Aside from determining what products or services you’re going to offer, deciding what to name your business is one of the very first, and most creative, steps that a new business owner will undertake. It should be distinctive and memorable, and it should suggest the products and services you offer. However, choosing what to name your business is more than just a fun exercise in wordplay. A truly great name not only communicates what your business does, it also paves the way to an effective marketing strategy, and provides the foundation for important legal protections. Here are some of the issues to keep in mind as you decide what to name your business.
First, it’s important to distinguish between a trade name and a trademark. A trade name, also called a “doing business as” name, or “DBA,” is the legal alias under which your company does business. Having a registered trade name what is allows your customers to legally refer to you by that name and what allows you to participate in transactions using your business’ name instead of your own. A trademark, on the other hand, is used to protect your brand by associating a particular producer with a particular good or service. It may also be associated with, or the same as, your trade name. Given that your name is one of your most valuable business assets, it’s worth protecting with a trademark.
Trademark Issues to Consider When You Name Your Business
- Don’t be too literal. Names that simply describe your businesses product or service are going to have a hard time getting federal trademark registration. The USPTO won’t register a mark that would make it difficult for other businesses to promote themselves without infringing on your mark, so a generic name like “Paintings and Sculptures” for an art gallery would likely never be granted trademark protection. Instead, you want to select a name that the USPTO will consider “arbitrary” or “fanciful,” such as “Kodak” for cameras or “Apple” for computers.
- Don’t pick a name like the others. Names that are confusingly similar to existing trademarks, registered or unregistered, will also run afoul of the USPTO. Trademarks are all about making sure that consumers know who is behind a brand, so, if your name is potentially easy to confuse with another competitor in the same industry, you run the risk of the USPTO rejecting attempts to trademark it. And even if the USPTO does somehow accept your registration, you are still going to run the risk of running into likelihood of confusion issues as your business grows – and that is no way to build a strong, distinctive brand.
- Don’t just congratulate yourself. It’s tempting to want to name your business something that tells the world how great the business is. However, names that are simply laudatory (e.g., “Best Computers” or “Excellent Services”) often encounter the same issues as overly literal or descriptive marks. Again, think distinctive, memorable, and unique.
- You can be salacious…but not too salacious. You may also be tempted to use a provocative name, but it’s important to know that doing so comes with risks. The USPTO will not register trademarks it determines are scandalous, deceptive, disparaging or immoral. If trademark protection is important to your business—and it is—be careful about selecting a name that may be found offensive or disparaging.
- Complete the process. Part of building a strong brand is picking a name you can trademark, but you will miss out on many of the benefits if you don’t actually complete your trademark registration. Start with a professional trademark search. This will answer many questions about how likely it is your trademark application will be approved. Once you’ve decided what to name your business and completed a trademark search, be sure to file federal and state trademark applications to ensure you get all the benefits that come with registration.
Trade Name Issues to Consider When You Name Your Business
- If you intend to form a business entity, state law may dictate some aspects of your name. Most commonly, if you form a business entity you may be required to include an identifier such as “Corp.” or “LLC” after your business’s name. You may also be restricted from using words that imply a government affiliation, such as “commission” or “bureau,” or you may need to meet certain requirements to use words that are reserved for certain industries, like “bank” or “trust.” State guidelines can typically be found on the website for the agency that handles business registrations.
- Don’t pick a name that may be confused with the name of another business or a competitor. State law may also preclude you from registering a name that is too similar to that of another business or that is likely to mislead the public. But even if you don’t plan on creating a business entity, picking a name that is too similar or the same as an existing business could potentially land you on the wrong end of a trademark or copyright infringement lawsuit. Lastly, picking a unique name for your business will also help to distinguish you from your competitors and ensure that you stand out in the marketplace.
- Pick a name that will live comfortably on the web. Your business will almost certainly have a website, and may also participate in a wide variety of social media sites. Your name should be memorable, but be easy to spell and pronounce so your customers can easily find you and talk about you online. Before committing to a name, you should also make sure that the name, or a logical variation on it, is available as both as a domain name and as user names on the social media sites on which you will be promoting your business.
Do you still have questions about how to name your business? Let us clear them up. Simply email us or give us a call and we can discuss the many services we offer that can help you avoid investing time and money building a business around the wrong name.