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How to Pick a Great Business Name: Marketing & Trademark Tips

Finding a great business name takes old fashioned writing inspiration

Some people just know how to pick a great business name. Others, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, settled on Apple only because they couldn’t come up with anything better.

So, if you’ve been obsessing about what to call your new business and haven’t been able to decide, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are ways—mental exercises—that can help you with business name ideas.

This article is Part 1 in a series of three articles on how to pick a business name. The same approach can also be used in the future when you’re looking to name new products or services. In this first article, we cover some common-sense marketing tips and basic trademark law.

Let’s get started with the tips.

A Great Business Name Is Easy to Say

Easy to say typically means pretty short. You want your business name to roll off the tongue so people can remember it easily. Typically, this means you want to use just one word. Facebook. Amazon. Apple. Netflix. Google.

Some pretty famous companies went from long names to short names. (Some of them retain the longer names in formal documents like contracts.) For instance, International Business Machines uses IBM, American Telephone and Telegraph is AT&T, USAA actually stands for United Services Automobile Association. Even Coca-Cola sometimes prefers Coke.

So don’t pick a business name like Sesquipedalian (means characterized by the use of long words). Shorter is better.

A Great Business Name Is Easy to Spell

These days, people look things up on the internet constantly. You’ll want them to be able to spell your company’s name correctly.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use a made-up word. Pepsi is perfectly spellable. So is Airbnb. The name just has to sound as it is spelled.

So don’t name your business Euouae (it’s a technical term in medieval music), unless you want to hide from potential customers.

Make Up a Word Through Nonstandard Spelling or by Linking Words Together

You don’t have to pick a business name only from existing words. In fact, a made-up word is usually better, from a trademark standpoint (more in the trademark section below).

But be careful when you use a name that’s spelled differently from standard English. It goes against the easy to spell guideline. But there are companies that successfully use this strategy.

For example, Walmart comes from two words shortened and linked together—the founder’s last name Walton and mart for market. Microsoft is part microcomputer (that’s what they called desktops before the word came into being) and software. PayPal lets you know right away it has something to do with helping you pay.

Pick a Business Name with Positive Connotations

Most great business names have positive connotations. When you see Costco, you know that, somehow, the company helps you save money. Before the company Twitter became well-known, people used the word twitter to mean the fast, light chattering of birds. Tweets on Twitter suggest exactly that—fast, light, and short messages sent over the airwaves.

Be careful to avoid words with bad connotations, not just in English, but in other languages if you happen to speak them. As a small business, you probably don’t have to worry about this much, but the internet makes us all international in some way.

For example, look at the word Isis. Before around 2015, it was an innocent word referring to an ancient Egyptian goddess. But, after the group ISIS declared itself as an Islamic caliphate, a lot of companies rebranded their names or products for fear of bad associations.

This is why you should give some thought to names that might mean something negative.

Pick a Business Name That’s Strong Under Trademark Law

Trademark law categorizes marks by strength. If you have a strong mark, then your competitors can’t name their company, product, or services with a mark that’s similar to yours. If you have a weak mark, then your competitors can sometimes get away with using a mark that sounds or looks a little like yours.

From the strongest type of mark to the weakest under trademark law, the categories are:


The strongest marks are made-up words. Expedia. eBay. Spotify. Zillow. All highly distinctive made-up words.

The courts are unlikely to let another company call itself eBay, even if the new company operates in a completely different industry.


Arbitrary marks are still pretty strong. They are actual words but their meaning have nothing to do with what the company does. Amazon. Uber. Adobe. Oracle. These names do not suggest a web-hosted marketplace, a ride-hailing service, or a couple of software companies.

Courts are unlikely to let others use a similar mark in similar industries.


A suggestive mark suggests a little bit of what the company does without outright saying what it does. From a marketing standpoint, these are the best marks. However, from a legal protection standpoint, these are somewhat weaker.

You’ll still be able to preclude your competitors from using your exact mark, but they might be able to slide by with other words that mean something similar. Examples of suggestive marks are: Chewy, Lyft, Pinterest, and DocuSign.


A descriptive mark describes what the company does. Ordinarily, descriptive marks are not protectable under trademark law. This means your competitors are allowed to call themselves by a same or similar name.

However, descriptive marks sometimes can become protectable because they’ve been used so much that consumers now identify the word(s) with the company. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bank of America, General Motors all started out pretty descriptive. But now, they are definitely protectable trademarks.


These are the worst names under trademark law. You can’t prevent others from using the name at all. A generic mark is the generic word used to describe what you do.

For instance, if you make chairs and want to call yourself Chair Corp., then the name is generic. You won’t be able to stop another company that make chairs from calling itself Chair Inc. Note, though, if you make ice cream and want to call yourself Chair Corp, the name becomes a strong, arbitrary mark.

Picking a Great Business Name Involves a Little Marketing Mixed with Some Trademark Law. But Don’t Forget a Healthy Dose of Creativity Too.

And there you have it. Some tips on how to pick a business name inspired by marketing and trademark basics. But you’ll also need creativity when coming up with a great business name.

So, let your mind wander and free associate. Write down whatever name comes to mind. Use your friends and family as a sounding board. It typically takes a lot of tries before you find that great business name. Eventually, you’ll find a few names you like.

Make a list of these possible names and move to the next step, which we’ll cover in Part 2 of this series. You’ll learn how other peoples’ trademarks might affect which name you ultimately pick.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

DISCLAIMER: This article does not constitute legal advice. Instead, it contains general information. The information gives you the background you’ll need to hit the ground running when you do go get advice from a lawyer. Only lawyers properly licensed in your state/country are qualified to give you legal advice.

Questions? Comments?