Creating business name ideas requires a lot of focused, creative brainstorming. Good company names won't just come to you in a stroke of brilliance. It's going to take some work.
Luckily, there are plenty of strategies you can use to come up with a great name.
First, we'll look at the best ways to brainstorm in general. There's some good research that has changed experts' thinking on how to brainstorm effectively. You should know about those techniques before you dive in.
Then we'll delve into ways to come up with business names specifically. You don't need to sit and stare at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike. There are several effective methods you can use to find great names for your small business.
When you think of brainstorming, you might imagine a group of people in a room calling out ideas while a leader lists everyone's thoughts on a whiteboard. Individuals in the group are inspired by each other's ideas. Creativity and productivity are at a peak and ideas flow freely.
That's how we used to imagine an effective brainstorming session. It turns out, that's not the best way to develop creative and worthwhile ideas.
Here's what we now know about the best way to brainstorm effectively:
Group brainstorming is full of problems.
The best, most creative ideas typically come from focused solo work. That work can be informed and inspired by conversations you have with others. But if you want to brainstorm great business name ideas, your best bet is to sit down in front of your computer, by yourself, shut out all distractions, and focus on the task - alone.
What's wrong with group brainstorming?
In her popular book, Quiet, Susan Cain explains why group brainstorming isn't designed to ensure you generate the best ideas from the most insightful people in the room.
Which ideas get the most attention in a group brainstorming session?
The best ones?
The ideas contributed by the loudest, most extroverted person in the room get the most attention in group brainstorming sessions.
If your most extroverted friend is also your most thoughtful, creative friend, you might get some good ideas from a brainstorming session. But if your most insightful friend tends to be more introverted, you'll miss out on the best ideas if you use group brainstorming sessions to come up with business name ideas.
This part of brainstorming we got right.
Keep track of your ideas on your computer or on paper. Use whatever method works best for you when you're trying to do your best thinking.
Write down every little thought you have - every word that charms you, and every idea that intrigues. In the early stages of the process, don't make too many judgments about the quality of the business name ideas. Just get it all in writing.
You're going to end up going through a lot of ideas, and you don't want to lose track of a gem you thought of yesterday because you didn't write it down and you can't remember it today.
A fabulous business name idea is not likely to spring to mind spontaneously while you're doing the laundry or driving home from the grocery store. You need to commit to chunks of solid, uninterrupted time that's dedicated to working on this task.
This kind of creative thinking often works best over time. Don't expect to sit down in one marathon brainstorming session and come up with a long list of spectacular possible company names.
Instead, set aside chunks of time over several days to brainstorm. You'll come back to subsequent sessions fresher and with a new perspective.
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At this stage of the business naming process, you need to create a long list of several business name ideas.
Why do you need a long list?
You only need one business name, so you might wonder why you need to brainstorm a list of several possible names. Why can't you just stop this process once you come up with a single name you like?
You're going to have to investigate your business name to make sure it's a good choice. There's a good chance that a name you initially think is fabulous will turn out to be a bad company name.
For example: You might not be able to get the trademark, or it might have a negative slang meaning, or it might be too similar to a competitor's name.
If you only brainstorm one business name, and then you find a problem with that name, you'll have to go back and repeat this entire process all over again. Plus if you only have one potential name in mind, you'll run the risk of becoming so enamored with and committed to that name that you'll ignore problems with that name.
If you brainstorm a list of possible names, and your favorite one on your list has a fatal flaw, you'll be able to quickly move on to investigate your next favorite name.
It may seem inefficient to brainstorm several possible business names, when you only need one, but in the end you'll save time.
You'll be able to approach this project one phase at a time. You won't have to step back to brainstorming business name ideas if the process of choosing a business name uncovers problems. And you'll reduce the risk of falling in love with a single name that has unfortunate problems.
The names you come up with while brainstorming don't have to feel 100% perfect. You don't have to be absolutely captivated by every name on your list.
They should all be reasonable possibilities.
You might be surprised how a name you weren't initially thrilled with can grow on you. And, after living with it for a while, you might become indifferent to a name that, at first, seemed ideal.
A naming brief is a document that outlines the most important ideas you want your business name to communicate. It will help you to stay focused on your goals, so you can do higher quality brainstorming
You really need to spend some time writing a naming brief before you sit down to brainstorm business name ideas.
