Find the right name for your company

Finding an impactful name for your company, product, or service seems simple at first and fun.  But don't be mistaken.  This is not a straightforward matter for a new entrepreneur.  Many people don't know where to start.  What do you need to know, where do you start, and what elements are really important? We have prepared a list of the different points to be considered...

One company, two names

In Belgium, there is a distinction between corporate name and trade name. You can choose the same name for both, or can opt for two completely different names.

The corporate name

The corporate name or company name is the official name of the legal entity (S.A. or S.P.R.L.) set out in the statutes and published in the Belgian Official Journal.  The corporate name is protected by the Company Act.  It is simply used to identify an individual, and does not necessarily have a publicity function.

However, make sure that you don't choose a corporate name that is identical or similar to another, because you could then be forced to change the name or pay damages.  It is a good idea to check that the name chosen is not filed as a trademark and that it doesn't relate to a known organisation or association.  The notary will usually check this before creating the company.

If the corporate name is suitable, there is nothing to stop you from using it as a trade name.

The trade name

A trade name, trading name, or business name is a pseudonym used by companies to perform their business under a name that differs from the legal corporate name of the business. It differentiates you from other companies and has a publicity value. The trade name is governed by the Trade Practices Act.

The right to a trade name is given to whoever makes the first visible, public, and continuous use thereof. Although in principle the choice of trade name is free, you should check that the name chosen does not damage a previous right belonging to a competing company.  In this case, it is a good idea to carry out some research beforehand to avoid any disputes.

If you start your company as a natural person, this will bear your name.  If you want to use your family name but another similar company is already using it, you can just add another term, for example your first name or the name of your business partner.  But you can also choose a trade name if you want to.

A trade name is not a trademark in itself and must not be formally registered in order to guarantee the acquisition of rights to the name.  Of course, it is more intelligent to consider all existing trademarks when choosing a trade name.  In order to be able to prove its first use, it is also useful to register its name with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises.

If you want to give your trade name extra protection, you can file it as a trademark with the Benelux Trademarks Office.  You will have the exclusive rights to this name.

What do you need to consider when choosing your company name?

A distinctive and non-misleading name

Your trade name distinguishes you from your competitors.  Used alone, a common name such as "Construction Company" will not differentiate your company sufficiently, but you can integrate this into the name (e.g. Stessen and Sons Construction Company).  Everyone knows what you do immediately, and your name also indicates whether or not it is a family company, which often encourages confidence.   In addition, it is a good idea in terms of "Internet marketing": the main search term is already present in your name. This will ensure better referencing in search engines.

Single-person and family companies should consider adding their family name to their trade name.  The latter are generally easy to remember because they are used commonly in the language. 

Opt for a rather general name to be able to expand your activities at a later date if you so decide.  Or use "beauty salon" if you want to offer more services than those offered by a massage parlor.

Note that your trade name does not necessarily has to describe your activity ! You can always add a slogan if you want.

Do you want to break with the tradition of certain sectors, and just opt for a completely different name? Does your business allow you to use a more creative name?  Then go for a more original name.  A young communications agency can certainly choose a more innovative name than a notary office...

However, avoid trying to be too smart by riding on the coattails of existing companies: choosing a name like "ebey" will guarantee your place in court for violating copyright laws!

One word: simplicity

Make sure that the name is easy to write, spell, and remember.  Don't forget that the length of your company name is important: the longer it is, the more complicated it is.  This is the disadvantage of a company name describing its activities (such as the example above).  A disadvantage you can overcome by using (in addition) an abbreviation.   BMW instead of Bayerische Motoren Werke, or a contraction such as Intel instead of Integrated Electronics.

The best solution is a company name with between 5 and 8 characters and that sounds good (think of radio ads) ! Something written as it is pronounced.

Availability

The first thought you have when you want to find some information about a company is to perform an online search.  So it is a good idea to check that your company name - or at least a very similar name - is still available as a domain name (web address).  It would be a shame to have to use a URL address containing dashes or other special characters.

You can check the availability of the URL on the DNS website; this is the organisation which registers Belgian domain names.

Where can you get inspiration from?

Finding a company name is a complex process: so take the time to consider names that really apply to your company.  You also need sufficient time to check if this name is too similar to that of a competitor, and to make sure that it doesn't break any other rules.

During this time, ask yourself if you want to work with real names or fictitious names, if you prefer Web 2.0 names (particularly in the ICT sector) or if you would rather highlight the characteristics of your product or service in your name.  Also consider the type of sound you want to confer: a French name or an international name?

There are many ways to devise a name:

  • Make a list of the products or services your company will offer and examine them from all angles.  Name the characteristics: smell, touch, taste, etc.? What problem can it solve? Or think of what your future name should make the customer think of.  Write them down and apply other creative techniques (see the following points).

  • Imagine combinations of words, compositions, mixed structures: if you are active in the healthcare sector, perhaps you like the name Medcare.  Example: Microsoft: microcomputer + software. Why not use the same idea for your own name?

  • Think about associations: think about words that may be related to the name or that evoke the same feelings.  Use a dictionary or a thesaurus site.  Don't forget to consider names which may be associated with your specialization or sector.

  • Take inspiration from other languages: if you want to create an oriental vibe for your massage parlor, why not use a term taken from oriental philosophies?

    You can translate the words you deem important or your activity using one of the Google online translation services: you might find the name of your dreams.  And if it also has a meaning, your name will provide a direct message!

  • Consider abbreviations if you opted for a long descriptive name: don't forget to say it in a loud voice and check for meaning in other languages.  Not everyone pronounces A-S-S letter by letter or without an English accent.   If you use an abbreviation, transform it into a pronounceable word by adding a letter for example.

  • Consider mood, rhymes, and word play: although they are effective and fun now, they age quickly and last for a long time.

Make a list of potential names. Before making your final choice:

  • Ask your family and friends what they think of them. Which ones do they like?  Which associations do these names evoke?

  • Remove those with a "tone" which is unsuitable to your activity/service (too young/too serious/too sophisticated, too lightweight, too specialized, etc.).   Be honest and don't choose a name which creates expectations you can't live up to.

  • Look for the meaning of the words in other languages to avoid any surprises. Remove those that have a negative meaning in a foreign language.

  • Check whether another person/company is already using one of the names selected in your sector and consult the Internet. Also think about checking social networks.

Do you want other sources of inspiration for current tactics for finding a name?  In 2007, the website the Name Inspector made a list of 10 categories of company names collected by TechCrunch.

Updated 28/07/2017

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