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Small Talk: What to consider when choosing your company's name

The Associated Press - Joyce Rosenberg

Trying to pick a name for your small company can be mind-boggling. Should you use a play on words? Manufacture a whole new word? Use your own name?

There are many considerations that go into choosing a company name. Some are practical, such as being sure you don't take a name that another business already has. Others are more emotional, such as finding a name that in an instant tells a prospective customer about you and your personality.

Scott Lerman, CEO of Enterprise IG Americas, a New York-based brand and identity consulting firm, said of a company name, ''It needs to be understandable and memorable and distinctive enough to stand out - but not so distinctive or strange that it really takes me a lot to learn the name.''

A name can, but doesn't necessarily have to, spell out what you do. Lerman noted that the name Amazon.com was a huge success without even hinting that it sold books online. Owners should think about their companies' future, Lerman said. Do they plan to expand into other product or service lines? Do they plan on moving into other geographic areas? In that case, they should not choose a name that might limit them.

''You might find your wonderful name no longer reflects where your business has gone,'' said Lerman, pointing again to Amazon.com as an example of a firm whose name was broad enough to encompass the variety of businesses it took on.

Your company name should tell customers about you, answering, according to Lerman, such questions as: Are you serious or playful? Are you going to deliver a certain kind of experience? ''Your character and personality will affect the kind of name you're going to have,'' he said. That kind of thinking led Margaret Mandell and Louis Carvell to call their New York-based advertising agency TowTruck Inc.

''It sounded creative, cool, different,'' said Mandell, who explained that she and Carvell wanted to convey the idea that their company, like tow trucks, help people. Business owner Larry Levy also tried to be creative, but found it doesn't always work. He called his Jacksonville, Fla.-based computer and Web site firm Owl Technologies, and gave it a slogan ''your wise choice in computer solutions.''

''It was great, but every time I said 'I'm with Owl Technologies,' they couldn't figure out if it was 'Ow' or 'Owl,' � Levy said. ''I got tired of explaining myself.''

After a year of this, Levy changed his company's name to LevyNET LLC. It lets customers know him, and that his company is involved in high-tech.

Lerman said some business owners might choose to align themselves with or challenge a competitor. He recalled an upstart in the long-distance business, MCI, whose three-letter acronym recalled a bigger rival, AT&T.

Lerman also noted the many high-tech firms have names beginning with ''Micro.'' That instantly communicates they are in the high-tech sector. But be careful about similar names: You need to be sure no one else is using the one you want. You'll need to run it through a trademark search, and if someone has dibs on it, you'll need to come up with something else, or perhaps a variation.

The soundalike field can get crowded, as Mike Wilson found out. When his company began 13 years ago, it was called Computer Solutions Corp. ''I wanted a name that would say what we did,'' said Wilson, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based firm. ''No one else had that name and it seemed obvious, what we do is computer support. . . . It served us well for a long time.''

Over the years, companies with similar names cropped up, such as Computer Business Solutions, and Wilson realized his firm needed a more unique name. So, in June 2003, with the help of a design firm, his company became Comnexia Corp.

''I was looking for something that sounded computer-related but was not necessarily something that anyone else in the U.S. had picked,'' Wilson said.

Wilson didn't stop at changing the company's name; he made the move to Comnexia just one part of a marketing campaign that includes radio advertising and that has made the business more recognizable. That sort of holistic strategy can be key to a company's increased success. Sometimes picking a name is ongoing.

When the founders of Braintree, Mass.-based Perseus Development Corp. were creating the company in 1993, there was a meteor shower called Perseides. What a great name, they thought.

For about 24 hours, chief operating officer Jeffrey Henning recalled. ''We thought better of it when we realized no one could spell it or pronounce it,'' he said.

They settled on Perseus, a name from Greek mythology, and called their business Perseus Software. It evolved into Perseus Development Corp. when the owners decided to incorporate and found that there was already a corporation named Perseus Software in another state, Henning said. The ''Development Corp.'' was adopted from Lotus Development Corp., creator of Lotus Notes software.

A final consideration is whether you'll be able to get a Web address that fits your name. That's critical for most, if not all, businesses.


About COMNEXIA: COMNEXIA provides outsourced IT support and cutting-edge solutions. COMNEXIA optimizes and customizes computer networks and specializes in Business Continuity, which ensures that networks are cost-efficient, always on, and safe. Headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. COMNEXIA partners with elite organizations like Dell, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Sage and Symantec to provide a uniquely comprehensive, and innovative list of products and services - covering the gamut of IT needs. For more information on COMNEXIA, visit our web site at comnexia.com.