Do: A business name should be unique. As a startup, you don't want to be confused with other companies. Even in the Internet age, word of mouth is still the number-one method of marketing for any business. You want to make sure people hearing about your business do not confuse it with another similarly named company.
Examples from our portfolio: Cordinizer (cord organizer), Cleaning 4 Closure (foreclosed home cleanup), and Carriyak (kayak carrier kit).
Don't: Even if traffic to Pinterest is taking off like a rocket these days, Pinspire (a real website) isn't a very good name for a competing service. Having a name too similar to the industry leader might help you get a few accidental customers early on, but you want to build long-term business. If Pinspire was to actually be successful at their goal of building a better social sharing site, they would simply be confused for Pinterest, and vice-versa. All their work creating a better product and reputation will be wasted. Copying an industry leader's name is a short-sited plan for mild success. Be sure that people will not confuse your business with others in your industry.
Do: Your new business name should be memorable. When your name is shared through word of mouth, social media, or traditional advertising, you want your potential customers to be able to remember your name. Your name should be on the tip of their tongue. Made up names can be fun, but if they aren't memorable, they are useless. Make sure you don't let whimsical get in the way of memorable.
Examples from our portfolio: The Bubble Wrap (retail shipping store), Nicassure (quit smoking gum), Peek-A-Boo(children's pajamas).
Don't: For the first few weeks after I was introduced to the startup launching website, Wahooly, I had to search my bookmarks just to tell another person about the site. I simply couldn't recall the name. If people can't remember your business name, you have a problem. Be careful not to choose funky over functional.
Do: A descriptive name will always be more quickly accepted and less expensive to market than one that is vague. When brainstorming business name ideas, you should at least hint at what product or services you provide. You will want customers to feel confident about what you're offering when they approach you to do business.
Examples from our portfolio: MemberMob (social website registrations), PicturePerfect Productions (professional photography).
Don't: GoDaddy, the domain registrar, had to spend millions of dollars on a Super Bowl ad before they were known for being "that domain company." They've also had to continue buying Super Bowl ads to remind people what they do. Industry mainstay Network Solutions' name at least hints at what services the domain registrar provides. I'm not surprised to discover that they can handle my domain registration. On the other hand, when first hearing the website name GoDaddy, one has no clue about the services they provide.
Do: Your new business name should be easily shared by word of mouth. Your business name ideas should be easy to spell and easy to say. As we have already discussed, word of mouth still rules marketing. When people talk about, post about, or tweet about your business, you will want them to be able to share the proper pronunciation or spelling of your name. Be careful about selecting a name that has to be spelled out when shared, or needs a disclaimer.
Examples from our portfolio: Spin Bin (tumbling compost bin), Curb Appeal (property manager), NeighborNews (community newsletter).
Don't: Social news sharing site Digg has surely had success, but has failed to appeal to the non-tech crowd. In the early years of sharing the concept, I quickly grew tired of saying, "Digg, with two G's." Don't assume that you'll be able to overcome the hard-to-spell or pronounce hurdle with which only a small percentage of companies truly have success.
Choosing a business name idea can be overwhelming. Be sure to consider the long-term impact of your name and how it will spread throughout your community and the Internet through social sharing.