How to pick a name for your startup: a step-by-step guide

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  1. Introduction
  2. 1. Brain dump, then brainstorm
  3. 2. Expose yourself to sources of inspiration
  4. 3. Create two separate lists of names
  5. 4. Rule out names with negative associations
  6. 5. Look at the competition
  7. 6. Conduct a trademark search
  8. 7. Keep it simple
  9. 8. Choose a name that will grow with your business
  10. 9. Consider ownability
  11. 10. Get outside perspective
  12. 11. Go with your gut
  13. How Stripe can help
    1. The Stripe Atlas application
    2. Forming the company in Delaware
    3. Getting your IRS tax ID (EIN)
    4. Purchasing your shares in the company
    5. Filing your 83(b) tax election
    6. Partner perks and discounts

Selecting the perfect name for your startup is a creative exercise – but it also has far-reaching implications. Your company's name is often the first point of contact potential customers have with your business, shaping their initial impressions and expectations. A well-chosen name can enhance your brand's image, foster customer connections and contribute significantly to its marketability and recall. A poorly chosen name can hinder marketing efforts, confuse customers and even lead to costly legal issues.

The process of finding the ideal name that aligns with your business vision, appeals to your target audience and stands out in a crowded market is often a complex and challenging task. Below, you'll find a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to pick a name for your startup. From brainstorming and seeking inspiration, to trademark searches, assessing ownability and ultimately trusting your gut, this guide will help you simplify the naming process.

What's in this article?

  • Brain dump, then brainstorm
  • Expose yourself to sources of inspiration
  • Create two separate lists of names
  • Rule out names with negative associations
  • Look at the competition
  • Conduct a trademark search
  • Keep it simple
  • Choose a name that will grow with your business
  • Consider ownability
  • Get outside perspective
  • Go with your gut

1. Brain dump, then brainstorm

Choosing a name for your startup begins with a free-flowing "brain dump" where you write down every name, idea, word or concept related to your business, without any self-editing or judgment. Allocate a block of uninterrupted time for this and consider different aspects of your startup, such as the mission, key value propositions, target audience and problem that it solves. Avoid prejudging or dismissing any thoughts at this stage, as it could limit your creativity.

Once your mind is decluttered, move on to brainstorming. This step is about refining and expanding the raw ideas that you've generated. Review and categorise your list, spotting patterns and making connections. It can be beneficial to involve others such as co-founders or mentors to gain fresh perspectives. Both brain dumping and brainstorming are iterative, and you might revisit these steps multiple times. This thorough approach ensures that your startup name is innovative, resonates with your business and creates the right first impression.

2. Expose yourself to sources of inspiration

Once the brainstorming stage has provided you with a broad range of ideas, the next step in naming your startup involves seeking inspiration from various sources. This process is about enriching your perspective, triggering your creativity and discovering unexplored territories that could contribute to your startup name.

  • Immerse yourself in different environments
    Step outside your usual workspace and industry. Visit art galleries, libraries or parks or even explore different cities. This change in scenery can stimulate fresh ideas.

  • Explore various art forms and cultures
    Look into books, music, movies and cultures beyond your usual preferences. Learning words from different languages that embody your startup's essence can also be enlightening.

  • Study other industries
    Examine how different sectors approach naming. While tech companies often favour short, catchy names, fashion brands might opt for more elegant, sophisticated names.

  • Use online name generators
    Although they can't provide the perfect name, online name generators can serve as a useful starting point for brainstorming and can offer novel ideas.

  • Browse domain names
    Looking at existing domain names can give you a sense of what's already in use and could potentially spark inspiration.

  • Harness social media
    Follow relevant pages, hashtags and influencers that align with your startup's industry or values. Online interactions can provide valuable insights and fresh ideas.

Broadening your horizons and seeking inspiration from an array of sources will feed your creativity and provide you with more options. Just remember to keep a record of all your inspiration – a notebook, a note in your phone or a mood board can help. This collection of inspiration will be a valuable resource as you move further into the naming process.

3. Create two separate lists of names

After the brainstorming and inspiration stages, you should have a long list of potential names. Now, it's time to refine and organise these into two separate lists: "names with a story" and "names that resonate".

Names with a story
This list comprises names that have a compelling narrative behind them. These narratives can be drawn from your startup's origin, its mission, its unique selling proposition or even an interesting anecdote related to the business. These stories add depth to your brand and make it memorable. For example, the name "Nike" comes from the Greek goddess of victory, a powerful story that resonates with the brand's mission to inspire athletic achievement. When compiling this list, think about each name's story and how it aligns with your brand's identity and values.

