How to Choose a Business Name, Part 5: Longevity
When we start a new company, or build a new product, we dream about it growing in size, expanding into new markets, and lasting for generations. When we pick names for these companies, however, often times we focus too much on the here-and-now and not the future. A name can say a lot: the era when the company was born, the place the founders were from, and the type of business that it started out as (since it may have changed over time).
What will the name you’ve chosen say about you in five years? In fifty? Here are three areas to think about when choosing a name for longevity:
1. Names with a Narrow Focus
The company Tucows originally coined its name as an abbreviation of The Ultimate Collection Of Winsock Software. Now over 15 years later, the company has grown far beyond freeware/shareware and is one of the largest providers of internet and domain registrar services and business software downloads.
Sometimes even a name that can set a standard for an entire industry can find itself limited to the business category it helped create. Groupon, a combination of “Group Coupon” became the favored term used by consumers for any type of “daily deal” or discount for a local merchant. The initial Groupon concept was one of critical mass — a coupon would only be valid if enough users in the group participated; however, Groupon has now grown into the area of instant local discounts, and even provides services to local businesses like appointment scheduling and point-of-sale credit card payments.
2. Trendy Names
New business names can often follow a currently popular naming trend. Flickr, a photo sharing application was unable to acquire the domain name flicker.com, but liked the word so much that they dropped one of the two vowels. It was an unpopular decision with the team at the time, but the company’s success helped make it OK and even cool for other startups to use a similar convention. Some (but not nearly all) of the companies that came along at the time are: Tumblr, Preloadr, Resizr, Flagr, Rminder, Scanr, Wishlistr, Viewr, Groovr, Approvr, Talkr, Streakr, Sputtr, Readr, Graspr, Flauntr, Toggl, and Skrbl.
Google, a misspelling of Googol, opened the door for other English dictionary words with alternate (and some may argue more sensical) spellings. These include: Flook (fluke), Reddit (read it), Joost (juiced), Kuler (color), Lijit (legit), and Spigit (spigot).
Why do we follow trends when it comes to naming a business? Is it because we are often so focused on the competition that we stop thinking outside of the box? Perhaps, but at a very basic level imitation is about customer perception. By aligning yourself with a well-known brand, even by name or sound, you are instantly giving your audience clues to who you are, what values are important to you, and what your company culture may be like. When a wave starts within an industry, choosing a name because “everyone else is doing it” can help you ride the wave and get noticed. However, being part of a trend can also limit your brand’s individual personality. And if you are one of the lucky few that build a strong and lasting company, your name may “date” you, and five years down the road a rebrand may be necessary to pull your brand out of the past.
3. Name Hacks
Sometimes a business comes along with a unique solution to a common problem. Del.icio.us is one of the first successful examples of a “domain hack”, or using two-letter country-codes, and sometimes subdomains as parts of a full word. The founder registered icio.us when the .us ccTLD was released, and later on decided to change the name of his website bookmarking application Muxway to “Delicious” when a friend referred to finding good links as “eating cherries.” The domain name later changed to delicio.us, and then finally to delicious.com.
Other hacks include bit.ly, instagr.am, bla.st, pix.ie, bug.gd, and fav.or.it. Some were created to be as short as possible, some to follow a trend, but most are an answer to businesses that want a recognizable “real” word as a name but that lack the funding to acquire the .com domain name. While being able to start your business with an inexpensive name is a plus for entrepreneurs on a budget, your startup’s success can actually make it more expensive to acquire the full .com version of your name in the long run, especially from an educated domain owner who knows that you are losing traffic by not having it.
How will you know if your business name can stand the test of time?
First, decide what kind of path your company is on. For many, a quick rise and a quick exit is part of the plan, so a trendy name may be beneficial, or at least not harmful. But if your idea is larger, and your plan is long-term growth, ask yourself these two questions: If you imagine possible expansion beyond your current specialty, does your name allow you to grow there? Does your name have qualities that were around and desirable 10, 20 or 50 years ago? If you answered ‘yes’, then your brand is prepared for longevity.
Want more info on what to look for in a good name? Checkout our full series on how to choose a business name.