means ‘dry’ and ‘graphs’ which means ‘writing’

  • Volvo: ‘Volvere’ is a latin verb for the word ‘roll’ — like in the word re’volve’er. Created by a Swedish firm that made bearings, Volvo means ‘to roll’

  • McDonalds: The original McDonalds brothers Dick and Mac sold their rights to milk shake salesman Ray Kroc

  • Nike: The Greek goddess of victory

As a fun side note, if you plan to go international, the name can have catastrophic consequences. Originally, in China, Coca-Cola first translated as “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”. After a lot of work and 40,000 Chinese characters later, they came up with a phonetic equivalent that means “happiness in the mouth”. Or take Pepsi’s slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” ended up in Chinese translation as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. Ouch!

In the long run, with the proper marketing and branding, does the name really make a difference? It might…and it might not. For the older generation, asking someone to make a Xerox meant to make a copy. The newer generation doesn’t equate the company name with that action. You may not know that Dick and Mac are the original McDonalds brothers or that Ray Kroc cheated them out of fortunes, but every one that’s had a Happy Meal knows McDonalds. And yes, I can still sing the Big Mac song.

But if you’re just starting out in business and don’t have a million dollar marketing and advertising budget, you might want to choose your business name wisely. A company name like ‘Jim’s Plumbing’ makes sense: we all know what Jim does. Or ‘Brewin’ Java’: I’d look forward to a great cup of Joe. But what if you wanted to go with ‘Ducks Cleaning’: you might think that Aflac’s siblings started a cleaning business — Maybe instead they clean ‘duct’ work. With a strong marketing and branding campaign, I can see their logo as a cartoon duck holding a chimney sweep/or broom and that would make it fun.

I was once given a business card (still a fantastic form of advertising!) where the company name was D I G. When I asked what that stood for, the guy told me his girlfriend keeps telling him: Damn I’m Good. Too much ego to fit on such a small card. He never got our business.

Another consideration when choosing a company name is whether it’s available as a domain for your website. Most people assume you have a .com as part of your domain and some web browsers will automatically put that in as you type. You should always try to choose YourCompany.com. Try your best to stay with a .com. Don’t buy the .org or .net if the .com is owned by someone that has a very similar business (even if they don’t, it’s not a good idea). Conversely, if you can, go ahead and at least purchase the .org and .net of the same name so you can prevent the competition from using them. You can always ‘point’ them to your real website. If you’re a non-profit, reverse everything I just suggested and buy the .org and try to purchase the .com so you can re-point that.

How important is your company name? How much time do you have — would you rather give someone your 30-second elevator speech and start a conversation about your services or spend precious time explaining to them what your business name means.

Finally, try and keep words like Best, Quality and Professional out of your name or slogan/tag line. Did you ever see anyone market their services as ‘Almost Best’, ‘Mid Quality’ or even ‘Amateur’? Of course not, so don’t waste precious real estate when it comes to your business name.

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