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Choosing a Business Name

By Julie King |

Anyone who has ever spent days deliberating over a business name choice will understand that this seemingly simple activity can be one of the most challenging aspects of starting a new business.

How can you choose a good business name? What should you consider when making your selection? These are just a few things you'll need to consider. You will want a name that can grow as your business grows. A name that has a decent '.com' or alternative Internet name available. A name that does not violate the intellectual property rights of another business or organization with the name you choose, which could put your ability to use the name in jeopardy.

CanadaOne wasn't my first business venture – and it surely won't be my last. Through the process of building several businesses, I've learned a thing or two about choosing a business name. This article outlines some of the things I take into account when naming a company.

Think big
When you are starting your business, you have great plans, but may be thinking more about the details you face today than the possibilities of tomorrow. My recommendation: think about tomorrow when choosing your business name, and think big!

If you are successful with your new business, your choice will be with you for a long time. Not only that, but it could also influence the growth of your business.

For example, someone starting a specialty fast-food restaurant in Moose Jaw, Sask., might have a good reason to choose a name that reflects the local nature – or owner – of the business. However, if they someday find they're in the position to sell franchises, the name Mike's Prairie Diner might not have the same appeal as The Prairie Dog Café.

A business name automatically contains a marketing element; your job is to choose a name that will help your marketing efforts. The name The Prairie Dog Café tells prospective customers a story about the origins of the business, while hinting at its uniqueness. The name Mike's Prairie Diner implies a completely different type and scope of business.

These two names also imply different visual identities. The Prairie Dog Café name could easily be associated with a western motif and an overall stylish corporate identify. Mike's Prairie Diner would seem better suited to a 1950s style with a small, owner-run image.

Don't pigeon-hole your business
Including a descriptive term, such as paralegal, in your business name can be useful when marketing your products and services, as the nature of the business is expressed in the name. In some provinces, such as British Columbia, a descriptive element is a requirement, rather than a choice.

However, a descriptive term may also work against your business as it grows. Businesses are organic entities that evolve around the customer rather than a business plan. In many industries, especially rapidly evolving sectors such as the Internet and information technologies, the core terminology or the services in demand can change rapidly. This can wreak havoc on a business that finds that it has a descriptive phrase in its name that is either out-of-date or inaccurate due to evolution of the business.

My partner and I encountered this problem with our first business, nVision Multimedia. It wasn't long after we started nVision that the majority of our clients were interested in Internet rather than multimedia services. Having the word 'multimedia' in our name confused customers who were coming to us for web work. Because of this and other factors we eventually closed down nVision Multimedia, replacing it with Biz-Zone Internet Group (now Biz-Zone Internet Group, Inc.).

The bottom line: including a descriptive component in your name can help customers understand the nature of your business. However, avoid including descriptive elements that could quickly become out of date or inaccurate.

The sound & spell test
The last thing you'll want to hear from people after you've selected, registered and imprinted your business name on everything from business cards to signage is, "Huh? How do you spell that?" That's where our sound and spell test comes in. Here's how it works.

Scenario 1: Your business is a booming success. You've just booked 30-second radio spots on stations across the country. Your marketing team is working on a series of ads that will drive traffic to your

The test: If someone were to say your business name over the radio, would people be able to remember it? Spell it correctly? Easily translate it into a properly spelled dotcom address for surfing at another time during the day? A good name is something that can be mentioned on the radio or over the phone, without a lot of explanation. A great name does this and is memorable.

Check out your dotcom options
As the Internet reaches a critical mass, owning a good .com domain name has a tremendous value. If you believe the Internet will play an important role in the future of your business, you'll want to factor the availability of dotcom names into your name choice.

It's easy to find out what domain names are available, and which ones are taken. Here are two free online resources that we regularly use to determine the availability of a particular name. To use each service, simply type in the domain name you want to lookup, such as "" (without quotes), and hit the enter key or click on the appropriate button.

SmartTip: If you have difficulties finding a .com domain, you may want to look at other options such as a .ca or (where prov is the abbreviation for the province where your business is located).

Tread lightly on trademark & other legal issues
Just because you've found a name and it appears to be available, it does not mean that you are free to use it for your business. If your name conflicts with an existing trademark, tradename or someone's intellectual property, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit and the possible loss of your business name.

If you will be incorporating your business, a Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search (NUANS) – should identify possible conflicts. However, since each report costs $40 to $80, finding out if the name conflicts exist before you order a report can save you time and money.

When searching the database, try different spacing and word combinations to find all possible matches. For example, try 'Prairie Dog', 'PrairieDog', 'PrairieDog.Com', and 'Prairie Dog Café'.

Since trademarks are based on what we hear, rather than what we see, you should also include different spelling variations for your search. For example, look for both Cray and Kray if you are looking to register the name 'Krayton'. Go here to directly search the Canadian Trade-marks Database.

Once you know that your name has no trademark conflicts, you can get a rough indication of other businesses that are using a name similar to your preferred choice if you assume that most incorporated businesses have a business line, and therefore are listed in Canada411 under their business name. Searching this database will help you identify potential name conflicts, and will indicate businesses that use a name similar to your name of choice. Since Canada411 does not cover Alberta and Saskatchewan, you should also look-up the name in the Yellow.Ca database.

Finally, to find out what other businesses are using the same, or similar names, to yours, do a search in one of the major search engines such as or Fast: Search.

Finding a name isn't always easy, but if you invest the time and effort, you should be able to come up with a great name for your new business. In the long run, this effort can add considerable value to your business – and the bottom line.

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