The World's Most Efficient Business Naming + Name Search Process

The World's Most Efficient Business Naming and Search Process

So you've got a product idea and you're ready to start thinking about names for your business.

Do you name your business after yourself or a family member? Do you use a word that evokes the feeling your product creates? Do you come up with a made up word?  The creative possibilities are endless.

There's a lot to think about here, and while we could consider the creative blue sky daydreaming stage all day long, we're going to focus on the practical today. Why? I can't tell you the number of times I've started the process of bringing an already-named-and-packaging-designed new brand to market only to discover that they didn't conduct an appropriate name search before doing all of this critical (and often costly) creative work.

What's the cost of naming your business without following good operational process?

  • Expensive domain names: If you have your heart set on a name, and the only available domains are either "We may be able to help you get that for $100USD!" or premium domains costing $1500-$150,000, you're going to be regretting having gotten pre-emptively attached.
  • Unavailable social handles: The importance of brand consistency across digital platforms is high-high-high. Having a domain say one thing, Instagram say another, and Tiktok say another altogether? Your consumer is confused. Worse yet, paying for unused accounts can be grossly pricey and surely isn't something on which you or your investors want to spend that precious startup capital.
  • Trademark issues: Going ahead and starting a business with a name that's sketchily close to another business that you didn't even know existed, doesn't even actively operate, but does have an active trademark in a region you want to play in? Well, let's just say, legal fees to defend yourself or chase somebody else out of the ring aren't exactly cheap.

For clarity: do not design the logo. Do not design the packaging. Do not build out a base website. The name search process trumps all of this. We're in pure operator mode here, and we want to make the most of the resources we have - so let's get efficient.

For me, the most important factor in considering your business name is uniqueness. The primary reasons?

  • You want people to be able to find you when they Google.
  • If you're thinking about trademarks, you want it to be unique enough to be actually trademark-able.
  • You want to be able to have ownership of that name across all the platforms you'll be taking to market.

When I start the name process, I do it with a series of tabs open on my browser and my mobile in hand. Why? If I can't have a consistently selected name asset to bring the brand to market, we might as well just give up on going to market like a tier one and say we're fine with mismatchy mediocrity. I focus on this list as the top checks of choice, even though I know there are way more platforms available to search. Long story short: if I can get them on these biggies, odds are good that I can get them on the less massive platforms.  (And as a check box: you really should do this for any platforms of relevance after you confirm and acquire these first babies.)

There are also tools like Namechk that you can use to investigate a bajillion usernames at once, but I like to acquire them while I'm doing the searching, and they don't capture all the key platforms I'll be playing in, so I use that less. You'll also see here that I've focused on North America, but feel free to add more localized trademark searches if there are regions you know for sure you'll be operating in during your first five or so years.

Let's start with a useful tool: download this super handy New Business Name Search Availability Tracker. Why? I'm going to have you populate every domain you test into GoDaddy as you go. I know it seems like extra work on the front end, but it'll save you in the longer term so you're not duplicating work on domains you've already reviewed and checked in GoDaddy when you find the username is not available on Twitter. Colour code in green if it's available, red if it's not, and then grey out anything after a red so you know the mission's been abandoned.

Download Your New Business Name Search Availability Tracker

 

Okay, so you've got the tabs and apps and tracker open and you're ready to go? Let's get naming.

Domain Name Search

So you're heading into GoDaddy with a general name in mind. Head into the search bar and see what comes up.

GoDaddy Business Name Search

So for me, in this example, I don't want a .ca - too localized and will make it hard for me to pursue my global dreams, which I'm assuming is what you're aspiring to as well. Personally, I'm not going to go for product-playbook.com either because people will forget the hyphen - I will, however, do a quick search on the non-hyphenated productplaybook.com just to confirm it's not directly competitive (which this one, as an example, isn't) in case we share common search results in the future.

