10 Classic Business Naming Mistakes

Tim Berry

3 min. read

Updated November 13, 2023

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1. Not really exclusive

Legal isn’t the whole issue with business names. Lots of legal names work fine until you grow and run into somebody else with the same name, in the same business area, who had it first. You can easily have a name that’s legal but stunts your growth because even though you own it, somebody else owned it first, so you can’t really compete.

It happens a lot.

I saw a business plan for a high-end boutique for men’s underwear, catering mainly to the wives, partners and significant others of relatively well-to-do men. If they had called it Victor’s Secret, it would have been legal. But when they started to grow, Victoria’s Secret would have had the legal right to force them to come up with a new name.

2. Focusing too narrowly on the domain name

Damn, we can’t be such-and-such, because such-and-such.com isn’t available.” Did Jeff Bezos need books.com? Did Flickr need photos.com? Did search.com beat Yahoo! or Google? Many companies run domain names different from the company name. Get something easy to remember and hard to misspell. It doesn’t necessarily have to match your company name. If you can’t get your favorite domain name, get a good name.

3. Confusing a name with marketing

I dealt with some young entrepreneurs who had a plan to acquire the domain name cameras.com to sell cameras. When asked their marketing strategy, they responded with blank looks. Wasn’t it obvious? They were going to own cameras.com. With that domain name, who needs marketing? No cigar, I’m afraid. The name itself doesn’t generate enough traffic for anything.

If you don’t believe me, first search cameras for sale and then look at cameras.com (no offense intended to the current owners of cameras.com, who aren’t the same entrepreneurs I knew back then).

4. Gag-me cute, dumb, offensive names

With thanks to hubpages.com, names like Drain Surgeons, The Stalk Market and Get Plastered. Be careful with puns. I love puns, but they get old. When they work it’s great. I’ve always liked Noah’s Arf or Doggie Pause (real businesses) for dog day care. I think those two work.

5. Too trendy or too clueless

What if a fashion dies and your business is still around? Things named for bellbottom pants, fax machines or Y2K, for example. Did anybody else notice when Disney had to completely redo its future themes because the year 2000 came and went? And names that are plainly insensitive about ethnic identities, religions or sexual preferences; that gets old way too fast.

6. Misspellings

Arrgh. I hate that. My company is a client of NPD Intelect, the market research company; great company, but damn, “Intelect?” Misspelled. I suspect the problem is that they started in Germany, where that spelling is correct. Try this list of well-known businesses with misspelled names. I agree with the blogger; they’re annoying.

7. Your own name

I knew a guy named Bob who owned Wayne’s Garage. That was a constant small annoyance, about as trivial as a very small pebble in your shoe. On a long hike. Some day you might want to sell your company to somebody else. Maybe even somebody with a different name. And here’s an interesting piece of trivia: When Borland International got started, there was nobody named Borland involved. And have you met Peter Norton, founder of Norton Utilities? Sure, there are exceptions to every rule.

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8. Acronyms

When I worked for Creative Strategies International, we called it CSI. But nobody else did. As I write this, “CSI” gets more than 32 million hits on Google. Not just the TV show, but Computer Security Institute, College of Staten Island, College of Southern Idaho, Construction Specifications Institute . . . on and on.

9. Too local

I’ve got a pots and kettles problem with this one, because my wife and I named our company Palo Alto Software while we were in Palo Alto, Calif. Then in 1992 we moved to Eugene, Ore. Whoops. Moving is easier than renaming. And ours, while a problem, could be a lot worse. At least Palo Alto sort of says Stanford and Silicon Valley. Thank heavens we weren’t living in Boring, Ore. Or Drain, Ore. Or Hell, Mich.

10. Too generic. Too vanilla

I learned this one the hard way, too. Palo Alto Software started out as Infoplan Inc. One day a consultant walked in and told me that there were more than 26,000 companies in the United States whose names started with “Info-” something or other. Oh dear. That’s why it became Palo Alto Software.

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Content Author: Tim Berry

Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.