This blog post is devoted to the topic of choosing a name for your new company or organization.

I have been in business myself and chosen names or helped to choose names for startup companies and new nonprofits. Naming a company is always the first challenge or dilemma for a new business or nonprofit. Some organizations can afford to pay the big bucks to come up with a name by employing focus groups or pollsters. If you are a startup, it is not likely that you will have the money to retain the services of a consultant just to come up with a name for your company.

Take your time in choosing a name for your company. You may be in a hurry to register your new business, and you may be under some time pressures from associates or investors. Slow down! The name that you choose for your organization is going to follow you for a long time. Of course, you can change the name for your startup. But why not prevent the hassle or confusion and choose a name now that will suit your company or organization for years to come.

There are some things that you may want to consider as you are thinking about a good name for your business. As you read this blog post, think about what you want for a name in your startup. Do you want the name to sound good? Do you want it to be descriptive? Do you want to identify your startup with some place or person? Is the name easy to sound out or spell? Here are some general guidelines that you may want to consider.

Try out the name on associates, friends, family

You have now been brainstorming with family and friends. Come up with a short list and elicit a wide spectrum of views from family, friends, colleagues, investors and other associates. Of course, you are the master of your startup business and may decide not to take their advice—you only get one name and you are not going to please everyone. They will not all agree on one name. If you have a terrible name, your family or friends are going to help prevent you from making a mistake. I like to assemble a small group of advisers in one room and listen to their reactions to various possibilities.

Avoid cutesy names

There is generally nothing that is going to stop you from adopting a bizarre name except your good sense. I am not a personal fan of cutesy names. Anything that takes more than 20 seconds to spell out or to explain how it relates to your business fits my definition of cutesy.

I sat on a board several years back and the other board members were enamored of a name that was popular in the news. I was the lone voice against the name. Six months later no one wanted to take credit for the name and members of the board wondered who had ever thought of the name.

We ended up holding another board meeting to change the name. We unanimously voted to change the name, but that meant of course filing a name change. We had to change the bylaws and we had to file with the IRS. We also had to change the name on all of the organization’s bank accounts. We had to explain to the bank that we had the same employment identification number, only the name was different and should be changed on their records. Years later the bank still had not corrected the name on the account.

It is much easier to get it right the first time without spending your time and money later on to change that you should have gotten right in the first place. It is not the way that new companies should be spending their time and energy.

Internet searches: .org and .com addresses

Check out the name and similar names on the Internet. With all of the bloat on the Internet, are you going to be able to reserve a url that approximates the name of your company? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find .com urls. I am not suggesting that you have to have a .com url but .com is still the gold standard for commercial companies and .org for nonprofits.

As an aside, you don’t have to have a not for profit company to obtain a .org address. I think that it is confusing because some consumers wrongly think that if a company has a .org address, then that company is a nonprofit organization. Not true and any company, even a for-profit company, can have a .org address.

There is now a proliferation of url suffixes so even if the .com or .org address is not available, there are plenty of other suffixes that you can consider. You may want to consider a .net address or .us address, and there are now many more suffixes, although I am partial to these most used suffixes.

Punctuation and spacing matter: lose the ampersand

Now that you have a name, don’t forget to think about punctuation and spacing. I know one LLC manager who routinely uses the names of the streets to create single asset limited liability companies. He combines the name with an ampersand. You remember what an ampersand is from your high school English days, right? It is that funny sign over the 7 on your keyboard that looks like this: &. Do you already see the problem?

Let’s assume that you were thinking of a name for a limited liability company near where Rosten Law is on 16th and L Streets in Washington, D.C. The name of the company could sound exactly the same but be spelled differently. It could be spelled out 16th & L Street, LLC or it could be Sixteenth and L Street, LLC, or a combination of these two alternative spellings.

When you are giving out your name to the bank, clients, or having tenants write a check to your LLC, how many times will the manager of this LLC have to explain that 16th is the number 16 not written out Sixteenth? How many times will the manager have to explain that the name of the company uses an ampersand? Make it easy on yourself and avoid the issue by losing the ampersand altogether and you may want to avoid numbers altogether.

Can you register your name?

Now that you have your name, you can check out the name in the jurisdiction in which you are planning on doing business. You can also ask your small business attorney to help out to see whether you can reserve the name in the jurisdiction in which you want to register your company. For our clients in Washington, D.C., we can search either the Delaware or District of Columbia databases. If the name is available, you may want to have your startup lawyer reserve the name to preserve your priority even if you ultimately decide on another name.

You also may want to see if there is a registered trademark and can check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark (USPTO) to find out whether your name may violate an existing registered trademark. Just because a trademark is not registered does not mean that you may cavalierly use a certain name. Trademarks in a name are usually acquired by the usage of a name, and a name is protected under common law beginning with the first time that an organization uses it, regardless of whether it was registered with the USPTO.

Registering with USPTO can provide valuable additional protection, including nationwide priority of use of the name. A trademark provides the exclusive right of the organization to use that name for those classes of goods or services with which it is most closely associated. If your name comes close to another name and you are in the same geographical location as that other business, you may want to avoid the problem altogether by coming up with a different name at the outset rather than potentially coming into conflict with another organization’s trademark rights.

Checklist for finding a name for your company

Finding the right name for your startup may be challenging, but it is well worth the effort. This list is a good summary of some of the steps you should go through to find the name that you and more importantly your clients or customers will be happy with. Remember that it is often an iterative process and you may have to go back to a previous step as there are often stops and starts along the way to find the right name.

  1. 1. Come up with a list of possible names
  2. 2. Vent names with friends and colleagues to narrow down the list
  3. 3. Check to find out what domain names may be available
  4. 4. Determine whether your name may be confusing
  5. 5. Determine whether the name is available to be registered
  6. 6. Run a check with USPTO for registered trademarks
  7. 7. Make final decision on the name for your company

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