We decided to go with our gut and ignore the “rules.” And here we are 6 years later going strong with a name that is authentic to us. I’ll tell you the backstory of Worstofall in a minute, but first I want to share the biggest lesson our name taught us: there are no hard and fast rules for finding a perfect name that will guarantee your business success (no name will,) but there are some major don’ts that will tank your business if you break them.
So take it from the Worst, these are the biggest no-nos in naming:
(Note for anyone under 35: the term “widget” refers to the definition of an unspecified gadget. It’s not just a WordPress plugin, which we would never reference anyway as Squarespace devotees.)
Don't pick a descriptive name.
Descriptive names are easy to forget and hard to find online.
I recently spoke to someone starting an organic lawn-care company. They were exploring the names “Extraordinary Lawns” and “Organic Lawn Care.”
First of all, I remember this conversation but had to find the names he was considering in my email because I couldn’t remember them. If I was a potential customer, I wouldn’t have been able to find him because I couldn’t even remember the company name!
Even if I had remembered the names, what do you think the results would have been if searched for on Google? Probably not this guy’s company. When you have a generic and descriptive company name, you are competing online with other companies, online magazines and various outlets—all of which have more credibility due to already being established—resulting in you spending time and money just to get your company’s name discovered on Google.
Don't pick a word/phrase that is ubiquitous in your industry.
“Worstofall Design” has been at the top of Google searches for “worstofall design” or “worst of all design” since the very beginning— with zero effort. Surprisingly nobody scooped up this gem before we did!
“Mailchimp” is another example. This is a simple name that combines two common words and can be immediately found at the top of a Google search. It’s unique, yet descriptive. An email marketing service, they kept the word “mail,” but by adding “chimp” that made it much easier to find.
It’s important that people who are looking for your specific company can find you easily, they are your low hanging fruit. Using common words that aren’t normally associated with your industry is a great way to be remembered and found.
Don't pick a name that is hard to spell or pronounce.
While I encourage you to think creatively about word usage, it’s important that people can spell and pronounce it. Again, if someone heard about you and wants to find you online, you don’t want them struggling to find you because they have no idea how to spell your company’s name, or they forgot there was a silent “q” at the end.
A recent client of ours came up with the name “MJOLNIR Marketing”. There’s a great story behind it, but WTF? When naming your small business, if you wouldn’t know how to say it or spell it, it’s immediately out.
“Widgets R Us”
Don't pick a name that is accurate over one that feels right.
This is a little more nuanced but it’s probably one of the most valuable points to hit.
It’s more important that your name conveys your brand’s personality than that it has a story behind it. I find too many people are focused on the story and the meaning. It’s great to have depth, but don’t sacrifice the immediate impression customers receive.
Though we don’t officially name companies anymore, we do consult clients on their name choices. We chose to do this because we found it’s hard for individuals to see the value of a name outside of its brand context.
A recent client came to us with the name ‘Intent Expert.’ As an impressive team of high-level marketing technology experts, I understand why they chose this name initially. It sounds like a tech company!
But as they explained what they really did for customers, we agreed with their hunch that it felt all wrong. While they are engineers and tech experts, they actually work with fashion brands to create highly creative, engaging and personalized emails to delight customers and increase sales. Their brand needed to be fun, engaging, and clever, because that’s what clients were buying.
They sent us a long list of potential names but one stood out from the rest: Clevos. Does it mean anything? Not really, except for sounding like ‘clever.’ More importantly it sounds like a fresh, forward-thinking company because it’s short, fun, and spunky. It’s a name they can really own and build a brand on. Plus will climb the ranks of Google in weeks.
It felt like a winner, and didn’t break any of these don’ts and that’s why it works
“Widget and Gabbana”
Don't pick a name that is similar to a competitor in your industry, or globally recognized in any industry.
Besides potentially infringing on a trademark, it is a disadvantage for your small business to sound like a competitor, especially one that is bigger or more established than you. Chances are you’ll be sending them business without knowing it. Plus, you open yourself up to future lawsuits if they trademarked the name and “a reasonable person would confuse the two.”
It’s OK if there are similar names in other industries because you’re not competing with them. I’m no lawyer, but as I understand it, legally, company names are only trademarked in their industry. Of course, you don’t want to sound too much like any other large company. Clients will end up associating you with that company instead, which doesn’t allow you to build your own brand’s personality.
The Naming of Worstofall Design
When we first started, a great deal of people told us not to use the name Worstofall Design.
“You don’t want to lead with a negative in business.” “People might think you do bad work.” “You are going to confuse people or turn them off.”
Glad we didn’t listen to them! These days when people ask why we chose the name Worstofall, I say, “because we build badass brands, and that’s a badass name!”
Our philosophy is that you have to be your brand. Simply talking about your brand results in most people saying the same thing. We chose not to go with, “We help companies build a brand that dares to be different,” because we chose not to be lame. And by lame I mean generic, descriptive or copy-catting.
But naming our company Worstofall Design? That makes it clear we are different. It lets you know we aren’t afraid to stand out. The name exemplifies a cornerstone of our philosophy: you must walk the walk.
The world is saturated with companies talking up a big game, but how many of them are backing it up in how they run their businesses? We tell clients the most effective way to be different is to demonstrate your difference.
Want to show that you’re transparent and honest? Say something transparent and honest!
Transparency is a huge value of ours, but that word doesn’t show up anywhere on our website. Instead, we list out pricing because that is being transparent. My most popular article online is “How Much Does Branding Cost?” This is because most people have no idea what to expect and branding companies often don’t want to talk about it without a long conversation and an even longer proposal process.
It also serves as a filter for potential clients. People who are immediately turned off by the name usually aren’t a good fit for our approach. But clients who either get it or are intrigued? They are looking to do something bold, and are much more likely to be an ideal client for us.
The origin of our name is from my partner Steve Wasterval who, while studying art and art history at CU Boulder, got it as a nickname from his friends. Wasterval. Worstofall. Get it?
But I don’t share that explanation with people who ask. I let them figure it out on their own time because the moment a client makes the connection is priceless. It’s an ‘aha’ moment that lets them in on the secret and have their own experience with the name. Creating aha moments for your brand can be unbelievably valuable, but it’s an added bonus for a name that already stands alone without it.
In sum, there is no perfect name that will guarantee your success. It’s more important that your name doesn’t hurt your company. So if you are stuck naming your company, be a badass and trust your gut. And use the list above to make sure you don’t set yourself up for failure.
This article was originally published on Forbes.