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How to Pick a Business Name You'll Love for Your New Business

“How to Pick a Business Name You’ll Love for Your New Business” is part of my ongoing Business 101 series for women (and others) looking to start their first business or a new business. See the other existing articles here

A building with a banner at the top that says Your Name Here.

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I’m getting pretty tired of reading about the “Great Resignation.” Article after article has disingenuous journalists (not all of them, but many) scratching their heads over why so many people have quit their jobs. Where are they all going? How will they live??

I have a hunch, backed up by data, that a lot of people have finally taken a step toward living their dreams and decided to start their own business. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.4 MILLION people filed “new business applications” (Employer Identification Numbers, or tax IDs for businesses) in 2021. It’s a tumultuous time, but still full of big dreams.

Which is probably why you’re here. If you’re researching a business name, you’re at the very beginning stages – which means I can help get you started on the right foot. 

What’s In a Business Name?

You’ll need to have your business name squared away before you can file paperwork to form an LLC (if you do) and get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS (if you need one – more on that in another post). 

You’ll need both those things to apply for a business bank account, so establishing your business name is an important first step. Once you’ve got this done, you can start setting up. 

HOW TO CHOOSE A BUSINESS NAME

When you launch a business, your name is important. It’s often the first aspect of your brand people will encounter. It will live at the top of your site, get printed on business cards, go out in every email you send. 

It can be really easy to obsess over finding the perfect business name. But I think there are some things people often get wrong that are really easy to fix. 

Like picking names that are too long, too obscure, too wordy. Or picking a business name that’s stilted and not really how people talk. There are a lot of cliches, too, like how every brand from 2010 – 2018 was some formula of “Blank and Blank.” Boll & Branch. Wolf & Badger. Frank & Oak. Matt & Bow.

So let’s begin with a review of common options and how to decide if they’re right for you. 

OPTION 1: USE YOUR OWN NAME AS A BUSINESS NAME

Establishing your business under your own name can be a power move, particularly if your business is you. Maybe you’re a coach, a blogger, a novelist, a copywriter, an artist, a graphic designer. When people hire your business, they’re hiring you, and just you (because you don’t have employees), so it can make sense to use your name. 

Especially if you have a name that’s not too common and not too hard to spell.

THE CURSE OF THE COMPLICATED NAME

In Detroit, we have a lot of people with Polish backgrounds, which means I’ve been witness to a lot of meetings where someone has to ask a colleague with a Polish name to spell it out for them so they can get it right. (And then they still spell it wrong.)

If your name is Anna Wilezxynski, establishing your business under your name may pose a fair share of problems. Like people not knowing how to type your URL into a browser window, for one. And when people struggle, they give up fast. They’ll just move on to the next business that looks like it can help them, rather than dig deep and figure out what they’re getting wrong. In this case, you could try shortening to an alternate version of your name, like Anna Wilez, if you’re comfortable with that. You could also go by your first name + middle name, like Anna Madeline, for example.

THE CURSE OF THE POPULAR NAME

Another problem people can have is that their name is really common. If you’re a Jessica Miller or a Grace Kim or a Lakshmi Gupta and you name your business after yourself, when people type your name into Google, they’re going to wade through dozens of listings, just because the name is so common. 

It  can be just as much of a hurdle as having a complex name. 

Factoid time: I was listening to a podcast once where the guest was a guy who helps people disappear for a living. People escaping abusive relationships or families, etc. And for the people he helps, one of the ways he covers their tracks on the internet is to create a bunch of fake websites under the same name. Grace Kim, rodeo clown. Grace Kim, podiatrist. Grace Kim, professional hand model. You can’t always remove things from the internet, but you can obscure them by making the results so hard to find that most people give up. 

Think about that if you’re considering using a common name for your business name. Will your site be obscured under thousands of entries about people who share your name? How will you set yourself apart?

WHO THIS APPROACH WORKS FOR 

Using your name works best if it’s sort of distinctive but easily read. If you’re a Rochelle Pickford, say, you can probably own the crap out of the search listings for your name. And it’s still easy enough to spell that people can find you directly, without being so ubiquitous that other Rochelle Pickfords will pop up. 

What if you have a common or complex name but want to brand your business after yourself anyway? You could always adapt your business name a little. Use a shortened version of your last name, or a more phonetic spelling. As I mentioned above, you could use your middle name, or a mother’s maiden name. You might use any other family name, too. I have a friend who does business under the names of her first two kids – something along the lines of Mackenzie Rose. 

GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR BUSINESS NAME

When I formed my LLC back in 2019, I went with my initials – LRG – and Creative, because that’s what my career has been, as an advertising creative. So adding a descriptor word or using your initials is totally viable as well. 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Coach Ashley J. 
  • M. L. Dashwood
  • Jane Doe the Stylist
  • Suzanne Writes 
  • AFK Marketing 
  • Photography by Winona P. 
  • Margery Carol Johnson 
  • Hazel S. Accounting 

OPTION 2: USING A DESCRIPTIVE NAME FOR YOUR BUSINESS NAME

Maybe you don’t want to use your name, you want to come up with a totally fresh business name. Valid! 

Your biggest challenge is going to come up with a name that’s not already in use. I’ve done my fair share of brainstorming names for clients (for products, businesses, websites, etc.), and I promise you — 

Whatever your first stab at a name is, someone’s probably taken it. 

And that’s just because there are a lot of people out there who have had a lot of ideas. Everyone’s been trying to come up with clever names over the years, so whatever the first thought that pops into your brain is, someone else has probably had it. 

For example, if your service is professional organizing, you might think, “What about Organize Your Life? Or Clean House?” A quick Google search will show you that someone’s beaten you to the punch. Now, it’s not that you can’t have a similar name to one that’s taken elsewhere–your location and your industry will help set you apart. 

There can be an Organize Your Life in New Jersey and one in Seattle just fine. Or an Organize Your Life that does home organization, and one that handles family life insurance, trusts and estate planning. Just keep in mind that you’ll still compete with these businesses online, so there are a few things to consider.

CHECK THE DOMAIN AND SOCIAL CHANNELS FIRST

Even if no one else has used a name yet, check to see if the web domain is available. For example, CleanHouse.com doesn’t have a website on it. Awesome! But when I look at buying the URL through GoDaddy, the asking price is $65,000.

EXCUSE ME? What the %^&#?

But adding one more word to the URL helps immensely. For instance, both Clean House Witchery (cleanhousewitchery.com) and Clean House Detroit (cleanhousedetroit.com) are available for one cent. I don’t know about you, but one cent fits my finances a lot better than $65k.

While you’re at it, check your preferred social channels to see if you can get the name you want across all of them. This is a step that a lot of people kick themselves for not doing. 

CHECK THE NAME FOR TRADEMARKS, TOO

Check the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to make sure your name won’t violate someone else’s trademark. If you do use a name that’s the same or too similar to a brand with deeper pockets, they can come after you and try to force you to stop using it. You might need to get lawyers involved, which says plenty about how much it would cost. Even if the other business loses, they may very well bankrupt you in legal fees.

Luckily, checking for trademarks is easy, easy, easy. Just go to the USPTO site and type your proposed name into the box. 

 

HOW TO SEARCH TRADEMARKS

A screenshot of the US Trademark Search page.

On the USPTO site, choose Basic Word Mark Search (New User). 

A screenshot showing where to put search terms on the US Trademark Database.

Type the name you want to search in this box. Use quotes for an exact match or no quotes to see related names.

A screenshot of the US Trademark Database showing exact business names from searching with quotes.

Here’s an example of a search with quotes around it, showing all variations of (live and dead) trademarks with Clean House in that order.

A screenshot of the US Trademark Database showing business names with the searched for words included, from searching without quotes.

Here’s a search without quotes around it. You can see how it shows all results with either Clean or House in it—including variations of house, like casa. 

A close up look at the LIVE button to select to find current Trademarks.

I recommend only searching for LIVE Trademarks, which will show you current, valid results. (And leave out past trademarks that have lapsed.)

A screenshot of US Trademark Search results with no competing names.

Even though this page says “no records found,” that’s a good thing. It means the words you searched for don’t have an existing trademark!

A few notes on searching: 

  • Typing in Clean House will give you results that match or include Clean House – meaning every variation you can think of. E.g., Clean Your House, Cleaning the Lord’s House, etc.
  • Typing in “Clean House” with quote marks will give you the names of everything that has Clean House in that order within the name. E.g., Clean House Now, Clean House Louisville, Clean Housewares.
  • A general search will turn up both LIVE and DEAD trademarks. DEAD means someone once held a trademark for the name but no longer does, either because they went out of business or just failed to keep up with the paperwork and sort of abandoned it.
  • I recommend searching for the exact wording you want, in quotes, and selecting only LIVE marks.
  • If you get a screen that says, “No TESS records were found to match the criteria of your query,” that’s just government speak for “We don’t see anyone else with this exact name.” Which is great news! That’s what you want to see. (Could the page be prettier and more straightforward? 100% yes, and it bothers me too.)

 

DO YOU NEED TO TRADEMARK YOUR NAME?

One more note, which is that (obviously), searching for a trademark and not finding any competition doesn’t mean your business is automatically federally trademarked when you request a Tax ID. Filing for a trademark is a separate step that costs $250, and you can’t trademark words alone–you’ll need to trademark your name within a designed logo. However, I wouldn’t worry about this for the time being. 

