In Part 1 of this series, we started with gathering the raw materials for choosing a business name. In this second part, we continue with Step 4 and look at pulling it all together. In Part 3, we will conclude with some do's and don'ts that business owners must bear in mind whilst choosing business names.

Step 4: Forming the Business Name

With the information gathered so far about key words and associated words, its now time to generate options for the business name. Bear in mind that there is various potential outcomes to this step; but there are no right or wrong answers.

Suggested approaches are:

  1. The most common approach is a straight use of keywords: is based on brand attributes, which describes the business as a last minute online booking service, or Quality Hotels or Kentucky Fried Chicken. These all use one or more keywords to form the business name.
  2. Alternatively, keywords can be abbreviated to form new words. Oando is one example. The company was previously called Ocean and Oil Limited and then became “O and O”  or Oando. Another example is Vodafone, the global mobile phone company. Its name is made up of three key words: Voice, Data & Fone (an alternative spelling of the word Phone). Its name reflects the business of the company as a provider of voice and data services over mobile phones". A third example is Accenture - the accounting and management consulting firm. This name is made up of 2 key words that reflect the business brand essence: Accent and Future.
  3. Use of the Owners name as  the business name is oftentimes the first option considered by business owners. For example, the range of Dangote businesses are named after the owner. The UK company Marks and Spencers (also known as M&S) was founded by Michael Marks and Tom Spencer. Their surnames formed the company name.
  4. Company names can also be formed from keyword associations. The best example is probably Twitter. When looking for a brand name, the founders turned to the dictionary looking for a word that captured the feeling of “buzzing” (this was one of their keyword). Through their brainstorming session, they came up with the word 'twitch'. But this word wasn’t appropriate because it conjures the wrong image. They continued with words around the word twitch in the dictionary and settled on “twitter” which means ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’, and ‘chirps from birds’. This reflected the product perfectly.
  5. Finally, some names are just coined from thin air. The word Kodak was invented by the owner George Eastman because he liked the letter K, and believed it was a strong and incisive letter. Linguist will be able to tell you the emotions triggered by every each letter of the alphabet. However, you don’t need to worry about this as the name will be tested (step 5). For Kodak, Mr Eastman tried out various combinations of words starting and ending with the letter “K” and eventually settled for Kodak. He knew it will be easy to trademark, easy to pronounce and there will be no other uses of the word.

This exercise should be carried out over a period of time, rather than expecting to come up with a name during the first brainstorming session. Once the team have spent a few hours brainstorming, leave the ideas on a wall for a few days. Each person will have time to mull over the keywords and the discussion and are likely to have other thoughts by the time the team reconvene.

After a few sessions, the team should be able to agree on a number of options for the business name. It is best at this time to select their top 3 names and "park" others con later consideration if needed.

Step 4: Test the top 3 names

The final step is to test the top 3 ideas with completely independent people and gauge their reaction to the name. The research sample should consist of potential customers, potential suppliers and other groups that will be interacting with the brand once launched. Remember to also include all target segments for the business: Gender, Age, Ethic background, Academic qualification etc.

Click here to download sample questionnaire.

At the end of this process, you may need to go back to the white board and refine the ideas or you may need to come up with some other names. Again, this is an iterative process and should continue until the feedback from members of the public aligns with the business objectives and business essence. Do not expect 100% alignment as this is near impossible.


This concludes the process of generating business names. Professional organisations could spend 4 – 6 months on this exercise due to the various iterations of ideation, testing and revision. We are not suggesting that a small business should take that length of time. However, we would recommend that the process is not rushed so you can get on with the “real business”. This is one of the few assets of the business that will not be depreciated over time. On the contrary, its value grows over time. It is therefore important to invest appropriate time in the process.

Therefore take time to have fun with this process. Work in a chilled out room with bean bags and pizzas.This is guaranteed to get the creative juicy flowing.

In the their and final part of this series, there is a checklist of do's and don'ts that business owners must go through before concluding on the name. Meanwhile we hope you have found the first two parts of this series useful.

Whether your start-up journey had a different or similar experience to ours, we would like to hear from you.

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