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Mistakes to avoid when naming your business

By Winnie Makena | November 16th 2020

What’s in a name, you ask? Well, everything. The success of your business could very well be dependent on the name you choose. As many entrepreneurs can attest, a name has the potential to make or break a new venture. Below are six common naming mistakes to avoid at all costs when naming your new business:

1.      Using words so plain no one remembers them

You can get away with it if you are the first company on a category, like General Motors. Otherwise, especially with the onslaught of new media and advertising channels, it’s more important than ever to carve out your niche by exhibiting your uniqueness. You may think of yourselves as the best in the industry and aptly name yourself Summit, Apex, Pinnacle, Peak, etc. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these names, they are overworked. Look for combinations of positive words and metaphors and you will be much better served. A good example is Kampala-based ride sharing app ‘SafeBoda’. The name conveys safe access to mobility without sounding commonplace.

2.      Using the map to name your company

If you are thinking of calling your business ‘Kenya Plumbers’, think again. It may boost your search rating, which can be very useful for young business, but will work against you in the long run. You may grow beyond your industry and your region, city or country and it will prove to be a challenge. Customers may assume you only serve people from that area.

To avoid limiting their growth, Kentucky Fried Chicken is now KFC, de-emphasising the regional nature of the original name. Closer home, a coffee house opened its first store in 1999 in Nairobi and called it Nairobi Java House. Years later, they opened 60+ locations across East Africa and had to rebrand to just ‘Java House’. Avoid this potential bottleneck by naming your business without an atlas.

3.      Using a business name that’s too long or difficult to understand

Choose a business name that is made up of words that are easy to hear, remember, spell and say. It should also be something with 2-3 syllables, short enough to fit on a business card or display on a sign and fit neatly in a corner of your website. If you chose the name, “Floccinaucinihilipilification Ltd” few people would remember it to share or even find on the web. It actually is a word that means “nonexistence” and that’s probably what would happen to a business using it as their name.

If you must have a long name, don’t forget to keep a shorter version of it to put out there. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, keeps its long name but also uses PwC.

4.      Spelling your name ‘creatively’

Don’t tie your brain in knots trying to come up with a unique spelling. The average adult reads at the primary school level. The last thing you want to do is confuse people with a name they can’t say or write easily.

For instance, companies ‘Mint’ and ‘Wesabe’, both were tools to help individuals track their personal finances. Only one is still in the game now. Can you guess which one? An account from a higher up at ‘Mint’ pinpointed the name as one of several reasons ‘Mint’ was ultimately more successful.

The issue with having a name like Xerox, Kodak or Wesabe is that you’ll always have to spell it when you say it because it isn’t spelled how people hear it. These companies have to spend money on a marketing budget to convey their meaning. Resist the urge to use a “K” in place of a “Q” or a “Ph” in place of an “F.”

When using coined words, make the spelling intuitive. Weebly, Pepsi, Ebay, and MPesa are all made-up names, but you can easily guess how they’re spelled.

5.      Skipping the research

Be sure to do a thorough trademark search before you name a new business. Otherwise, you might later discover that your name is actually already registered with or being used by another company, negating all the effort you’ve spent talking up your new business. That is not all. You also need to find out if any companies bear names similar to yours, or if the name you’re considering has any troubling or problematic associations. Is there any way to misinterpret your business name so that it means something completely unrelated and/or inappropriate? If so, you might want to think about at least tweaking the verbiage a bit. No one likes a copycat so do not be lazy and unoriginal.

6.      Having a business name that coincides with popular searches

For an online business, avoid names that already rank very highly in web searches, even if they’re in other industries. This is aside from trademark law, which might be irrelevant.

For example, say you’re going to open a webstore called Cloud 9. If you Google the word ‘cloud 9’ you will find:

·         A restaurant in Westlands called Cloud 9 with features in review pages.

·         An online marketplace and booking service for leisure experiences.

·         A verified Instagram user with 622K followers called ‘cloud9gg’

Even though your webstore won’t impinge on trademarks in any of these simple cases, all of these are going to make it tough for your business to rank highly when someone searches for ‘cloud9’. Of course, you want them to be searching for your products or services as well, but searching for your name is an important part of the mix.

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