How to Name Your Startup

how to name your startup

This is the sixth article in our new series with advice on building a business, company culture and life-hacking from Joel, CEO here at Buffer. You can grab all posts here.

Choosing a name is one of the parts of a startup I find the most difficult. It’s also something you can easily get hung up on. We all know that the key thing is to move on to actually building something we can put in front of users.

Here are 3 steps I would take if I was naming a new startup:

1. If you can, stick to 2 syllables

Often constraints are good when undertaking a creative process like naming your startup. One of the best constraints I’ve found with startup naming is to try to stick to 2 syllables. It’s something I remember talking about a lot with my previous co-founder and good friend Oo. Generally following this rule results in a great name. Just look at some examples of 2 syllable names:

  • Google
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • DropBox
  • Pocket
  • Tumblr
  • Flickr
  • HipChat
  • Sparrow
  • Tweetbot
  • Reeder

All great startups. There are always exceptions to any rule, but I find it much harder to think of many successful startups which have names of more than 2 syllables than those with names with 2 syllables. There are some great single syllable names too, but that’s even harder:

  • Square
  • Path
  • Box

2. Make it easy for yourself

I used to try to be very clever about naming my startup. I’d try to combine words in a smart way and come up with something really catchy that sounded great.

Unfortunately, I’m not the most creative person. I have a good idea from time to time, but they happen much less frequently for me than some other people I know. For example, my friend Tom is really great at thinking of short, clear names like SkinnyoSlideReach or Quotespire.

Therefore, since I don’t have that creativity, I take a slightly different approach. I simply think about a real word that describes the service or a key feature of the service the startup will provide. This is how I arrived at the name Buffer.

I also like the “real word” approach for a couple of other reasons:

  • You’re more likely to end up with a name that can be “spoken” without confusion. I can assure you it’s not fun to spend the years on your startup having to always clarify the name.
  • It’s much easier to stick to the 2-syllables rule if you’re using a real word rather than combining words to create a new one.

3. The domain name doesn’t matter

I see many, many founders limiting themselves with the domain name. One thing I’ve learned and embraced with naming my own startups is that the domain name doesn’t matter at all. The name itself matters much more than having the same domain name. Pick a great name, go with a tweaked domain name.

My current startup is named Buffer, but the domain name is bufferapp.com.

My previous startup was named OnePage, but the domain name was myonepage.com.

The most interesting part is that having a matching domain name seems to have no bearing at all on whether you will succeed with your startup. Chris Dixon said this recently:


Just take a look at all these successful startups which either had a temporary domain name, or which still have a different domain name to their name:

  • Square was squareup.com
  • DropBox was getdropbox.com
  • Facebook was thefacebook.com
  • Instagram was instagr.am
  • Twitter was twttr.com
  • Foursquare was playfoursquare.com
  • Basecamp is basecamphq.com
  • Pocket is getpocket.com
  • Bitly was/is bit.ly
  • Delicious was del.icio.us
  • Freckle is letsfreckle.com

Pick a great name, then add something to get a domain name. It really doesn’t matter all that much – whether you get the domain later or don’t. Then get building!

How did you think about naming your startup? Did you have a different approach? Or, are you going through this process now? I’d love to hear from you!

Related reading” “5 things that seem essential that we launched Buffer without” and “People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.”

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Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski

  • Stephan

    Great ideas Joel.

    How do you feel about startup names that drop some or all vowels? Such as sqrrl, Tumblr, Flickr or srsly?

    • Avril111

      my uncle recently got a nearly new black Volkswagen Touareg SUV by
      working off of a pc… blog link J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Samantha Owens

    These are great pointers to keep in mind. I’m not great at naming things either, I don’t exactly have a clever name for my personal blog. But it’s informative and clear, and it works.

  • anna

    Hi joel, i’m just at this point so thank you!!

  • John Moneypenny

    Joel, every post you send out rocks! You have a great way of using few words in an easy to understand style that is engaging and rich. Question . . . What factors determine whether or not to use your own name for your business name/domain name, versus when to create unrelated names? Thanks.

    • http://www.scurrytails.com/ Jeffrey M. Bishop

      Well, with a name like Moneypenny, you can’t really not go with it, can you? : )

      • John Moneypenny

        Ha! Good point, Jeffrey. That’s my dilemma, I know that Moneypenny is unique and memorable, but would it be smarter to go with the 2 syllable name that Joel suggests? Another one of life’s unanswerable mysteries.