Takeaway: domains with characters that aren't letters or numbers are absolutely going to get missed by your customers, leading them elsewhere. If you go down the extra character route (which I personally would never do), make sure the alternate landing page is neither directly competitive nor potentially offensive.

Moving on! I'm going to continue my search, seeing various options as recommended by GoDaddy, 'til I get to one that I like.

GoDaddy Business Name Search Results

A few other thoughts here:

  • I personally would never pay for a premium domain - I get that they're conceptually worth more but to me, paying $5K for a domain for a business that currently has no meaning is silly. I'd keep searching 'til I found one I liked.
  • When GoDaddy offers you that "we can help you get it" - more often than not, in my experience, they can't, and you waste both time and money waiting around to see if it's possible when you could have just moved on to something already available.
  • I don't love domains where the last letter of the first word and the first letter of the next word are the same - for example startupplaybook - it leads to easy typos and errors for your users.
  • The shorter the better, and no weird spellings: I'd never buy, for example, TheUltimateConsumerBrandStartupPlaybook.com (ugh the P followed by the P as well as the million letters in that name, nightmare alley) or PhriendlyPhires.com. You need your customer to be able to not only remember it, but spell it.
  • From a domain extensions standpoint: I have personal preference for .com and .co domains, but there are honestly about a bajillion available at this point. Currently, the domain extension you choose doesn't have an impact on search results or the like, but it's a good idea to read through this to understand more.
  • If you have a really strong short name you like but it's not available with an extension you like, it's still useful to try things like getname.com or tryname.com or livename.com or namelife.com or whatever. This adds the memorable ease and also almost activates the brand, which I personally really like.
  • Looks matter: take a look at how the letters look together with the domain extension, in lower case, in sentence case, and in all caps. thebrandplaybook.com // TheBrandPlaybook.com // THEBRANDPLAYBOOK.com. You want to think about how this will visually look on packaging, in bios, etc.

So long story short, you're going to play around on GoDaddy 'til you find a domain name that (a) feels like your brand, and (b) is actually available with a domain extension that looks good. But besties, that's just step one - and odds are you're going to be coming back to it.

Trademark Name Search

Building a consumer brand in North America generally means, even if you're Canadian, making sure everything you're doing works equally in the US. Once I have a domain I like for my business name, I head into the trademark search arenas to see if I'm going to run into any major issues with my business or product naming as I grow.

This isn't about doing the whole shebang at this point - we'll have another article on that. This is simply about checking the name situation to ensure there aren't any obvious immediate competitors using the exact same terms in the exact same business category. Because that's the thing - identical trademarked names can be used against materially different goods or services (talk to a lawyer if you want more detail here). So you're not looking to see if the word has been used at all - you just want to know if it's available in your industry/category/product type.

(A little note on trademarks: you don't need to register this immediately. Simply using the trademark name, logo, etc. does typically constitute a common law/unregistered trademarks - again, get a lawyer if you want things uber legit - so you don't necessarily need to start the legal quite yet. The purpose of this exercise isn't to get legal going super duper early, rather to simply set the tone that the path you're going down with your startup product brand isn't going to need to be all redone later because you didn't do some simple and obvious front end checks.)

The United States Trademark and Patent Office Trademark Electronic Search System

So without further ado! Get yourself to the USTPO TESS and kick off the search process. (Though I'm Canadian, I do generally start with the USTPO TESS, simply because there are far more trademarks in the US than in Canada, and if I want to ensure I'm getting both, best to start with the one where I'm less likely to have a win.)

You can do both a word mark and design mark search at this point, but since we're super early stage and haven't created an identity yet, we're going to stick with basic word mark search.

USTPO Trademark Electronic Search SystemWord Mark Search

The warning here is a critical one - just because you think the results are fine, don't assume you're a lawyer. The intent here is a gut check, plain and simple.

