What’s in a Name: Finding a Name that Suits your New Startup

With the rise of the online economy it’s never been easier to sell goods and services. 
Though in a bygone era a new business would usually need think about things like a brick and mortar location, operating hours, and launch capital, today it’s far simpler.

A signup on Shopify, a social media account to build awareness of your brand, and you’re officially off and running. That’s what it looks like anyway. While the digital age has brought with it opportunity, it has also brought challenge. Operating in the online economy means other businesses are always in direct competition, the marketplace is global, and the ability to get traction at the beginning can be hard.

That’s why a brand name is so important to a new business.It’s important to have a name that signifies what you’re seeking to sell in the eCommerce sphere. To really understand where you should go in future its worthwhile looking at ‘what could have been’. Let’s do that now with three globally renowned brands.



For a global eCommerce store Amazon is a fitting name. Taking its moniker from the largest river in the world located in Brazil, the handle suits a business looking to transport and flow through the Earth. The link to the Greek myth of Amazonian women that were leaders, warriors, and just all-around world-beaters is also in the mind of many who setup an eCommerce store for the first time, seeking a platform that’ll give them a market edge.

Yet, such a strong brand name was not always on the cards. For a time Amazon founder Jeff Bezos aspired to call his burgeoning business Cadabra. Building an enterprise with a play on the magic phrase ‘abra cadabra’ may have brought its own success as a theatrical callsign. But with a friend of Bezos mishearing the name as cadaver, the CEO of today’s’ biggest eCommerce brand felt it best he put the original name…‘to rest’.



Even if starting today, Virgin would still be seen as a risky name. After many years it now sits among other cheeky brand names like FCUK in the marketplace, trading off its cheekiness rather than being hindered by it. Originally it all could have been very different from Branson and Co. Starting out his empire with a order-by-mail music service, originally ‘Slipped Disc’ was put forward by the early team members as an option.

Notwithstanding the potential for confusion with his local chiropractor, Slipped Disc promised to do what it should: indicate music slipped into the mail would be sent along to customers. The challenge to this would have come further along the way. Slipped Disc Hotel, Slipped Disc Mobile, and space travel via Slipped Disc Galactic would not have had the same appeal as the names they’re known under today.


Whether one is a fan, critic, or indifferent towards Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign, it’s undoubted his business career makes for a compelling example of a strong brand, albeit with some caveats. Whether you’re in New York, Chicago, or further afield, people know staying at a Trump hotel will bring with it a celebration of glamour and luxury other chains may not offer.

Trump has also built an association with his name that extends well beyond his own real estate holdings. This has expanded his name recognition, while also complicating it. While many Trump hotels have a direct link to the Trump family, there are many others that do not. Many have just purchased the right to use it and trade under its license.

So What Does This Mean for a Startup?

There are lessons in all three business name for a new startup. While no business is perfect – and you’re especially likely at the outset to make some mistakes and missteps – by learning from these experiences you can look to anticipate and avoid future complications that may otherwise arise.

Pick a Solid Name to Start

Picking a good, simple, and straightforward name is vital for a new business. This doesn’t mean a startup name can’t be stylish, vibrant, or cool – but it shouldn’t be confusing, vague, or too long.  Missing the target with your name can not only make it far harder to get your brand traction at the start, but also inhibit further growth.

People will be unable to easily recall or pronounce your brand, and more unlikely to recommend it as a result.
After all, when compared to Amazon, the name Cadabra just dosen’t have the same oomph or energy. But it because it was Amazon instead of Cadabra, Bezos and his team weren’t held back by this issue.

Strike a Balance

While Virgin has since established itself as a global brand its likely cadaver would have hard a far harder time of it. A brand or product that sells with a bit of edge or controversy can have a winning approach. Something that is outright offensive or awful is unlikely to sell well today, or find your business in good standing tomorrow.  The old adage ‘don’t tell a joke you wouldn’t tell your grandma’ is not the best guiding star here.

After all, some grandmothers can be pretty cheeky! But trust the judgement of someone you know well. Your grandmother may be easily offended by a lot of today’s media, but if your best friend goes pale when you say your potential brand name? 

It’s likely not a good sign. If your going with a controversial name consider carefully whether it’ll hit your target audience.  Aim for it to impact…without horrifying them.

Consider Whether You’ll Expand

Amazon could feasibly sell just about anything and still link it back to the idea of a sprawling river flowing throughout the world. Virgin was able to make a change before slipped disc became a real problem. Like him or loathe him, Trump has done well expanding his brand well beyond its original base, even if there have been some questionable expansion choices outside the real estate realm, that contrast with it’s ‘natural strength’ in property.

It could even be said Trump may have been (or could still be) well-served by performing a split to what fellow New Yorkan Rupert Murdoch’s has done. This has already been pursued to a degree, but not to the level of brand division Murdoch has presided over with 21st Century Fox and News Corp going their separate ways.

Know You Can Change

It’s important to get a good brand name right at the start – and doing so can save you a ton of trouble and money (like reprinting promotion materials) down the road – but its also true you can change your brand name as you go on.
When circumstances are right and it’s done well, you make the change without too much disruption to your business.

This is seen in the experience of global brands like Google who now trade as part of Alphabet, as well as Facebook emerging from its original name The Facebook. So, try to pick a name at the start that works for you, and is one that you can keep long term.

Yet if you’re spending so much time trying to come up with a name that it actually prevents you from actually starting and selling in your business? Then pick one and run.

A Name for The Ages

Its great you’ve found a name you like for your new soda business, it’s highly problematic if that name is Coca-Cola. While you cannot anticipate every challenge that arises going forward – and there are many businesses with similar names but who don’t clash as they trade in different fields – even if you can do so, a prominent name that is also shared by others can be a headache from a marketing point of view.

So, rather than need to have a WWF war over Apples and Apple, seek to ensure you’ve a unique business name at the start. Do this as you:

  • Pick a name that’s simple,
  • Eye-catching but unoffensive
  • Fit-for-expansion (as needed)

Get this foundation in place at the outset with your startup’s name and you’ll be all set to build with it long-term.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01

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