  • http://www.scurrytails.com/ Jeffrey M. Bishop

    Certainly not a tech start up, but Scurry Tails as a catchy, descriptive name that suits the product: spooky short stories for kids; it came from an early story that used the term as a pun to instead describe the hordes of mischevious critters that invaded a campsite. Seems to work OK except one reader did think it was a Nelly song : P

  • Paul Van Cotthem
  • http://www.highperformancelifestyle.net/ Kosio @ HighPerformance

    I always get hung up on names so this is great for me. It is awesome to see the thinking process of a successful founder.

  • Vinay

    Domain names inline with startup’s actual name do matter and a lot, especially if it’s a web startup. I’ve seen companies clamor all their resources to acquire domain names inline with their startups.

  • Aaron Van Zoeren

    I more or less followed the real word approach, except I used the Latin versions of those words. Kept it simple, only three syllables. It sounds cool and describes my (currently theoretical) business very well.

  • http://seashell.co.in/blogs/seashell.htm Ganesh J. Acharya

    Great tips on naming a startup, People tend to name their start ups based on keywords in demand… Wonder if you have an idea for these as well.

  • http://www.mealime.com/ Jeffrey Bunn

    Good post Joel. I went the somewhat “clever” route with my startup’s name but also deliberately chose a word that was a bit of nonsense that I could brand. My thinking was, I’m making up a word so there won’t be any negative associations with the word that could transfer over to my business. And it is 2 syllables!

  • Hendra Uzia

    I’m more of a word twist, think of a new word from one or more word that doesn’t exist, consisting one or two syllables at max, a good example would be github, or bitbucket, this way it’s saver, which you can avoid naming conflict in trademark or domain name. Anyway good point on the domain name doesn’t have to be the same with startup name.

  • ares0926

    Once you guys decided on Buffer was there any desire to drop the ‘e’ as so many web startups seem to do? Buffr might be a different place.

  • Gent

    Great tips Joel!

    Btw, if I were you, I’d think twice before linking to those three domain names suggested by your friend Tom. They’re great examples but one of them is actually a spam website.

    Cheers!

  • Jesper Knudsen

    From a domain perspective I totally disagree. It is crucial for a company to have the same domain name as the company. Of course you can succeed with 2 different names. But why make it more difficult. And if it was not important, why are all companies then spending millions of dollars getting back the right spelled domain names, when they can afford to buy it???

    • http://thilak.in/ Thilak Rao

      I agree with you, but founders tend to be risk averse at early stage when it comes to investment, and can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on getting that perfect domain name. Some founders are very anal about domain names. If they can’t get dot com, they switch name. I guess, that’s what the author is trying to convey. You don’t really need a dot com.

    • cbsnyder1

      I think you may have missed the point. Yes, the domain is important, absolutely. However, it only becomes important at a certain stage of success.

      You entirely missed the idea that all of those big name brands became successful with an off-the-wall domain. Then, they built themselves up big enough using that domain to the point they could afford the 10, 20, or 30 grand domain with their exact name.

      The dot com is important, but only in large networks.

  • http://fittico.com/ Milos Solujic

    Great sum-up article on naming startups Joel.
    I personally also can’t consider myself being most creative person, and I like when it is possible to find some name which is unique, spellable and with available top level domain. How do you like naming for my new venture, fittico.com ?

  • http://techsmaz.com/ ASHRAF KAMAL

    Great piece Joel, I was much confused about this. I was one of the persons who are restricted by their business name and domain, thank you very much.

  • demooz

    Something you can you find a name for your startup, validate it and few month ago you realize that this name, backwards, has a sense !
    Hello i’m Demooz ! A startup that allows future buyers to try a product.
    Backwards Demooz = Zoomed 😉
    Thanks to my UI Designer who get the trick in Photoshop !

  • namesisco

    try this site to name things! Totally free. :) http://namesis-co.tumblr.com/

  • http://hannes.agnarsson.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=disqus-profile-link Hannes Johnson

    Good article, Joel. We had been thinking about a name for our company for a long time and it was kind of holding us back (we couldn’t work on certain things until we had picked a name). So we set a deadline for choosing a name and we picked Valoro Kreo because it translated to “value creation” which was relevant to what we wanted to help people with + it was available as .com 😉

    But after reading this article and experiencing that people had a hard time remembering the name of our company, we are now working on renaming our company to something shorter (two syllables) and hopefully easier to remember.