I like searching with the standard options listed here. Plural and singular just means it will search for "Tiny Cookies" and "Tiny Cookie" and live and dead just means it will search for current existing as well as abandoned/expired trademarks. (FTR: dead trademarks are up for grabs, but did exist in the past. Worth a Google if you find one you like to make a guess as to whether it was intentionally abandoned or somebody forgot to renew. In the case of the latter, you may want to skip or speak with a lawyer sooner than later.)

Leave the terms as above and fill in your GoDaddy-approved name in the search term field. Submit query!

USTPO TESS Results

It's always exciting when you get literally no results. Here, I tried The Product Playbook - while the domain was taken, the TM is available. (That said, because I already checked GoDaddy I wouldn't try to register this because I know the term is in use as a trade name on a website that existed prior to mine, meaning they could defend it as a common law trademark - not worth the potential expense.) But getting a completely free and clear search is actually pretty unlikely, given how many trademarks exist. So for reference, I checked The Playbook. There were a whopping 89 results. (I am def not interested in competing with The Litigator's Playbook.)

USTPO TESS Search Results Live and Dead

The dead trademarks are the ones that have been abandoned or expired, so you're less worried about The Viral Playbook and The Conscious Playbook. But the live ones are hard nos - if you land on a match, you're back to square one. However, let's say I was actually searching the name The Master Playbook, which exists currently as a live trademark.

USTPO TESS Word Mark Search Match

I can see that this trademark was filed in 2020 and published for opposition in the summer of 2022 (which means if I'd been in market for years using this name without registering it as a common law trademark, I could oppose this new registration at that point and potentially block them from using the name) - but it was officially registered September 2022. (Yes, it literally takes years to get a trademark application approved - this is completely normal.)

But the most critical point here if you're looking at a name that is the same as your and actually live is the Goods and Services field. If, for example, you're naming a new yogurt brand The Master Playbook and this The Master Playbook is financial education? You're probably a-okay to carry on with your yogurt name. However, if you're creating an educational playbook for brands that may have lots of financial recommendations as well, you may be a little close for comfort. Again, a lawyer can advise (for a fee), but I personally would suggest if it feels at all close, you should probably keep looking. We're still in the scrappy pre-launch stage here and trying to be super efficient, holding onto our dollars for when we need them.

So there we go. Keep searching the USTPO TESS 'til you find any of the following:

  • The glorious no matches screen (the safest).
  • A name that has only dead matches (pretty darn safe).
  • A live match that is in a completely different category (the least safe but still pretty good). 

Chances are, you'll be back to GoDaddy square one more than once, but keep populating the results into your tracker to save time as you go deeper into platforms.

Download Your New Business Name Search Availability Tracker

 

Wait, you finally got a holy grail one? Great, keep moving!

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office

So you've got yourself a domain and a trademark-able-in-the-US business name going on. But your goal is to operate throughout North America. Next up, then, is the Canadian Intellectual Property Office Trademark Search.

CIPO Trademark Search

Under the search field, you want to choose the simple top option: TM search. Under search criteria, populate your business name.

CIPO Trademark Search Results

I used to run a business called Cake Beauty so I'll use Cake as our example today. Because Cake is a super common term, we're getting over 50 pages of registered trademarks using the word Cake. Some are "word" and some are "design" - the word marks are the ones you're concerned with today. (You can see about halfway down the list there's an option with a logo - that's a new identity that we launched in 2016 and had been using under common law trademark 'til formally registering the design element in Canada in late 2017, but the word trademark dates back to 2003 when the original founders launched the brand.)

Now, again, just as with the USTPO TESS, if you're seeing 50 pages of terms come up when you search your prospective business name, more often than not I'd suggest mixing it up with the name to avoid having to become a pseudo-lawyer and search through every single one of those TMs to see if any sit in your competitive set. 

As with the American version, we'll dupe the process and look to find a business that results in:

  • The glorious no matches screen (the safest).
  • A name that has only dead matches (pretty darn safe).
  • A live match that is in a completely different category (the least safe but still pretty good). 

