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Five deadly sins when choosing a name for your start-up

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 | By Oliver Milman

When is a rebrand not really a rebrand?


Arguably, it’s when the process doesn’t actually alter your business’ name, as is the case with food franchise Fasta Pasta.


The business has switched its logo and colour palate and most observers would probably agree the new look is a significant upgrade.


However, by keeping the word ‘Fasta’ as part of the name, there is only so far the franchise can drag itself upmarket. The dilemma is, of course, that certain brand recognition and loyalty has formed around the moniker.


For start-ups, this should be less of a problem. If you realise you have a turkey of a business name, you can quickly switch it before you’re widely known.


But it would be better to avoid such pitfalls in the first place. Here are five business naming sins you need to dodge.


1. Treading on the toes of another businesses


Most entrepreneurs worth their salt will conduct a search to ensure their business name choice isn’t currently used by an existing company.


However, be aware that registering your business name in Australia does little to prevent a rival claiming that you’ve infringed their intellectual property.


Take the case of NSW media start-up Business Insider, which was forced to change its name to Business Ink last week following legal action taken by New York-based Business Insider – which has only recently expanded to Australia.


As Mark Cleary, co-founder of Business Ink, told us: “Your search for a name needs to be global and you need to avoid similar names, because it’s just too hard to compete when it comes to hard cash”.


2. Getting lost in translation


Peugeot is the butt of jokes in southern China, where its translated name, Biao zhi, sounds unhappily like the regional slang for “prostitute.”


The Sci-Fi Channel attempted to make itself more ‘hip’ by switching its name to “Syfy”, apparently unaware that the term is a shorthand for ‘syphilis’.


And then there’s Sydney tech venture Wynbox, which headed to Silicon Valley with big dreams, only to find that its original name, Wyngle, sounded too much like ‘wangle’ to American ears.


The lesson is clear – think carefully about what your chosen names means to people of different ages and cultures. You could be making a horribly embarrassing slip-up.


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3. Being overly elaborate


Many start-ups, especially in the internet space, chose unusually-spelled names in order to give themselves some sort of edge.


While this can provide a nice point of difference, it can confuse people. Bear in mind that Twitter once tried to be a bit too clever by calling itself ‘Twittr’, before coming to its senses.


Do you really want to be forever spelling out the name of your business and explaining to people what on Earth you were thinking of?


Just as importantly, you need to ensure your name isn’t confused for anything else. If you’re called Phaser, for example, that could easily be mistaken for Faser or Fazer. Your search engine traffic will suffer as a result.


4. Being too literal


While it’s important to not be confusing and a bit of a try-hard with your business name, it’s also damaging if you play it too safe.


Just think about the number of businesses which have terms like ‘management solutions’ in their titles. These names conjure up images of uninspired, mass market firms.


You also don’t want to box yourself in with your name. Businesses like Google and Amazon have titles that have little to do with what their businesses actually do – allowing them to not be defined solely by books or search results.


Marketing expert Adam Ferrier says: “Ensure your name is not limiting your business by talking about a product or place if you have plans to stretch into other businesses or locations.”


“The Virgin empire was going to be called Slipped Disk Records when it started as a record shop. How different their fortunes would have been.”


5. Not being flexible


If your name isn’t working out, don’t delay. You need to ditch it. Don’t be so taken in by your own genius that you can’t realise you’ve made a mistake.


“No other thing you ever do will ever communicate as much about your business as your name will,” Ferrier says.


“A good name will inspire people, creating energy and opportunity. A bad name will confuse, or limit your businesses potential.”


“So, in a word, change it. If you're not completely happy with it then change it, the cost of doing so will soon be forgotten.”