5 Tips: How to Name Your Startup

This is a guest post by Dave Van de Walle from Area 224.
You’ve got a great idea, right? You’re gonna change the world with your startup – or you’re gonna build a lifestyle business that makes you insanely happy. In any event, you need the right name: without it, you could be headed down the wrong path before you even start. Here are 5 tips:
Add a letter, or a prefix.
The iPhone and iPad and its ilk are part of the trend toward the “add a letter” movement. Want to Fax without a fax machine? eFax. My first startup, U Sphere, wanted “you” to expand your “sphere” of influence (whether you were a college student or a university). How clever.
A lovely twist on this is evident by looking at Unmarketing. So what if 7-Up had the “Un-Cola” ages ago? It’s semi-obvious what they do over there at Unmarketing world headquarters. Marketing by not marketing. Bringing us to tip 2:
Be semi-literal. But not totally literal.
Friends over at Perkspot have a nice thing going – a Chicago startup success story. The name tells you that they do something around being a spot for perks, right? Or is it about coffee? Ah-ha! It’s not about coffee – just like GrubHub is not about beetles.
Don’t use your own name, unless…
It’s not advisable to use your own name. If you’re building a business larger than yourself, you’re going to want it to be about more than you. Tony Robbins built Tony Robbins over years and years, spending tons of money. If you have both, then by all means call your company John Smith Enterprises.
Martha Stewart was able to weather her own storm thanks to marketing ubiquity. You get the idea.
Exceptions to this rule? Well, Exhibit A is my Dad, who built up a ton of goodwill as a Realtor over a 20-plus year career; when he finally took the plunge on his own, it made total sense to call his firm VandeWalle Realty Group. Your experience may vary.
You’re also building something bigger than just you, right? Best way to do that is to THINK bigger than you.
You don’t have to be TOO clever.
Mystery is good. Too much mystery may be too mysterious. Area 224 is semi-clever, but doesn’t really aim to be more than just a play on the area code where we’re headquartered. (Look it up here: http://www.bennetyee.org/ucsd-pages/area.html.)
Some people think we’re like Area 51. Others wonder if 2 + 2 = 4 is how we came up with the name. (Hmmm.)
When in doubt: A before B.
Uber-connected startup veteran Guy Kawasaki suggests this. He’s right, having worked for Apple and now running something called Alltop. The earlier in the alphabet the better. Area 224 figured this out early on. (U Sphere, the last startup I worked on, didn’t fare so well alphabetically.)
So there you are – hopefully some naming inspiration. Go get em.
About the Author: Dave Van de Walle is CEO of Area 224, a strategic communications firm located in Evanston, Illinois. The company has worked with brands large and small, helping them to better craft their stories, connect with their audiences, and sell more stuff. On Twitter, he's @Area224.
Jody Calkins
Follow Me
Latest posts by Jody Calkins (see all)