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What’s in a Name?

I named my first dog Zip because she was fast. As a puppy, she would fly around the yard in a blur. Later, as she got older, the name was almost comical as she was anything but fast. Like many new business owners, when I named her Zip I wasn’t thinking about the future.

I named my first dog Zip because she was fast. As a puppy, she would fly around the yard in a blur. Later, as she got older, the name was almost comical as she was anything but fast. Like many new business owners, when I named her Zip I wasn’t thinking about the future. Could the name you choose for your new venture be unwittingly impacting your ability to grow and succeed?  

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I had a conversation with a local restaurateur a few weeks ago. I asked him how the ice cream part of the business was going as it didn’t seem to fit with the theme of the restaurant. “It hardly moves” he replied. As a first time customer, I was surprised he had ice cream because the name of the restaurant had “grille” in it. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a safe bet that most people wouldn’t associate ice cream cones and banana splits with a grille—thus the sales slump. Three days later, I was going to stop in and grab a burger but the place was closed up for good. I’m sure there were many factors that led to him shutting his doors, but choosing a name that narrowly defined his business locked him in to a certain style of restaurant and definitely impacted his customer base.  

On the flip side, it’s possible to come up with a name that leaves your options open for the future. The Whigs, a rock trio from Athens, Georgia, did just that. During a recent interview on NPR, they talked about how they got started in the business—buying (and later reselling for a slight profit) most of their instruments and recording equipment from eBay for their first album. My favorite part of the interview, and where the naming fits in, is when they talked about booking their first show. They were contacting local bars when they got a bite. “What’s the name of your band?” they were asked. They were speechless. With all of the planning, they overlooked arguably the most important part of forming a band…their name. Embarrassingly, they had to say they’d have to call them back. They went back and forth over possible names. They wanted something that wouldn’t pigeonhole them into a particular style of music such as a name like Heavy Metal Trucker Mud flaps. So they ended up with The Whigs. As a budding business, it’s sometimes difficult to predict what the scope of your business will be five or 10 years down the road, so it’s even more important to factor that in whether you’re naming a rock band or a new business venture. 

On a personal note, I’ve never been a big fan of naming a business after oneself. I think there’s a certain level of creativity in budding entrepreneurs and, as such, I’d much rather see someone come up with something cooler than his or her last name. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t certain instances when that doesn’t make sense…take, for example, writers and public speakers. In certain jobs and industries, your name means everything and should be branded as such. But for other businesses, there’s nothing wrong with showing a little creativity. I still don’t know the story behind Google came up with their name (note to self: check Wikipedia), but to me that’s a much cooler name for a business had someone just used his or her last name. That’s right up there with businesses adding the “A+” to the front of their name so they are first in the phone book.  

When you’re naming your business, don’t be shortsighted. Spend as much time thinking about what your business will be and how you’d like it to be branded as you do coming up with that ever important business plan. Write down words that come to mind that describe what you’d like your business to be. Experiment with different combinations. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Bounce ideas off of your friends. In the end, have fun with it. If nothing else, you might wind up with a cool story about how your company got its name. 

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).

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About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning

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