It's extremely easy to get side-tracked while brainstorming business names.
You'll go down a whole lot of rabbit holes, which is a perfectly reasonable and expected part of the process. But if you've written a naming brief, you'll have a clearer picture of the project at hand and a document that helps you refocus, so those rambling searches will be more fruitful.
Grab your naming brief. It will be full of concepts you can use to launch your brainstorming process.
If you used this naming brief outline, go to the Concepts to Communicate section where you listed key ideas and words you want to communicate to your customers.
Start with a single word from that list and expand on it using the strategies below.
Start with your first keyword and enter it into an online thesaurus. It will give you a long list of words that have the same (or very similar) meaning as your keyword.
Make note of any word you find in the search results that might have potential to be used in your business name. You can click on any of the synonyms listed in the search results to get a new list of synonyms that may be slightly different from your starting word.
As well as noting words that interest you, be sure to make note of any ideas, connections, or concepts that come to mind as you're searching. Write it all down.
The most popular online thesaurus is thesaurus.com. You can try that one out and see if you like it.
I prefer the synonym search on wordhippo.com. It's my go-to resources whenever I can't quite find the right word.
I like Word Hippo because it has more casual, slang, and generally colorful language than I find when I check thesaurus.com, which tends to be more formal.
I also like the way Word Hippo divides the results into different contexts at the top of its search results, so you can see how the word's meaning changes in different contexts. You can click to go directly to the context you intended.
You can also explore other contexts. You might find a surprising meaning you hadn't considered that is full of potential for creating a business name.
Word Hippo also has other types of language searches: antonyms (opposites), definitions, rhymes, sentences, translations, find words, word forms, and pronunciations. There's lots to explore on this site while you brainstorm business name ideas.
You'll repeat this search for all of the keywords and concepts to communicate that you identified in your naming brief.
Related: How to Name a Business Step by Step
Try an image search using your keywords.
Image searches can be useful for finding more conceptual, less literal interpretations of your concept. Simply enter your concept word (or phrase) into a site that allows you to search huge numbers of images, and see what comes up.
Be sure to make note of any interesting concepts you discover. If you find some images that trigger intriguing ideas, be sure to save a link to the image so you can easily find it and come back to it later.
You can save links to intriguing images and any other interesting concepts you find and want to remember by:
Search for your term. On the results page, near the search bar, you'll see an "images" button. Click on that to see images related to your search term.
You may need to refine your search a bit if the results aren't quite what you were looking for.
You can search any stock photo site. I like Deposit Photos because it has a great search tool that allows you to narrow down your searches.
Type your keyword into Pinterest's search bar, and see what pops up.
Pinterest will suggest more terms to focus your search. Take a look at those words and explore any that are relevant to your business name.
Do keep in mind, your search results on Pinterest will be heavily influenced by all of your previous activity there.
Search your keyword on instagram. Just put a # (hashtag) in front of your search term, and see what images pop up.
If you're brainstorming handmade jewelry shop names, you could check out #jewelry on Instagram. When I search that term, I get suggestions for #soulfuljewelry, #edgyjewelry, and #jewelryaddict. If the idea of your jewelry being soulful, edgy, or addictive is something you might want to communicate with your business name, you could explore those images.
You could search Instagram images for a concept. If you make super-spicy sauces, you might explore the word "fiery." To search that concept on Instagram, you'd type #fiery into the search bar. You'll get all kinds of images connected to that concept, and you'll get suggestions for related terms that you might want to explore.
Find a glossary of terms for your niche, and look for words or phrases that might be a great fit for your business name.
How can you find lists of terms related to your business niche?
Try a Google search for your niche and the word "glossary" or "terms."
You get the picture. Try a few different variations on your own niche until you find a good list of terms specific to your own niche.
Searching your niche plus the word "dictionary" probably won't be particularly helpful. You'll almost certainly just get a dictionary definition of the niche word.
If you do use a term from your niche, do be careful about using words your customers wouldn't understand. Catchy company names that customers remember carry meaning they understand, so be wary of terms that are too obscure.
As you work through the process of brainstorming business name ideas, you'll create a long list of possibilities.
Remember: Don't fall in love with any one name at this stage. It might not survive the next step in choosing a company name - screening to look for potential problems.