Names that resonate
This list focuses on names that evoke emotions, images or ideas that align with your brand identity. These names might not have an explicit story attached to them, but they intuitively resonate with your target audience by evoking feelings or associations that align with your brand. They are memorable and have the power to build an immediate connection with your audience. For instance, 'Amazon' was chosen by Jeff Bezos as it suggested scale (the Amazon river being the largest river in the world) and he hoped that his business would become similarly vast.

Creating these two lists refines your thoughts and brings clarity to your naming process. While some names might find a place in both lists, most will fall into one or the other. It's important to remember that neither type is inherently better; the right choice depends on your brand, audience and market. The key is to select names that either tell your brand's story or resonate with your audience – ideally both.

4. Rule out names with negative associations

After creating your lists of potential names, carefully vet each option to ensure it doesn't carry any negative connotations or associations. This helps avoid potential misunderstandings, cultural insensitivity, legal issues or other roadblocks that could hamper your startup's reputation or growth.

One aspect to consider is language. A name that sounds perfect in your native language might have a completely different meaning in another. If you plan to operate in international markets, check the meaning of your chosen names in different languages to avoid any unfavourable or embarrassing associations. Tools such as Google Translate can assist with this, but engaging a cultural or language consultant might be a more reliable option for thorough research.

Negative associations aren't limited to language alone. Research the history of each name. Does it carry historical or cultural baggage? Is it associated with a controversial event, person or entity? Thorough research can help identify any such issues.

You also need to ensure that the names you consider are legally available for use. A quick Google search, trademark database check or consultation with a legal expert can reveal if a name is already trademarked or associated with an existing business. Neglecting this can lead to legal complications and potential rebranding down the line.

5. Look at the competition

After vetting your potential names for negative associations, the next step involves conducting a thorough analysis of your competition. Studying the names of other businesses in your industry can offer valuable insights, help differentiate your brand and avoid blending in with the crowd. Let's break this analysis down into smaller steps:

  1. Create a list of direct and indirect competitors and study their names. What naming trends do you observe? Are there common themes, structures or types of names? While you might not want to copy these trends, understanding them can provide a benchmark and offer context about what's typical in your industry.
  2. Think about how your startup can stand out. How can your name be different from the competition while still being relevant and understandable? An innovative, distinct name can help you capture your audience's attention and differentiate your brand in the marketplace. For instance, if your competitors predominantly use descriptive names, you might opt for a more abstract name to stand out.
  3. Check if your potential names are too similar to those of your competitors. This can lead to customer confusion and potential legal issues.

As important as it is to pick a name that's well-differentiated from your competitors, be wary of straying too far from industry norms as it could lead to confusion or misinterpretation. The key is to strike a balance between conformity and distinction. Your name should ideally reflect that you belong in your industry, but also that you offer something exceptional.

Once you've filtered your potential names based on stories, resonance, associations and competition, it's time to conduct a trademark search. This step ensures that the names you're considering are legally available for use. Overlooking this aspect can lead to significant legal complications and potential rebranding, which can be both costly and time-consuming.

Start by doing a preliminary search on the internet to see if your potential names are already in use by other businesses. However, remember that this is not enough. Not all businesses have an online presence, and some may have a name trademarked but not in use yet.

To conduct a thorough search, use the trademark database of your country's patent and trademark office. In the US, you can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) online database. It allows you to search for word marks, phrases, symbols and designs that are already registered or pending registration.

While navigating these databases can be done independently, they can be complex and sometimes ambiguous – so it's often beneficial to consult with a trademark attorney or a legal expert specialising in intellectual property rights. They can ensure that your search is comprehensive and correctly interpreted.

Additionally, consider if you plan to operate internationally. If so, you should also conduct a trademark search in those respective countries. Different jurisdictions might have different trademark laws, and what is available in your country might not be available elsewhere.

7. Keep it simple

Choosing the right name for your startup involves striking a balance between creativity, resonance and simplicity. As you refine your list of potential names, consider the following principles to ensure that your startup name is digestible and user-friendly:

  • Ease of pronunciation
    Opt for a name that is easy to pronounce. Names that are phonetically intuitive encourage word-of-mouth marketing and reduce confusion for your customers.

