Criteria for a good product or business name

When deciding upon a name for your product, service, or business, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Upon seeing and reading the name, the name should be easy to pronounce. If people are constantly asking, “how do you say that?”, it’s a bad sign.
  • Upon hearing the name, the word or words should be understandable and comprehensible.  “Huh? what?” reactions are not good.
  • The name should be easy to spell. Ideally, there would only be one obviously right way to spell the name. “McDonald’s” is one of the world’s leading brands, but its name is constantly being misspelled as McDonalds (no apostrophe), MacDonalds, Macdonalds, Mcdonalds, etc.
  • The name should be available for registration as a trademark, domain name, etc.

There is a trend for startups to throw up their hands that “all the good domains are taken”. They then choose a blandly generic product name like “Circle” and, since the .com and other desirable domains are already taken, then register a lame domain like “”. The thinking here is that people are more likely to simply search for the product name rather than type in the actual domain. Whether this is a suitable approach for your business is up to you, but I personally shed a tear at the lack of creativity whenever I see a “get-” or “.io” domain.

  • The name should not have any negative connotations in foreign languages or cultures. For example, the iPhone feature “Siri” sounds like the Japanese word for “buttocks”, and “Mist” breath mints sold poorly in Germany as that word is German for “manure”.
  • A descriptive or suggestive name is desirable over a more abstract name that doesn’t tell anything about the product. A good name can suggest what the product is about, reducing the need for explanation, or it can suggest or imply positive attributes of the product or service. The name “QuickBooks”, for instance, lets you know immediately that the product deals with accounting (the “books” in bookkeeping), and the “quick” adjective suggests that the program will help you do your accounting tasks quickly.
  • Ideally, the name would lend itself to a good logo or mascot for branding (something more specific than a generic “swoosh”). Names like “SurveyMonkey”, “SoundCloud”, “Kindle”, “GrooveShark”, and the like lend themselves to various interesting logo ideas, for instance.
  • The name should not be an obvious copy-cat rip-off of a similar name. Clever, punny, “joke” names (such as WhatsApp) can be amusing in the short term, and might be suitable for some products and audiences, but are generally not a good idea for “professional” businesses.

Once you’ve selected your name, be consistent with the styling and presentation of the name. Is it always to be written in lower-case, such as “germanwings”? For multi-part names, is there supposed to be a space between the words, or are the words to be written together, and is each word supposed to be capitalized? (For example, consulting firm Cap Gemini rebranded itself to “Capgemini”.) The worst offender here is Walmart, which has at different times used the stylings Wal-Mart, WAL*MART, and Walmart.

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