Choosing a name for your business is one of the most crucial decisions you will ever have to make. Get it wrong and you could doom your business to obscurity and failure. But pick the right name and you may just create a big buzz in the industry.

It may seem like the best names have already been taken by big brands and corporations, but that’s not entirely true. There are no rules saying what the perfect name is for a particular business category. As long as it conveys your expertise, value and uniqueness, it’s a good name.

So how do you come up with a business name in the first place? Follow these best practices.

Do use real words

When you have to choose between real words and fabricated words, go with the former. It’s always a safer choice compared to a string of initials or numbers, simply because people prefer words they can easily understand and relate to.

You can also play with a combination of real words to coin a unique name, like Facebook or Instagram for instance. However, make sure that it is relevant to your product or service – not just some fancy mishmash to make your name look original.

Do think outside the box

You want a name that clearly describes what your business is all about, but you don’t want it to be too obvious. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

One way is to use new forms or spellings of existing words. For instance, naming firm NameLab created the name Compaq for a company’s new portable computer design. The name is noticeable but not generic.

Another way is to take inspiration from foreign words. Lego, for instance, is a combination of the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. Similarly, Verison is a combination of the Latin word veritas, which means ‘truth’, and horizon.

Don’t use geographic/generic names

Location-specific or generic business names make local search optimisation a lot easier. But besides this advantage, there is little benefit in using them.

Say if you go with “Sydney Disk Drives”, what happens if you expand to other cities or diversify your product selection? The name would likely lose its relevance to consumers in Brisbane or Melbourne. And people will never know you also sell other products besides disk drives. What’s more, generic names don’t build your brand or personality.

Don’t make it too long

Go for a short and sweet name. Take “Skype” as an example. Originally, the name of the popular messaging app was “Sky-Peer-to-Peer” but was later shrunk down to “Skyper” before it finally became Skype.

Don’t use puns only you understand

A “punny” name (sorry for the pun) is a brilliant way to catch the attention of potential consumers, but it’s a precarious approach if you don’t know your audience well. It’s simple – if people don’t get the joke, they won’t likely check out your business. Worse, they might even think your product or service is as cheap as the joke.

Do consult an expert

No matter how confident you are with your choice, it still pays to talk to an expert before making a final decision. Naming firms can not only advise you against bad name choices, they can also guide you about trademark laws.

The cost would be an issue, yes. But spending some money now for sound advice can save you money in the long term. If you simply don’t have enough finances to hire a professional naming firm, spend time on researching existing business names and relevant laws to make sure your choice is smart and safe.

Do welcome change

The most important thing to remember is to stick to what you want to communicate or how you want your business to be known for. For example, when Blue Ribbon Sports came out with a new shoe line with the iconic swoosh design in 1971, they wanted it to embrace the spirit of victory. So the creative minds behind the company chose Nike, the Winged Goddess of Victory in Greek mythology. The name stuck – it was so good that seven years later, BRS officially changed its name to Nike, Inc.

Sometimes a brilliant name is created by going with your gut, other times by doing research and testing with focus groups. Sometimes, it even presents itself by accident, as it did for Google. However it happens, your name is your first step toward building a strong brand and company identity, one that may rise in the ranks as your business moves forward.