These iconic companies started out the same way many companies do–with a great idea and a bunch of brainstorming about names. As you’re thinking about naming the company that is going to take your great idea to the next level, here are 4 things you must do: (1) google the name; (2) check for trademarks; (3) check for domain names and social media; and (4) check your secretary of state’s business registry.
#1. Google the name.
Once you’ve figured out a name you like, you should google it to see what other uses are out there. Now, it is impossible to be the first and only person on a planet of 7.5 billion people who wants to use certain words for a company. As my mother says all the time, ain’t nothing new under the sun.
You’ll probably find something, and that’s okay. Just because another person is using the name doesn’t mean you can’t. The real questions are: is naming your company whatever you want to name it ethical, and is it legal?
If there are too many instances of the same name out there, you may not be able to set yourself apart in the marketplace. And, if your name and brand are toooo close to someone else’s, you may end up with more headaches than you want, even if using the name is legal. If people think you’ve “stolen” someone else’s name, you may never hear the end of it on social media.
The court of public opinion is brutal, honey.
And, you don’t want to run afoul of trademark law, which in many countries is how people and companies protect names and phrases they want to use to do business. Leading to the second point….
#2. Check for trademarks.
In addition to googling the name, you should search the trademark database at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website if you’re in the US and/or planning on doing business in the US. This will show you if/where the name has been registered by others.
If your state has a searchable state trademark database (usually run by the Secretary of State’s Office – find a full list of them here), you should search that too. If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t be too pressed about it, for reasons I’ll mention below.
BUT AGAIN, just because the name is a trademark registered with the USPTO, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. The real question is whether the name has been registered for the purpose you want to use it for. Trademark law only protects words/phrases for the specific way they are being used in connection with the sale of products and services.
For example, if I own a trademark in the word BRIDGE for my baking company, I typically can’t stop a person from using BRIDGE to sell shoes. This part of the equation can get a little complicated depending on what you find–this is where trademark lawyers come in.
A trademark lawyer can be worth their weight in gold on this, especially if there are a lot of other companies and people out there using the same name. But, obviously lawyers are very expensive. You’ll have to weigh how important the name is to you and whether it is worth paying a lawyer at this stage to help with this.
Even as a trademark lawyer myself, I don’t necessarily think you need one at this stage, unless you’re planning on pouring your life savings into this and there are a lot of similar companies out there using the same name in the space industry as you.
#3. Check for domain names and social media handles. And get them now.
Now, this step is often overlooked, but it is SOOOOO important. Please, please, PLEASE, check whether the domain name you want is registered. AND, make sure you can get the social media handles you want across the different platforms. There’s nothing worse than coming up with this great business name, doing everything you need to do, and not being able to communicate the way you want online.
If the domain names/social handles are available, buy/reserve them as soon as you believe you want to use them. Most domain names are less than $20/year (unless someone who already bought it for $20 or less is selling it for hundreds, thousands, or millions more), and social media handles are free.
You may have to get creative with these domain name/social media searches–the identical thing you’re looking for may not work, but some iterations could.
Take this site, for example….I named my company LVRG as a play on the word leverage. As of the time of this writing, LVRG.com is on sale for about $25,000 (by someone who probably DID originally get is for $20!). This isn’t an amount I’m ready or willing to pay right now, so I searched for LVRG.co, which at the time was also unavailable but about to expire. I set a calendar reminder for its expiration date, and once I saw that the owner wasn’t going to re-up, I bought it immediately.
It is best to have a consistent brand from the outset. If you can snatch all of that stuff up quickly, DO IT. You don’t want to end up losing out on a domain name because you don’t consider all of this at the beginning.
#4. Search for the business name with the Secretary of State
In most states, the Secretary of State’s office (or an equivalent) is responsible for registering companies and managing the state’s trademark registration process.
If you’re ready to make your business official, you can go straight to registering the company with the Secretary of State. While each state has its own requirements, most will not allow two domestic businesses to operate with the exact same name. You can find out what names have already been taken by searching the business registry in the state where you plan to incorporate your business. You can find more on this, including a full list of all of the Secretary of State offices in the U.S. in this article.
If you’re not quite ready to make your business official, you can reserve the name of the business with the Secretary of State so no one else beats you to the punch. How long this reservation lasts depend on the state–it could be 30 days, 120 days, or some other time period.
These tips for choosing a business name may seem detailed, but they can save you many headaches later on. The whole goal is to create a name and brand you’re excited about building and growing. If you do these things, you can protect yourself against setbacks related to your company’s name.
EVEN with all of this, stay calm and fluid in the early days, because you may re-brand your business many times over the years. Even Nike and Google started out with completely different names! (I’m on name number 3 or 4 myself!)
What other steps did you take when you named your business? Drop a comment below and let us know!