The art and science of naming your business

Protecting your business’ name is as important as selecting the name itself.

Congratulations! You have decided to put that small business idea you’ve had for a long time into motion. But how do you select a name for such an important endeavor? How do you protect it once you’ve selected it?

Beyond making a clever play on words, a business name should communicate clearly what the business does, and some of your values as well, to create a meaningful impact. For example, “Reliable Roofing” says more than “Roofing by Ray”. Take some time to ponder various names and consider what they say about you and your business. Naming a business after your favorite dog may be fun and meaningful to you, but will it appeal to your customers and communicate what you do?

Consider if the name is broad enough that it won’t restrict you in the future. If you call your business “Courtney’s Custom Frames”, be sure that you won’t want to add other products later on, and wish you had named it “Courtney’s Custom Frames and Shelves”. Once you have it narrowed down to a few names, experiment with how it looks in print, how it will fit on a sign, or in a web address. Share some possibilities with friends and family to give you a feel for how the names might be received.

Another common mistake is using one’s own personal name and/or photo for the logo. Unless you are Oprah Winfrey or a highly recognized celebrity, consumers aren’t impressed with your name on the product. They want to know what the product will do for them. The same is true even if you already have some local or regional recognition. A well-known restaurant in Detroit will not be recognized to those consumers in Traverse City, Grand Rapids, etc…

How do you make sure your name is unique? Do a web search to make sure no one else is using it. Next, check whether a domain name (or web address) is available. You can do this by searching the WHOIS database of domain names. If your name is available, be sure to claim it right away. There is a guide on the Small Business Administration’s website that explains how to do this. You should also check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to see if a similar name, or variations of it, are trademarked. You can file for a trademark for less than $300; a trademark will protect words, names, symbols and logos.

Next you will need to file your DBA, which stands for” Doing Business As”, to register your business name (not necessary if you are using your own legal name as the business name). Contact the County Clerk’s office of each county you will conduct business in. Most county websites will have forms and specific filing information. Filing an LLC with the State of Michigan will protect your name statewide, but seek legal assistance if you go this route. Your business name is very important, as it is required on all government forms and applications (employer tax IDs, licenses and permits).

The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides business counseling for product development, packaging and marketing strategies that will help Michigan entrepreneurs commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food, value-added agriculture, and natural resource products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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