    So, thanks for the “push” – I think a shorter name will help us in many ways :)

    • http://hannes.agnarsson.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=disqus-profile-link Hannes Johnson

      We ended up calling our company “Loro” (short for “Valoro”) and got the domain name LoroMedia.com

      We wrote about our experience and what we learned here:
      http://www.loromedia.com/naming-your-business/

      • GateKeepr

        ? Why did you not call your business name loro media? For branding etc.
        I expect to visit loro dot com with big expectations.

        • http://hannes.agnarsson.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=disqus-profile-link Hannes Johnson

          We wanted a name with 2 syllables (like Joel recommends in the article).

          Buffer recently bought buffer.com and likewise we might buy loro.com at some point :)

  • Excitmental

    I try and find a decent brandable name that has an available .com domain name to go with it.. There are lots of domain name generators you can use which can help.. There is a good list of them on http://excitemental.com/2013/10/07/domain-name-generators/ worth a gander.

  • Adam Armstrong

    I named mine “own church”.

  • nitin

    Joel – first off just terrific series of posts in this building buffer category..very useful and free course ware for aspiring folks like me. Great ideas and tips on naming. It used to be the case of everyone wanted to do some sort of gimmicky catch suggestive naming unlike what you suggest above w/ clear one or two syllable ideas.

    Whats your thoughts on some of the legal issues that come out of naming i.e. for e.g. middle of last yr we saw pinterest and pintrips get into it. or even the P in pinterest being similar to P in path being a sore issue. As an extension, do you see value in sort of trademarking names for startups as soon as startups come up w/ the name? is it the limited resources well spent as a necessary evil at all you think to avoid the expensive hassles down the road? any thoughts or suggestions or your experience w/ buffer in this space would be useful. thanks Joel.

  • Najwa Sahmarani

    Great article. Insightful :)

    Thank you Joel!

  • M.C.

    This article is great. I came heare searching a blog where spam my indiegogo campaign, but now you have a new follower. The part related to the problem of domain name is so real and frustrating before your help.

    Ok sorry, I whatever need to spam this. If you like take a look and reblog please.
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gathertools/x/6949877

  • Jennifer

    Hey Joel. Thanks for sharing these great ideas with us. I would like to follow your blog while naming my fitness business startup, which I am going to start on this year end. Last year, I started my clothing company and had taken help from one of the business naming service providing company named FrozenLemons, they also had provided me with a beautiful business name.

  • BustABrand

    The problem with starting with a temporary name is that when it comes time to attempt to purchase your perfect domain, the owner may do some research on your company and possibly demand an excessive fee for it, holding you at ransom.

    This might be ok for companies with millions in seed funding but could be a nightmare for others. One way to help avoid this is to browse the premium inventory of brandable domain marketplaces such as http://BustABrand.com

    Even if you don’t find your perfect startup name, some of the names may inspire some further ideas in finding it!

  • Dixy Robin

    Great tips! Having a good name for your business is really very important, as business name reflects and help your business to grow. I named my company with the help of ideas and suggestions by DazzledMinds.

  • http://www.rocko.me/ Rocko

    Funny, I used all your tips “without” knowing them! Nice post!!

  • Dionysios

    My opinion is that shorter names have bigger success.You can still find some good brandable names and trademark free at http://www.buycompanyname.com .

  • John

    Hi
    What do you think about the mark? Did you register buffer?

    Should I care about it? If it is a very generic one like buffer or secret?

    Thanks

  • Imran Ali Rajput

    Agreed, Joel.
    Aa for my startup “Inovadors”, I remained googling and finding the right name for four months. And then I chose this one and got the domain http://www.inovadors.com

    As per me, people just write the company name and then press ctrl+enter as it automatically goes for dot com. And we must assist the users rather than confusing them with diff domains, as diff domains are when we cannot be creative in naming the startup/companies. This is why all MNCs have dot com, because they don’t want to play with people’s psyche.

    Good day!

