Our company name sucked. Here’s how to make sure yours doesn’t
It is harder than one might think to find a good business name. Paul Graham of Y Combinator in one of his famous essays puts emphasis on the importance of having a .com domain for your company name.
I concur with him.
Nevertheless, buying a proper domain should not hold you back from rethinking the name itself to get the bigger picture.
I’m not going to cover the process of finding a good name for your business. There are tons of excellent materials available. What I am going to do instead is show you how to validate the name and avoid common pitfalls.
This is a story of a lack of preliminary research and unshakable optimism for our own naming skills.
The premature eureka moment
We started our software development company in late 2014. As we wanted to target an international audience, having an English name was a no-brainer.
We all spoke English, but none of us was a native English speaker.
The process to find our brand new perfect name took us no longer than 15 minutes, and looked pretty much like this:
We are starting a company!
We are coding!
Code + Company = Codepany
That’s going to be our company name. 😄
We checked domain availability, and the .com was free. You can only imagine our happiness when we found out that all popular social media handles were available too.
We asked a few friends (3 Polish speakers and one native English speaker as I recall) for feedback. The answer was clear: great job guys, Codepany is a clever name that communicates well what you do.
Codepany - that’s brilliant.
From that day on, our official name was Codepany.
Hello, Code Pany.
After a few months, we realised that we had overlooked how the name sounds in Polish. Both our clients and friends called us Code Pany (as two separate words). It was easier to say both words separately instead of trying to mimic the English accent.
Unfortunately, “Pany” in the Polish language is a tacky way of saying “gentlemen”.
We ignored this connotation as irrelevant.
Sometimes people asked us to repeat the name because depending on the accent applied it sounded different. Not to mention that even we, the founders, didn’t feel entirely comfortable while saying it out loud.
We reached the tipping point while speaking with American clients. What we took for granted turned out to be a major disappointment.
They pronounced it Co-depany or Copany.
Are you coding for a penny?
We decided to post on Quora to ask the broader audience for feedback.
As anticipated, it was far from positive.
The funniest answer we got:
If you are coding for a penny, then it’s a way to go.
We had learned the hard way that this name was basically terrible and needed immediate change.
A checklist for finding new company names
To avoid past mistakes, we came up with a strategy for finding a new name. Our framework included the following actions to check for potential pitfalls:
Check .com availability (of course).
Social Media handles availability.
Check the urban dictionary for the non-obvious meaning.
Check how TTS (Text To Speech) online tools pronounce it.
Encourage your English native speaking friends to share thoughts on the name.
Repeat point 5, but online, and with a broader audience.
Although most of the points are obvious, I think urban dictionary requires explanation. The English language contains a multitude of slang words or weird meanings for regular words. Although many of them are less common or known only to a small group of people, don’t underestimate it.
To give you an example - one proposition of name did not make its way through because it meant “fecal” according to Urban Dictionary. 🙄
Almost hit home…
Following these simple rules, we completed the first batch of names and posted them to Quora.
We also attached a survey to enable users to vote for the best name. The distribution of votes was quite even. Hence it did not provide much valuable information. Nonetheless, we got honest feedback on each given name:
Up to this point, we had spent around 50 hours in total on new name finding. It made us feel overwhelmed and powerless, so we almost decided to pick “Altarise”. Still, we wanted to be 100% sure, so we opened yet another Quora thread dedicated to that very name.
The feedback was relatively good, but one thing struck us - “Altarise” might sound like a verb from the noun “Altar”. This implies religious connotations. Also, people were not unanimously sure of the correct pronunciation.
We knew one thing. If we don’t limit the realm of possibilities, we will start over and probably never finish.
The decision was clear - we want “Alta” as the prefix.
Why? It sounds powerful and derives from Latin “Altus,” which stands for “High” or “Great”.
Eventually, our final choice was Altalogy. Let’s break it down:
Alta + Technology = Altalogy
.com domain available
Social media handles available
No negative connotations found on urban dictionary
Pronunciation is not ambiguous
“Logy” suffix makes it sound a bit like a science discipline
No negative feedback among friends and family
No negative online feedback
We are proud of our new name. People who knew us as Codepany before adopted it quite smoothly too.
You may disagree and think it’s bad - or worse than Codepany. That’s perfectly fine, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 👀
The key thing is that we did our homework to lower the odds of an unfortunate decision.
To see how we are doing right now, check us out here.
I did not mention one of the crucial parts of searching for a new name - defining what you do and what you are good at - to convey the right meaning. I deliberately skipped this part as some of you prefer abstract names over explicit ones.
So, the key takeaways are:
Do lots of research. If you are trying to come up with a name in a language that is not your mother tongue, do twice as much research.
Ask for feedback. Ask explicitly for connotations and associations.
Ask friends, family, clients, enemies, random people online.
Use all available tools like Text to Speech online apps, urban dictionary, and good old Google.
Start with no limits then gradually introduce some. Just like we did with “Alta”
Be prepared to spend up to 100 hours to find your perfect business name.
And remember: if you decide to settle for a name that just popped to your head without further research because you think it’s excellent and the .com is free - do it at your own risk.