How to use wordplay to brainstorm a name for your new business

There are loads of tricks out there for effective brainstorming through wordplay, but these are the ones that consistently work for us when we help startups come up with business names.

8 steps to brainstorming your startup name

Step 1: Create word ‘buckets’ and fill ‘em up

Create categories or ‘buckets’ for words related to your business. I like to create buckets in the following categories:

  • Industry words: what does your business do? Words that fit into this bucket could include ‘airline’, ‘donuts’, ‘makeup’, ‘websites’.
  • Unique selling proposition (USP): what makes you better than your competitors? Add all of those words here. Think words like ‘faster’, ‘stronger’, ‘best quality’, ‘lowest price’, ‘first ever’ to reinforce your USP.
  • Audience: get into the demographics of your target market. What is the main age group of your target market? What gender are they? Where do they live? What do they do in their spare time? Think of as many words as you can that help define the commonalities among your audience group. Even if your audience is wider — and you ideally want to avoid wide where possible as it’s easier to market to and service a specific niche — you can use these terms in the future to market to your individual audiences separately, so it won’t be a wasted exercise to name everything you can here, but maybe create sub-lists to separate your audiences out if you need to.
  • Personality traits: what’s your brand personality? Words in this bucket should represent the way you want your brand to be perceived and the way people to feel when they interact with your brand. Word like ‘helpful’, ‘reliable’, ‘healthy’, ‘excited’ work here. Refer to our big list of brand personality traits for more word ideas to fit this category.

Once you’ve created your buckets, fill ‘em up with as many words as you can think of. Once you have some nice, full buckets, you can start playing some word games.

Step 2: Invent new words

Make some words up! Think Google, Xerox, Kodak. Can you come up with some fun ways to create new and quirky names from your word buckets? The name could come from your USP bucket, like Fiverr. If it’s easy to say, easy to spell and doesn’t accidentally mean something nasty in another language, then you could have found yourself some fun and catchy names that will fit your demographic. These sorts of made up names can be especially effective when you are trying to present your business as new, cutting edge, or different from the norm.

Step 3: Have some fun with Amusing Alliteration

Try using the same letter at the beginning of both words for a two-word brand name that combines some of your words from different lists. For example, you could combine an industry word with a unique selling proposition, like Dunkin’ Donuts. Or combine an industry word with an audience word like American Airlines. Or you could use alliteration for similar sounds, as we did when we named Site Kite. Other well-known brand names that use alliteration include Coca-Cola, Krispy Kreme and BlackBerry.

Step 4: Focus on your service and purpose

What problem are you solving for your clients? Keep that in mind and see what names you can come up with. This can be a great way to come up with a business name idea that instantly conveys what you do to potential leads. If a customer can read your business name and not need to know any more to understand what you’re on about then you’re half way to building a memorable connection. Using my business name as an example, I was trying to come up with a business name that explained the idea of website design for a fast launch: on a very long list of website and acceleration synonyms was the winning idea: Site Kite. Other startups that have good service-specific names include the cleaning company, TidyMe, Airtasker, Autopilot and Campaign Monitor.

Step 5: Search for synonyms

Synonyms are your friend! When you can’t think of any more words, go into your search engine and start looking for synonyms to the words from your buckets. This task alone will exponentially add to your list of words and you’ll come up with new ideas to mix things up.

Step 6: Keep it personal

If your business is all about you, then going for personal branding could be a good bet. Even if you don’t want to use personal branding in an obvious way, getting your name into the mix can help you come up with new ideas. For my custom design agency, Popdot, the business name idea came from the notion of design that ‘pops, combined with the ‘dot’ from my surname — ‘Sidoti’. At the time of naming, I liked the idea that the ‘dot’ both had a digital dotcom reference, while also being personal to my family name.

Personal branding, can of course, be used very effectively when used for solo or small operators in service-based industries, where there is a high level of personal interaction. You’ll often see personal names used effectively for coaches, designers and tradies, as well as for professional law firms — in fact, most law firms, from tiny practice to global firm use the names of their partners in the company name specifically because the professional reputation of the individual is so intrinsically tied to the success of the firm.

Step 7: Make some mashups

So many well-known brand names are made up mashups of other words — SquadHelp, Mirvac (their placeholder name mashup from Miracle Vacuums), Pantone (‘all’ + tone), PayPal. Try combining some of your service-specific names with your personal names to see if there are any interesting combos. These could make sense or be totally made up words that make no sense at all — some of the best brand names are made up words that are mashups of other words.

Step 8: Narrow in on what gives your business heart

The best example of using the heart side of the business for the business name that comes to mind for me is Koala. This Sydney startup makes mattresses and furniture, and they set out to disrupt the old school mattress industry by offering a quality, affordable product with super-fast delivery that also has a socially-minded twist. They adopt a koala with every mattress sold. So for them, the name koala made perfect sense. But you can be totally random here. Have fun going off-piste and see what words you can come up with to describe what gives your business it’s heart.

To sum up

You’ve spent some time thinking about what your business is all about and you know the message you want to send. The process of finding the right name can be tough, so we put together this list of tips that should help make things easier for you to come up with a good list of options. Sometimes coming up with an original idea or using word mashups can lead to unique results. It might also be helpful if you take into account how personal your brand will feel (if at all).

Has this brainstorming task helped you whittle down a name? Now it’s time to make that idea live on the web, and we can help! Our easy-to-use website accelerator is made to bring startup ideas to life. We do the hard part of site strategy, site design and technical setup; but we know you want to get under the hood and flesh out the site yourself. Our customised setup and supporting guides empower you to build on our foundations, with handy content prompts to make to easy to know what to say. Add some photos using our Unsplash integration or your own images, and hook in all of your socials for easy connectivity.

You have a great idea, now let it out into the world!

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