In my business, we work with a lot of start-up companies, so one of the questions we get asked is "What do you think of our name?" When the start-ups don't ask the question, I typically ask them for the genesis and significance of their name, so I can gather some insight into who they think they are or what they think they do.
A name is a funny thing because it's important to everyone, but it can easily become too important.
When first launching a company, name selection is a fun exercise, providing a preliminary opportunity for the team to engage with one another in the creative process. I also know of a number of companies who've spent tens of thousands (if not more) on creating a name, only to change it at a later date. In many cases, marketing execs come into a company and the first thing they attempt to do is rebrand and/or rename the company. Far too much of the time this is an act of self-perpetuation, where marketing execs are literally creating unnecessary work to make themselves feel important and leave their "mark" on the company.
There are times when a company needs to rebrand, but "need" and "want" are two entirely different things. You should rebrand when your company has changed its business model, offers a new suite of services, or has in some other way dramatically changed.
Iterative growth does not necessitate a change - because, whether you like the brand or not, it has built equity in the eyes of your customers. Very rarely, in my experience, has a company won or lost a piece of business based on its name. If that does happen, either the client was probably not someone they would have wanted to work with in the long term, or the team did not do a good job portraying the company's benefits over the competition. Names don't win business; business wins business.
All that being said, here are some pieces of advice for when you do decide to name a company:
1. Try to pick a name that evokes what you do, not just something "cool.". The Web is 50/50 on this, constantly creating new companies with cool-sounding names that don't mean anything, but the majority of those companies never amount to much. The ones that do typically have a story behind their names.
2. A name should be different enough to stand out and not be confused with your competition. It can be very difficult to literally own a brand name across multiple categories of business, but do your homework and weigh the pros and cons of other companies with similar-sounding names.
3. A name should be easy to say, or spell. I tend to ignore this advice altogether, with companies like the Arkitektive being uniquely generated brand names, but for the most part you want something that won't be misspelled repeatedly. You want your customers or clients to know how to find you easily and quickly.
4. Do your best to "own" your name: check out the domain registers, check out trademarkia, and check out any business-related database like Hoovers to see if someone else is operating under your desired brand. If there is too much overlap, move on.
Starting a company is exciting, and a bit unnerving, but naming that company should not be the most stressful thing you do. It should be a component of what you do, and a fun one as well.
Do I suggest you hire an outside firm to name your company? Not really. It's a creative process, but one that you can certainly undertake. And if business is going well, don't let someone tell you that you need to change the name to get to that "next level". As I said before, very few (if any) times has a company lost a piece of business because of its name.
What do you think is in a name? Tell me on the Spin Board!