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Naming your startup: The ultimate guide for a successful name

Short, unique, memorizable—demands for a startup name are quite high. This is how to improve the naming process to make the right choice.

5 min read

Sleepless nights, headaches, discovering words you have never heard of before—seems like you are trying to find a winning name for your startup. A great name is a mix of strategy, linguistic analysis, research, and creativity. It's not an easy process, but keeping in mind some principles is the first step to success. Here is what you need to know about the naming process and what makes the difference in a successful brand name. 

The complex naming process: What to keep in mind

The name of your tech startup will very often drive first impressions—not only for your target audience but also for investors, talent, journalists, and others. Hence, it needs to be easy to remember, easy to find, should somehow relate to your business, and should not convey any negative connotations. 

On the other hand, your startup name also needs to fit your overall brand strategy and position your business strategically in the market without limiting your growth possibilities. First and foremost, it needs to be unique in your business sector, not only because of your recognizability but also due to legal and trademark reasons. 

Whether you have a go at your name yourself or whether you have a startup brand agency do it, the following steps will help you to follow along the process.

1. Consider your brand strategy

Words have meanings and names have power, so you should grasp the opportunity to add a strong distinctive element to your company. The first step of the strategic naming process is always a detailed analysis of the business, its products or services, and its USP. Also, keep in mind your competition and do a quick analysis of their brand names in order to find out what may (not) work in your sector. Remember that your startup name is an important factor to stand out among your competitors and adds distinctiveness to your brand. 

What you also will need to consider is aligning the sound of your name to your overall brand personality. If you are looking to create a disruptive, dynamic, and innovative brand, words that sound too soft might not work and you need to go for more explosive sounds like powerful consonants.

Visual with a shape that reminds of a star with a lot of spikes. It represents the explosive sounds of the letters K, X, V, T, Z.

On the contrary, if you want to communicate smoothness, friendliness, and humanity, warm and open sounds like soft consonants and vowels are the right choice.

Visual with a shape that reminds of a water drop. It represents the smooth sound of the letters B, D, M, N, O.

2. Get creative, but don't overdo it 

Generally speaking, there are some things that you need to keep in mind for the naming exploration: 

Avoid using numbers or hyphens, as they add complexity to your startup name and make it hard to spell, pronounce, and remember. 

Also, generic words or combinations (like Resilience AI for instance) are not the best way to go—although they might be easy to remember, they don't add uniqueness to your business and can also lead to SEO issues, as they might not be differentiated enough to stand out in online search results. More, it's difficult to add a new feeling and meaning to a generic word.

Without entering into much detail about the creative possibilities, the most common naming strategy on a sole word level is to create a simple name composed of recognizable words (Source: Crunchbase), like Stripe for instance. However, you can get more creative by adding suffixes or prefixes, modifying some letters or combinations of syllables, you open a wide range of naming opportunities, which gives you more flexibility. 

Having said that, spelling and pronunciation is one of the key factors for a successful startup name. It needs to be distinctive enough to differentiate your brand, but also clear enough to be easy to pronounce and to remember. 

If the spelling or pronunciation is confusing, clients, prospects, or investors might not be able to find you. Also, your brand name might be misspelled.  

By the way, did you know that “Google” is actually a misspelling? It derives from Googol, the mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. The company name was picked to signify that the search engine was intended to provide large quantities of information.

3. Keep it short and sweet 

Most importantly: Keep it short and sweet. Clients prefer short, easy-to-pronounce names and there is actually a scientific explanation behind that: a model called the phonological loop which is part of our short-term memory.

Each and every sound you hear gets bounced around in the inner ear for 2-3 seconds in a loop, allowing your brain to decide whether to store or delete the information. Especially fintech startups lean towards short names. 

As brand names with one or two syllables bounce more times than longer names, they are more likely to stick to the memory. Hence, brand names with three or more syllables get fewer bouncing times, which makes them less memorizable. Character count also has its say in this for the visual representation—shorter words are more likely to be remembered on a visual level. Just look at the brand names of some of the most successful companies: Yahoo, Apple, Visa, and Co.

4. Check connotations, associations, and meanings across languages 

At this step, you might have collected a nearly endless list of names. During our naming process for tech startups, we come up with more than 140 initial ideas on average. 80 to 90% of these are discarded after giving them a second thought. The ones that survive need to run through extensive research. 

Using different search engines and tools, several factors need to be taken into consideration: cultural checks, connotations across languages, similar already existing company names, positive and negative associations, etc. 

Also, if you explore words that originate from a language that is not your mother tongue, make sure to check their original meaning and connotations across different languages and cultures so that they will not be contradictory to your brand strategy and your company's mission. In order to convey trust and sophistication, many companies leverage words of Greek or Latin origin: Nike, for instance, was the goddess of victory in Greek mythology.

Your brand name should evoke the right emotions among your target audience. As you need to gain a major foothold in order to grow and succeed in the startup universe, you need to make sure that there are no other startups with a similar name. Thus, it is worth checking on platforms like Crunchbase and Linkedin, for instance.

5. Ensure the availability of the domain and trademarking 

Another important factor that you will need to consider is the domain name. As most companies use the most common domain .com, the disponibility of these domains is reduced. Thus, .ai, .io, and .co are also common amongst tech startups, providing more naming and URL possibilities.

With regard to your website, also keep in mind how your startup name will sound in combination with the URL you are striving for. 

All these checks should already enable you to need to nail down your favorites. What is more, if you are looking to trademark your company or product name, also keep in mind that this might restrict your possibilities. Therefore, make sure to check if there are already trademarks with the same or similar name. Also, while a name may not be trademarked in general, it may be registered for use in specific categories o industries. Consult an expert in case you need legal advice before making the final decision and avoid legal issues down the line.

So, what makes a great startup name?

To sum up, a great startup name is short, exclusive, relates to your business sector, does not give rise to negative connotations, and does not suppose any legal adversities. 

Let's have a look at the name we came up with for one of our cleantech startups: Enlitia

The goal of the naming process was to find a name that would highlight their USP of adding explainability to AI asset data within the cleantech sector. We came up with a neologism combining the idea of enlightenment and artificial intelligence. It is based on “enlighten”, meaning to give someone greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation, in this case for energy data. Enlitia is, thus, the sum of explainability and transparency, analytics, and AI. It consists of three syllables, is exclusive, connects to the field, and has a smooth, friendly sound, as four out of three letters are vocals—an extraordinary result that positions the cleantech strongly in the sector. 

So, how is your naming going? We hope that this article has given you some useful advice on how to find your perfect startup name. If you have any further questions or need guidance with your naming process or startup branding, feel free to get in touch.

About the author

Tamara Hofer
Copywriter & Marketing Assistant

Tamara is our multi-lingual expert in copywriting and storytelling. She also helps with all digital marketing efforts.