Tip-of-the-SpearYour Name is the Tip of the Spear.

Your company name is the first point of contact. It's your first chance to show people you're different. The right name can give you a strong, clear voice in a crowded marketplace. When you're faced with 1% click-thru rates and two-second attention spans, having a name that stands out can be instrumental to your success.

How to Name Your Startup

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 three steps I would take if I was naming a new startup:

1. If you can, stick to two 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 two 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 Skinnyo, SlideReach 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 two 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 a while back, but it's still relevant:

Names are underrated, but domains names are (increasingly) overrated.

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?

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