  • http://www.impactlogos.com.au Manny

    Thank you this is perfect timing. I was racking my brain for a good domain and found it only after browsing through pages of godaddy auctions. The .com was is going for $6.5k + which I cant afford. I have the option of a clean domain hack or .io or as you suggest preceeding with ‘get’ or similar.
    Joel – Would you say the hack is the best option?

  • http://www.schoolgennie.com Pardeep Goyal

    Thanks Joel for writing such a useful article.

  • Kylie

    Hey Joel,
    Talking to a friend about names and reasons behind them after reading this article. What is the reason behind “Buffer” as a name choice? I feel as if you are telling me that I will either be waiting forever for something to load or never need to worry about load times.

  • http://blog.cauvin.org/ Roger L. Cauvin

    These tips seem to align with the advice of experts (such as Al Ries and Seth Godin) and possibly with the science as well. But what are these guidelines intended to achieve? How do you know when you’ve found a good brand name? And do you have any references to science you’ve found that supports your advice?

  • http://jacoblangvad.com jlangvad

    Nice article, Joel – I’ve just finished a new domain name generator for startups: Agile Domain Search (http://agiledomainsearch.com). Hope it will help you next time you need a catchy domain name! :)

    • Ish Singh

      jlangvad, Awesome tool!

  • nbehailu

    This definitely helped! Thanks!

  • GateKeepr

    There are many things to think about in naming, your friend Tom for instance named SlideReach which could be read slider each in the address etc. Also QuoteSpire, quotes pire etc, there are tons more important areas, lots.

    If you’re interested in branding, and I would presume most startups are in 2015+ then yes the domain name is actually important.

    Many startups choose one word generics for instance which in most cases would totally price them out of buying the. Com if it were on the Freemarket

    But as you have contradicted yourself somewhat, because the startups you listed upgraded to their brand name domain!! This is because it projects a professional brand and the domain is communicated via sm along with being on of the first ids a users views and if you’re serious it should correlate.

    Startups could always view the market place if they can’t think of a name, you don’t have to pay premium for a good. Com

    Well actually they do of course as names sell daily in the multi billion dollar aftermarket.

    Also, I’m aware many sups’ just go with an app but there missing out on site presence, again Branding.

    We find it odd with tech innovators semi-branding, launching with their name and being directed to a poor domain name. Just doesn’t cut it nowadays, it’s better to have the domain and brand around that. Or if you think your initiall phase won’t be comprised, save for your premium as your list.

    cheers.

  • Larryalobo

    Good insights. It took a while but I got a 2 syllable name for my business (changing business name and website) Now I’m looking for banding and logo – on to the next steps (already got the same domain name, by luck)

  • http://www.wildoutwest.com/ David Shantz – WildOutWest

    There are a variety of strategies for effective names. Product names are very different from pure brands and utility brands are different from acceptance brands.. We have identified four factors: MEMORABILITY, CREDIBITY, OWNERSHIP and POSITIONING http://www.wildoutwest.com/names.html

    I would recommend always defining a clear path to the dotcom for any major international project. We often pre-negotiate these and tie them up with an option to buy.

  • http://tree-care.com.au/ George Kinsela

    Choosing a name for a business startup is really important and obviously the most
    difficult task. As informed by you, Facebook, instagram, dropbox all had
    different startup names. The idea behind your post is great. Stick to 2 syllables,
    name should be spoken without confusion and definitely represent the relevant business.
    For the digital world, domain names can be chosen similarly if the same name
    cannot be got.

  • Matthew Kingsford

    Choosing a name for a business startup is really important and obviously the most
    difficult task. As informed by you, Facebook, instagram, dropbox all had
    different startup names. The idea behind your post is great. Stick to 2 syllables,
    name should be spoken without confusion and definitely represent the relevant business.
    For the digital world, domain names can be chosen similarly if the same name
    cannot be got. Get ideas for business from here: http://www.trconsulting.com.au/

  • http://www.ajo.co.in/ Akshay Joshi

    Great article. What I think about naming your startup is it should be remember able, pronounceable, and must have some unique words.

  • Simon Charwey

    You’ve made it simple. Good post.

  • Jonathan Mall

    Great Post, thanks Joel!

    Just wrote a post on the same topic, how to find a company name people will remember http://blog.fastbill.com/en/new-company-name-generator/

  • Vic Z

    Do you think Fortatude is a good name for a fitness brand?