Chances are, you'll be back to GoDaddy square one more than once - and this time, you'll also be rolling back into USTPO before hitting up CIPO again - but keep populating the results into your tracker to save time as you go deeper into platforms.

Download the New Business Name Availability Tracker

 

The Social Platforms

So, yes, I'm aware that there are 263 bajillion social platforms that you could be registering on at any given moment to market your new brand startup. However, when it comes to naming, we're just going to focus on the biggies - if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Now, if you're planning on creating a ton of long form video, maybe swap in YouTube. If you're big into BeReal, go ahead and investigate there. The point I'm trying to make is that you don't need to check and acquire everything under the sun - just the likely key drivers of early stage growth. 

A note on the consistency factor: typically, I try to keep my domain, trademarks, and social profile names the same. However, given the complexity of trying to find matchies across the expanse of platfroms, sometimes the TM may be your hero name and the domain and socials are activated with an action word then kept the same across the board. For example: brand name Ensembl Inc., domain name activated with getensembl.com and social profile usernames matched to @getensembl. I would avoid a domain and socials not having consistency.

Instagram

For whatever reason, I always kick it off with Instagram. Don't just rely on checking to see if the username exists - actually try to register it as a new account. (So many accounts don't appear to exist, but aren't actually available, as you disgruntledly will discover when you're trying to acquire the asset. So follow the instructions here to create a new account, but don't actually register it yet - you're just trying to see if the name is available and check it off on the tracker.

If you're on the app, just go to your settings section and click the Add New Account button at the bottom. This feature will let you find out if usernames are available. If your business name is, check that one off the list.

Facebook

Next up, you're going to try creating a page on Facebook. You can follow the steps here directly and just not complete the process, since you're not quite at the registration step. Do note that you need a Facebook account in order to create a page.

Tiktok

Tiktok is taking over the world (well, my life, anyway) so obvi we want Tiktok consistency. Download the app and get set up for the first time, or go to the desktop version and sign up that way. Remember, you're just here to check the usernames.

Twitter

Last but not least, say what you will about Twitter (and, ahem, its... fearless leader), but it continues to deliver low cost traffic to consumer brands. Follow the instructions here to test out usernames. This is your final tracker check, so make it a goodie.

Download Your New Business Name Search Availability Tracker

Acquiring The Assets

Now that you've gone through the surprisingly elaborate process of name search and set yourself to avoid some seriously major pain down the road (nothing hurts more than having to pay limited cash to do the work twice when you're in early stage), it's time to acquire.

  • Domain name: spend the money now. This is a relatively cheap asset (depending on the domain, the promos being offered by your domain registrar, and whether or not you went for a premium domain). Getting it early will prevent it from getting scooped between today and launch.
  • Social handles: acquire them now. These cost nothing to set up and ensure go-to-market consistency. Set up an email address for your newly acquired domain (i.e. social@newdomain.com) and grab each of these tools.
  • Trademarks: Now, if you think it's a super precarious situation and you want to lock that shizz down sooner than later, be my guest. But personally, I'd just get a landing page and your social handles live and start using them, relying on common law usage for protection against potential disagreements. To reiterate: I'm not a lawyer, just somebody who's personally started 10+ businesses and through this business, created, launched, scaled, and exited over 60.

The Operator's Closing Remarks

To reiterate: we go through this checks and balances process with naming the business in order to save you heartache (and cash) through the early stage startup phase. Time and again, I speak with brand owners who've gone through the process of naming their business with a purely creative lens. The operational hassle they face chasing costly premium domains, attempting to purchase social handles from existing users, and getting legal engaged in attempting to acquire a difficult trademark all can be avoided with a sharp, efficient, pre-launch naming and name search process. 

Download Your New Business Name Search Availability Tracker

 

Jacquelyn Corbett, MBA

Brand builder. Brady buncher. Feminist AF. 25 years in startup mode.

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