  • Spelling consistency
    Stick to conventional spelling norms. Unusual spelling or quirky capitalisation can make it harder for customers to find you online and may lead to inconsistencies in branding.

  • Brevity is key
    Shorter names are generally more memorable and easier to work with, especially for logo design, domain names, social media handles and marketing materials. As a guideline, consider names of two to three syllables or under 10 characters.

  • Unique but simple
    Strive for simplicity without leaning towards generic. Your name should still reflect your differentiated value proposition and connect with your target audience.

While your startup name should stand out and encapsulate your brand's story, it's equally important that the name is straightforward and easy for your audience to use. A simple name is easier to remember and can streamline marketing efforts and enhance online discoverability.

8. Choose a name that will grow with your business

Selecting a name that can evolve with your business is another key step in the naming process. Here are some guidelines to ensure that your chosen name stays relevant as you grow:

  • Avoid being too specific
    Try not to choose names that limit your business to a specific product, service or geographic location. As your business expands, you might diversify your offerings or enter new markets. A name that is too narrow in scope can become restrictive and misleading over time.

  • Think long-term
    While your immediate focus might be on current offerings or target markets, envision where you see your business in five or ten years. Ensure that your chosen name aligns with this long-term vision and can accommodate potential expansions or pivots.

  • Check domain availability
    As you grow, a clear and concise digital presence will become increasingly important. Check the availability of website domains for your potential names. It's advisable to secure a .com domain or the most relevant and respected domain extension in your country or industry.

  • Resonance over time
    Choose a name that will resonate with your target audience, even as market trends and preferences evolve. Avoid relying too heavily on current slang or buzzwords that may become outdated or irrelevant.

Selecting a name that can grow with your business not only allows for the inevitable evolution and scaling of your startup, but also saves you the time, cost and brand equity loss associated with a potential rebranding down the line.

9. Consider ownability

In the final stages of the naming process, it's important to consider "ownability" – how easily your business can claim and own a name across various domains. This includes legal trademark rights, domain names and social media handles. Here are some guidelines:

  • Trademark availability
    Conduct a thorough trademark search as discussed earlier. You want a name that you can legally own and protect, in order to avoid potential legal disputes in the future.

  • Domain name availability
    Check if your chosen name (or a close variation) is available as a domain name. A .com domain is ideal due to its universal recognition, but other extensions (.net, .org, .co) or country-specific ones (.us, .uk, .au) can also work if they better suit your business.

  • Social media presence
    Ensure that your chosen name (or a variation of it) is available across key social media platforms. Consistency in usernames across platforms helps increase brand recognition and makes it easier for customers to find and engage with you.

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)
    Think about how your name will perform in search engine results. Is it too common, meaning that other unrelated results will outperform your brand? An SEO-friendly name will help your digital visibility and can drive organic traffic to your business.

  • Visual branding opportunities
    Consider how your name could be visually represented in a logo, marketing materials and branding collaterals. A name that offers strong visual branding potential will contribute to brand recognition and customer recall.

Considering ownability ensures that you can fully claim your chosen name across multiple touchpoints and platforms. It enhances visibility and builds a strong, recognisable brand.

10. Get outside perspective

After you've considered ownability and future growth in your naming process, getting an outside perspective is an important next step. This can provide valuable insights, reveal blind spots and help you gauge how your target audience might receive potential names. Here's how to go about it:

  • Seek diverse opinions
    Gather feedback from a diverse range of people – friends, family, potential customers, mentors and industry peers. This diversity can help ensure the name appeals to a broad audience and doesn't alienate any potential customer groups.

  • Organise focus groups or surveys
    For a more structured approach, consider setting up focus groups or surveys. Ask participants their first thoughts upon hearing or seeing the name, as well as if they find it memorable and whether it resonates with them. Their feedback can provide important insights into the name's perceived value and relevance.

  • Check for unintended meanings
    External perspectives can help uncover any cultural, linguistic or social connotations that you might have missed. This can be particularly beneficial if you're targeting international or multicultural markets.

  • Test in real scenarios
    Provide your test audience with real-life scenarios involving the potential name. How does it sound when answering a phone call, introducing yourself at a meeting or advertising on the radio? Real-world context can test the name's practicality and effectiveness.

Obtaining an outside perspective allows you to test your potential names in a broader context, understand how they resonate with your target audience and fine-tune your selection based on real-world feedback. A name that resonates with you personally might not necessarily resonate with your potential customers, so objective feedback is key.

