Company naming advice from the woman behind PayPal's nameFeatured

Hi, I’m SB Master, founder of Naming Matters, a UC Berkeley SkyDeck company (www.namingmatters.com) that is helping entrepreneurs get better names by automating name creation and risk assessment. Before that, I was the founder of Master-McNeil, the pioneering naming firm (www.naming.com), and the Founding Director of Wordmark, Landor’s naming division.For Elpha, I’m answering the top four naming questions I frequently receive. Note, this is not legal advice, but rather insight from many years of creating, vetting, and helping clients select names. 1) What is your definition of a good name?The absolutely gotta-have-its: A good name is easy to say, difficult to mispronounce, memorable, defensible, and appealing.Beyond these characteristics, your name will ideally have something special about it, which makes it uniquely rich and relevant for you, your business, and your values. It is this special quality that gives your name the ability to grow and function as the seed of your brand. Your name should be that key element that resonates outward, like a pebble dropped into a pond. Your name should be rich and full of possibility, able to stay fresh and keep growing in new creative directions. In order to function in this way, your name will ideally have at least some relevant, intrinsic meaning, but will not be so narrow (geographically or descriptively) that it limits your ability to grow. And unless you have deep resources for advertising and/or lots of time – rare for a startup – this is a powerful argument for thinking very hard before choosing a meaningless, random, arbitrary, or totally made-up name.2) I already own (or bought) the URL, isn’t that enough to ensure that I own and can go-to-market with my name?No, URL ownership and trademark protection are two parallel but very different systems. Owning and using a URL is not enough to protect your name as a trademark, other than providing some Common Law rights through use.In fact, many founders register or buy a URL and start building their brand around it, only to find out, too late -- after they get sued or receive a cease-and-desist letter -- that they can’t use that name for their planned business, because someone else has prior trademark rights.It is unwise to spend a lot of (or any) money buying a URL, until you’re sure you can actually use that name as a trademark. This is just as true whether you plan to actually register your name as a trademark or not.Before buying a URL, try and build some confidence in your potential to use it for your planned goods or services. Our automated search service (www.namingmatters.com) rates trademark risk. Combine that with some internet searching for your name and goods or services (trademark-speak for the business you’re in) to check for Common Law use. 3) Is it worth registering my name as a trademark? A Federal trademark grants you important rights in the United States to use and defend your name for the goods or services you have described. Trademark registration gives you an exclusive right to use the name in your area of business.This means that if others attempt to use your name for similar or identical goods, or a name that is similar to your name for similar or identical goods, you have legal remedies to object to their use and stop them.But trademark registration is slow and expensive, with filing fees per name and per trademark class, and often the need to hire an attorney. And some names are not expected to last long enough to get through a trademark process, for example if your name is for an event, or a seasonal product. In these cases, filing a Federal trademark application is probably not a good use of resources. 4) What is the difference between that superscript ™ I see, and the ®? Would the superscript ™ help me, if I decide not to file for a trademark?Yes! At the very least, once you are confident that you will go forward with your name, you should place a superscript ™ to the upper right of your name – on your web site, on packaging, on your pitch deck, on the first mention in print – to assert ownership.If you decide to go through the trademark registration process and succeed, you’ll be able to replace the ™with the coveted ®, indicating that you now have a registered trademark. But even if you choose not to register, you will have claimed ownership of your name with the ™ superscript, giving a clear hands-off signal to potential users of identical or similar names for identical or similar goods.Further ThoughtsOf course, name creation and selection is complex and I am asked many more questions besides these four. I’ll be doing Office Hours here at Elpha in the next few weeks, so remember to keep an eye out for that, and post your further questions then. Key topics you may want me to address then may include how to determine the optimal number of names, state trademarks, international linguistic issues, the EU trademark vs. individual country marks, Common Law rights, URL acquisition strategies, and name creation tricks and tools.
teresaman's profile thumbnail
This is super insightful! To your point about having a name that's memorable and defensible, I also liked Seth's note about owning the name in your space/domain.
sbmaster's profile thumbnail
Hi Teresa,I clicked that link, thx! The challenge there is that it is almost as hard to establish a made-up (coined) or arbitrary name as a brand, as it is a generic (though granted, usually less expensive to acquire the URL). That is why I tend to favor suggestive names, which at least give the user or audience some idea of what business you are in, or your values, or a feeling or impression of what is special about you; something to hang onto and hopefully remember.
Sangeeta's profile thumbnail
Thanks for your insights- very helpful- struggling with a name right now for my passion - making ceramics has grown from the lockdown and the pandemic having affected my main passion and business, travel.
sbmaster's profile thumbnail
Hi Sangeeta, yes so many people are finding time to explore new passions and business ideas during this lockdown time. As you begin to think about names, I good to hear my "4 Questions" piece at elpha was helpful. You may find some further useful thoughts in the FAQ pages of Naming Matters (www.namingmatters.com).
LizH's profile thumbnail
Naming Matters looks AH-MAZING! I'm a professional namer (one half of the StokeSignals team (https://www.stokesignals.agency/)) and it looks like this could save us a ton of time pre-screening names. I've explored other tools for this, but none have been nearly at this level of awesome. So glad I saw this post!
sbmaster's profile thumbnail
Hi Liz, and thank you for your kind words. Yes that is pretty much a perfect description of the best use of Naming Matters (www.namingmatters.com) -- to instantly eliminate risky name choices, and save time, frustration, and money by focusing on your best possibilities. This works for professional agencies like StokeSignals, and also for occasional namers such as founders, people with side projects, new product dev within companies, friends exploring new business ideas, etc. Hope you will give us a try, and always happy to chat.