Anyone who notices business names knows that finding the perfect one can be tricky. Most names are serviceable and a few are showstoppers. Seldom are they as provocative as the one I noticed  in Bath, England. The sign that grabbed my attention said, “Jolly’s Funeral Directors.” I can only assume that Jolly is a family name and not the personality of the undertaker.

Naming a business is not unlike naming a baby, after all. You want something fitting, something that’s memorable. While there are no rules about picking a business name, here are some things to keep in mind when it’s time to christen a new enterprise or rename an old one.

° Using your own name as your business name (i.e. Fred W. Jenkins and Associates) is appropriate if the business you’re naming relies on the skills, services or expertise of the person for whom it’s named. If you’re marketing consulting, coaching or other personal services, you may  want your personal name to become a “brand”. Too often, however, using a personal name indicates lack of imagination, so it may not be conveying the kind of image you want to have. And if your name is difficult to pronounce or spell, think twice before giving it to your business.

° Before you commit to a name, start making lists of any possibilities. Try out your ideas on trusted friends and see if there’s a consensus of opinion about which one is best. Or if your friends are willing, gather them together for a Name My Business Party.  The more ideas you can generate, the better your chances of picking the name that suits your business perfectly.

° A good name suggests or states outright the purpose of the business—or gives a strong hint about what the business does. One of my favorite business names belongs to my sister Margaret who named her newest enterprise Over the Top Fascinators. 

Aim for a name that  gives a clear signal about the purpose of the business without being banal. What if  The Geek Squad had been named Computer Repair and Service?

° Understand that there’s a fine line between clever and cute. Avoid cute. Puns and jokes are also tricky and can be misunderstood or, unwittingly, offensive. Names that are obviously an inside joke are a bad idea, too.

On the other hand, clever names can be very good for business. To increase your sophistication level, spend time browsing through the Yellow Pages making note of the names you find clever and those that seem dull or o cute. What do the names you’re attracted to have in common? How can you adapt what you discover to your own naming process?

Most important of all, keep in mind who your market is. If you are selling a product to college students, for instance you could pick a more outrageous name than if you want to sell to the clergy.

° Initials are boring. Several years ago, I saw an ad that said, “When your own initials are enough.” I believe the ad was marketing some designer product like expensive luggage. Apparently, those initials weren’t enough to make me remember whose ad it was. 

While several corporate giants have come to be known by their initials (AT&T and IBM come quickly to mind), generally speaking, initials aren’t suitable for small business names. And what could be more boring than calling your business AAAA Services just to get top billing in the phone book?

° If you are running several profit centers, you may want to have an umbrella name for your business or separate names for each entity. When the profit centers are unrelated, a different name for each makes the most sense and makes it easier for your clients to locate the products or services that interest them.

° Rename when it’s time. While you’ll give your business a name you hope will last, remember that businesses are organic things and may evolve in unexpected ways. If the time comes when the name no longer fits, go ahead and change it. Just don’t do it so often that you confuse your market.