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Sticks and stones: 5 tips for naming your business without getting hurt

Every now and then I’ll write one of these blogs and I’ll wonder if it’s a good idea.

Never with the weird ones. I don’t mind if people question why I have a personal grievance with Pingu, or I’m lying about living in a houseboat for some reason. Even the hairy ones where I’m eating a Chinese takeaway in the bath 15 years ago and I get woken up by my housemate giving me CPR.

The ones that worry me are when I’m about to moan about something that I might have done myself. Like a big stupid hypocrite.

The thing in question? Getting somebody’s name wrong. Gasp. Shock. Horror.

My name only has three letters and people still email me and call me “Don”, “Stuart” and “David”. One time I got called “Mrs Wilkes”.

I take it in good spirits. And hey, if somebody in the future tells a police officer “No Dan wasn’t there, it was Stuart that did all the crimes” who am I to correct them?

But if you take me out of the equation, it’s a different story. What about your business name? We all stop laughing about Stuart doing crimes then, don’t we?

My team can usually be found working on branding and rebranding projects, some of which require us to develop the actual name of the business. But where do you even start? How do we do it? Well, today I’m going to share five tips for naming your own business.

Spoiler: there’s not a machine with a special lever we pull, and a name comes flying out and starts biting everybody. They made us stop doing that.

Limber up

Before we start the heavy lifting, you might want to visit this blog where I talk about the three routes you might take when naming a business.

Ultimately they are:

  1. Having your name above the door
  2. Focusing on location
  3. Taking the abstract road (which splits off into two more roads).

There are pros and cons for each, so go and have a look and decide what might be right for you. This step can make the overall process much easier, as it quickly narrows down the piece of wall you’re trying to nail jelly to.

1. Manage your expectations

The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Most of that was nothing but weird fish floating about I think, but business names go way back too. For example, let’s look at the three routes we mentioned above.

  • Name above the door: Take Twinings as an example. It was founded in 1706 by Thomas Twining who looked no further than his surname before saying “that’ll do”.
  • Location-based: Call me crazy, but isn’t the Oxford University Press just a university press that is in Oxford? Say what you see, why overcomplicate it? Anyway, it’s 438 years old!
  • Abstract: I like a good lighthouse. I enjoy sailing towards the pretty lights in my houseboat. The official authority for lighthouses is apparently Trinity House, which was founded in 1514.

The point I’m making here, is that it’s 2024, there are only so many names available, and each year around 700,000 companies are formed in the UK.

You want the perfect name, and it is out there, but be prepared to think laterally and explore beyond the obvious. My message here isn’t “there’s no point, give up”, it’s “you need to work bloody hard”.

2. Form your committee

The people you invite into the process can make or break a naming project.

Not every member of your team needs to be involved in the branding process. Typically, for the initial discovery meeting where we solidify the brief, delve into the business details, and explore potential concepts, the involvement varies:

  • Sole adviser firms: The business owner
  • Smaller firms (5 to 10 advisers): The business owners and senior management team
  • Medium-sized and larger firms: A diverse committee.

Let’s delve into the composition of this diverse committee. The key is to strike a balance—large enough to represent the business comprehensively, yet small enough for effective management. Active participation is crucial, and every individual’s perspective holds equal weight.

A project in 2022 serves as a noteworthy example. The company, consisting of approximately 150 team members, formed a committee comprising of:

  • The project-leading business development manager
  • The managing director
  • A director from an acquiring entity
  • A director from a smaller business undergoing acquisition
  • A seasoned financial planner with 30 years of experience
  • A junior financial planner with five years of experience
  • The operations manager
  • A representative from the client support team
  • A young team member serving as adviser support.

This engaged team ensured that each participant in the room contributed significantly. While the number may seem extensive, it proved effective for the size of the business.

3. Set house rules

Now that we have the right people in the room, how do we get the most from them?

Naming sessions are essentially a big creative conversation. But if you all sit together without a clear idea of what you’re doing, minds will be blank and a deafening silence will make everybody want to scream.

So set some house rules, and stick to them.

The first is that there should be a facilitator. This person will gently guide the session and promote active engagement. If the conversation hits a dead end, it’s the facilitator’s job to bounce everybody back in with the other bumper cars by changing direction, throwing some random things into the mix or going back to ideas that are written down to open up new paths.

The second is that the session needs to be a safe space. If people are afraid of criticism on a “silly idea”, they simply won’t participate. Worry about why the ideas won’t work later down the line. For now, don’t hold anything back.

The third rule I like to make is to use “and” rather than “but” when discussing somebody’s idea. It tends to build on and up, rather than tear anything down.

Rule four is a simple one – focus on quantity and the quality will come. I want 50 ideas that contain four bangers. If we instead try to only put the “good” ideas on from offset, it’ll be a looooong day.

Number five is that everybody participates. If you’re in the room, you need to bring ideas. No exceptions.

For rule six, let’s defer full judgment until the end of an ideas round. Don’t rule anything out while you have ideas bubbling. It’ll stop your momentum. Get everything out, then we can poke at them.

And finally, keep to one conversation at a time. Don’t form silos. Magic happens when everybody is sparring, and you never know when that divine idea is going to jump up and bite everybody on the nose. It happened in a session a few weeks ago, because all eight of us were in the same conversation.

Sore noses were had by all, and it was great.

4. Know what boxes need ticking

So, you’ve managed your expectations, your committee has been carefully chosen, and we’re all eagerly sat in the safe space you’ve created.

The next step is throwing as much at the wall as possible. But once you’ve got your long-list, what then?

Each name needs to pass through a filter. Fair warning: this is the heart-breaking part. It’ll be this stage where much of your list catches fire, and you discover that it’s already a thing. Even worse, you’ll see that it’s already a thing AND they’ve done a great job with the branding. Ugh. Jealous feelings intensify.

But, a few of your names will plop out the other end and suddenly a great thing has happened – your life just became easier, as you now have a shortlist.

Your filter should include:

  • Is the domain available? (if you can only get and .com isn’t available, check it isn’t anything naughty, as people may end up on there by mistake)
  • Are there any listings on Companies House in the same sector? (check for dissolved companies too, you never know what reputation you may be accidentally stepping into)
  • Does the word have any bad associations? (if your committee are all the same demographic, consider asking people outside of it)
  • How foolproof is the spelling? (will people crack it first time, or will you spend eternity spelling it out over the phone?)
  • Are the social media handles available? (if not, what variations can you get?)

This is the time to really check your shoes before you track mud into the hallway. The more you stress-test the name now, the less chance you’ll have of discovering a problem down the line.

5. Kill your camel: disagree and commit

A graceful compromise can be a fine thing. However, the urge to combine lots of ideas is strong.

The danger zone in a naming process comes when you have more than one name on the shortlist, and the decision of which to pick is split.

If you find yourself in this tricky spot, really boil things down. Don’t try and create a mish-mash just so everybody feels all tingly and special.


No tingles for you.

Learning to disagree and commit can be difficult, but it will ultimately result in a stronger brand.

A name is what you make it

Choosing a name for your business can make you want to tear big chunks of your own hair out.

There’s no need for that. Let us help you develop a name, or at the very least we can grab some hair and join in with the tearing. Email or call 0115 8965 300.

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