So many decisions go into starting a company and a product.  One of the most important ones is finding the right name for your company and/or product.  Naming is hard, really hard.

I think of names in a few categories, feel free to use this as a starting point for you.

Your name, initials, or combination of family members, etc.

10732451_10102248784080642_1190822414_oA lot of the company names we know now are just people’s names, like Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Orville Redenbacher, Disney, and Ferrari.  You can play with putting your first name and last name together, or think of an acronym.  One personal example, and one of the names that I almost used for my company was GKZ Software, which is the first initial of my first name and that of my two children’s names.  (Thanks goes to Valerie Dye for that suggestion).   Another initial example is from my uncle’s company, ZCT Systems which stands for Zumwalt Computer Technology.

When the company is a reflection of you and what you do, this might be the best route to take because your personal brand is a key part of your company brand.  If this is something that you are wanting to grow beyond yourself, and your plans include an exit strategy so you are no longer a part of the company, tying your personal name to the company may not be the best idea.  A counter example of this is McAffee Software, who after it’s ownership change, has tried to distance itself from it’s company’s namesake, John McAffee.

If you are your company, and it is important to your customers that you are doing the work, use your name if you can.

Name it what it does

Sometimes, just naming it what it does can work out.  Intel actually started out as Integrated Electronics, and even though they shortened it, it described what they did.  Likewise with IBM which stands for International Business Machines.  There are lots of examples from technology, and the company I use for my DNS hosting (Domain Name System) is DNS Made Easy.

If the name pigeon holes you too much, you might have difficulty explaining your brand if you expand outside of what your name description is.  DNS Made Easy does lots more than just domain name system hosting, but potential customers may not know that because of their focus on DNS Hosting (not entirely a bad thing since they are so good at it).

Fun/Interesting name

Moxie DefinitionI put this one out there because two of my companies have been from this category.  I consider both Spiked Mace Software and Moxie Software to be fun names.  Moxie has great meaning, and it just fit with the spirit of the company.  There will be an entirely separate post about the naming issues I have had with Moxie, but lets just say that just because you get the domain, you don’t always have the right to the name.

Spiked Mace Software is my newest venture, and I absolutely love the name.  The name is powerful, it instantly gives you a mental image of something physical, and it is easy to say and remember.  Carrying around a real spiked mace makes quite the impression as well.

Names from mythology, stories, songs, etc.

This is a big one, and very popular.  The most well known of these are Nike and Amazon.  There are hundreds of names from Greek Mythology that are used for company names.  If you have a favorite novel or story or song, start looking for unique character names that inspire you.

The most well known company name that came from a literary character is Starbucks, which is named after Starbuck, who is first mate to Captain Ahab in the classic Moby Dick.  My favorite band name from literature has to be Veruca Salt, which is of course from Ronald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Nonsense names (well, before they become household names of course)

SkaFlash_GoogleAppsLogoSize These types of names can sometimes get out of hand, but when you have gone through the list above and still don’t have an idea, maybe it’s time to start making stuff up.  I’m guilty of this, but sometimes it works.  One of my products is named SkaFlash, which just came out of brainstorming names for the product.  We went though hundreds of names, and to me, it just sounded most appropriate.  The fun thing about nonsense names is that you get to completely define your brand.

So many technology companies take this route, that it can be comical sometimes.  I personally use products by Twilio, but I have no idea what a Twilio is or does. Likewise with Google, Yahoo, eBay, Twitter, and on, and on….

The mechanics (and tools) of picking a name

In Part 2, I will go into the process of seeing if the name(s) you have chosen will be good names to use.  I will discuss looking for the domain name, legal availability and other things to check.