Why not? Because if you’re the only entity with a name, you get some coverage under Common Law Rights. From the USPTO: 

You are not required to register your trademark, but where or whether you decide to register your trademark can determine the scope of your rights. Specifically, you can rely on common law rights or file for state, federal, or international trademark registration.

Common law rights

If you haven’t filed for state or federal registration, your trademark protection is based solely on using your trademark in commerce within a particular geographic area. 

TO DO—LATER 

I would still put “Register for a Trademark” on your list of things to do, because you’ll probably want that protection going forward. But in my opinion, it can wait until you’re up and running and have some money coming in. (Note: Trademarking fees are not tax deductible.) 

After all, what if you decide to change your name? What if you keep the same name but go through three logos before you have one you like? A new logo means you’ll have to file a new trademarking application, so get your name and branding squared away first to save some money. 

NEXT, SEARCH BUSINESSES IN YOUR STATE

Okay, once you’ve cleared federal trademark searching, you’ll want to search business entities within your state. This will show you all the businesses in your state that might already be using similar names as your finalists. 

For example, when I use Alabama’s Business Entity search and put in “Roll Tide,” there are 33 existing entries. But each business differentiates itself, so that there’s Roll Tide Carwash, Roll Tide Escort Services, Roll Tide Rentals, etc. Lower in the list of names, it also shows businesses with “Roll Tide” in some part of their name, even if they don’t start with Roll Tide. For example, Rolling Tide Ventures.

A screenshot of Alabama's state website showing Business Entity Search listings for business names that include "Roll Tide."

Your name doesn’t have to be 100% unique in the sense that every single word is different from any existing businesses. It just has to be unique in the sense that no other business has the exact same name. 

So in the examples listed above, you could absolutely start Roll Tide Stuffed Animals, LLC, no problem. 

Here’s a list of the Business Entity Search pages for each state in the U.S. (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico). **Note: Searching for existing names should always be free. There are services that will charge you for “multi-state searches,” but you should never have to pay to do a Business Entity Search through a state website.

 
Sidebar — if you want a masterclass in how NOT to design a website, many of these government sites are a Whole Education. 

WATCH OUTS

As mentioned above, if you use your own name for your business, make sure it’s easy to spell and not so common that you’ll be competing with every other Jen Connor in the world when people Google you. 

For descriptive names, I’ve seen a different set of issues crop up. 

One is that people just overthink it. In the effort to come up with a unique name so they can buy a cheap URL and not compete with other businesses, they might come up with something really convoluted. Like, say, Your House is Your Castle Professional Organizers. 

Too long. 

Or CleanHER Closets–which looks okay in writing, but will sound identical to “cleaner closets” when spoken aloud. 

A friend of mine has a business helping academics publish papers, and she was going rounds and rounds with names that were getting longer and more obscure–they didn’t describe what her business was about at all. 

Then I found out she already had a website under her own name where she’d compiled research and resources for academics FOR YEARS. I told her to make the longer phrase a tagline on her site if she was in love with it, but to use her existing site. 

IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE AN EXISTING SITE YOU CAN CONVERT

Existing sites have the advantage of a longer site history, which is great for search rankings. It can take a while for a new site to register at all with major search engines, so repurposing her site to be more tailored toward her new focus (related to the focus of her existing website) was a slam dunk. (Her URL was her first two initials and last name, for reference.)

Any names with hyphens or purposely misspelled words are tricky, too. If you call your home organizing business Nev-R-Clutter’d, it’s going to trip people up. Better to go with something like Clutter Free with Janine, which is spelled just how it sounds, and adding your name to the business name will help against competition. 

TO SUM IT UP 

When I need to come up with names for a client, this is my process: 

  • Open a Google Doc 
  • Start writing a list of name ideas, one name on each line 
  • Once I have 25-50, I start checking them against the USPTO database to make sure the names aren’t already trademarked. 
  • I strikeout the names that are taken (Command + Shift + X on a Mac)
  • Of the ones that aren’t taken, I bold my favorites. 
  • Optional: I might brainstorm more around the ones I like, running the new variations through the database as well. Sometimes variations on a theme can lead you to fresh results. 
  • Next, you’ll want to check your favorite names against the Business Entities within your state with a Business Entity Search. 
  • Finally, from the available finalists, narrow it down to one recommendation. 

 

That final step for you would be choosing the final name for your business. Next steps, which I’ll cover in another blog, are deciding on a business structure (like an LLC) and doing any related filing with the state, getting a Tax ID and purchasing a URL. 

Have more questions about naming your business? Drop them in a comment below and I’ll try to answer every one.

A white woman sitting outside, smiling at the camera.

Hi, I'm Lana.

I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year? 


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