11. Go with your gut

Trusting your instinct is important, especially when the choices seem equally compelling. Your startup's brand is determined by multiple factors. An imperfect name is not going to tank well-executed branding, while a perfect name will not carry the weight of otherwise lacklustre branding elements. Once you've completed all of the naming exercises, researched the market viability of your top picks and obtained opinions from a select few outsiders, go with the option that intuitively feels right.

Here are some tips to guide this final step:

  • Emotional connection
    Which name resonates with you the most emotionally? As an entrepreneur, your passion and connection to the brand play a significant role in its success. Choosing a name that you feel strongly about can help fuel this passion.

  • Confidence
    Ask yourself which name you feel most confident presenting to potential investors, customers and partners. Your confidence in the name will directly influence how others perceive your startup.

  • Longevity
    Reflect on which name you can envision remaining relevant and powerful over the long term. Your gut can often sense the longevity of a name beyond immediate market trends or temporary preferences.

  • Uniqueness
    Consider which name feels the most distinctive and ownable to you. Your intuition can guide you towards a name that truly sets your business apart.

After conducting thorough research and considering various practical aspects, it's important to listen to your instinct. Your gut feeling can often guide you towards a name that not only meets all the logical criteria, but also connects with you on a deeper level. After all, the most successful business names are those that blend strategy with emotional resonance.

How Stripe can help

Stripe Atlas makes it simple to incorporate and set up your company so you're ready to charge customers, hire your team and fundraise as quickly as possible.

Fill out your company details in the Stripe Atlas form in less than ten minutes. Then, we'll incorporate your company in Delaware, get your IRS tax ID (EIN) for you, help you purchase your shares in the new company with one click and automatically file your 83(b) tax election. Atlas offers multiple legal templates for contracts and hiring, and can also help you open a bank account and start accepting payments even before the IRS assigns your tax ID.

Atlas founders also gain access to exclusive discounts at leading software partners, one-click onboarding with selected partners and free Stripe payments processing credits. Start your company today.

The Stripe Atlas application

It takes less than ten minutes to fill out the details of your new company. You'll choose your company structure (C corporation, limited liability company or subsidiary) and pick a company name. Our instant company name checker will let you know if it's available before you submit your application. You can add up to four additional cofounders, decide how you split equity between them and reserve an equity pool for future teammates if you choose. You'll appoint officers, add an address and phone number (founders are eligible for one year of a free virtual address if you need one), and review and sign your legal documents in one click.

Forming the company in Delaware

Atlas will review your application and file your formation documents in Delaware within one working day. All Atlas applications include expedited 24-hour processing service at the state, for no extra fee. Atlas charges US$500 for your formation and your first year of registered agent services (a state compliance requirement), and US$100 each year thereafter to maintain your registered agent.

Getting your IRS tax ID (EIN)

After your formation in Delaware is complete, Atlas will file for your company's IRS tax ID. Founders who provide a US Social Security number, US address and US phone are eligible for expedited processing; all other users will receive standard processing. For standard orders, Atlas calls the IRS to retrieve the EIN for you, using real-time IRS data to determine when your filing is likely to be available. You can read more about how Atlas retrieves your EIN and view current tax ID ETAs.

Purchasing your shares in the company

After Atlas forms the company, we'll automatically issue shares to the founders and help you purchase them so you formally own your share in the company. Atlas allows founders to purchase their shares with intellectual property in one click and reflect this in your company documents, so you don't need to mail and track cash or check payments.

Filing your 83(b) tax election

Many startup founders choose to file an 83(b) tax election to potentially save on future personal taxes. Atlas can file and mail your 83(b) tax election in one click for both US and non-US founders—no trip to the post office required. We'll file it using USPS Certified Mail with tracking, and you'll get a copy of your signed 83(b) election and proof of filing in your Dashboard.

Partner perks and discounts

Atlas partners with a range of third-party tools to offer special pricing or access to Atlas founders. We offer discounts on engineering, tax and finance, compliance and operations tools, including OpenAI and Amazon Web Services. Atlas also partners with Mercury, Carta and AngelList to provide faster, automatic onboarding using your Atlas company information, so you can get ready to bank and fundraise even faster. Atlas founders may also access discounts on other Stripe products, including up to one year of free credits toward payments processing.

Read our Atlas guides for startup founders, or learn more about Stripe Atlas and how it can help you set up your new business quickly and easily. Start your company now.

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