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Naming Your Business


By John P. Mello Jr.



You can invent a name for your solo business, or simply use the one you were born with. We found that IPs disagree on this issue.

William Rodon-Hornof and his wife, Colette, could have offered their architectural services under their own name, as many of their colleagues do. Instead, they chose a name with an air of mystery. Their Chicago-based operation is called 2RZ, which has the feel of a sports car but means "Route Zero," their term for the starting point of a project. "Our work isn't personality- or ego-driven, and we wanted to express that in our name," William said.

For many independent professionals, no decision is more difficult than choosing a business name. Do you play it safe and stick to the name on your birth certificate? Do you go for something that describes what you do? Or do you get creative in the hope that your whimsy will attract clients?The latter might be the most fun, but it also carries the most risk. Will potential clients associate your business name with the work you do? Will the anonymity of a creative business name hurt your ability to get clients?

The Rodon-Hornofs, who are primarily residential architects (about 45 percent of their work is kitchen and bath designs), were drawn to the element of anonymity in the name they chose. "In the architectural world, which is personality driven, the idea of being anonymous was attractive to us," he said.

William said that he and his wife are happy with their cryptic but catchy name. "The name is easily recognized, and we find that people always remember us after talking to us because of the name," he said. "Its uniqueness has helped quite a bit." Nevertheless, the name still leaves some clients puzzled. "The hardest thing for people to digest is that there's no absolute reason for the name," he noted. "The arbitrariness is disconcerting for people."

Quendrith Johnson, 34, a screenwriter and UCLA Film School graduate who lives in Marina Del Rey, Calif., explained that the name for her company, Screenmancer.com, came from her mom. "My mother is a cyberpunk freak, and she kept touting this book Neuromancer to me," Johnson said. The title was echoing in Johnson's mind when the time arrived to name her company, which provides writing services to screenwriters via the Web. She wanted a word with "screen" in it. Then she looked up the origin of the word "mancer," which comes from "mantis," meaning "from the divine; a prophet." "So the word sort of came together as a nod to my mother's cyberpunk obsession," she said. Johnson's list of alternatives to Screenmancer.com was short. "I didn't consider any other names," she said. "It just seemed so appropriate. It seemed to fit what it was."

Like a true webster, Johnson trademarked Screenmancer.com online, a protective measure she recommends. Filing for a trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office online (www.uspto.gov) cost her $245. Compare that to the $1500 an attorney wanted to charge for the task. "The one catch," she said, "is that you have to make sure someone else doesn't have your name" already, and this requires some research.

To get his motor turning over in the morning, a man might need the brisk slap of after-shave on his face. To get out of their set ways, companies sometimes need a brisk slap, too. That was the rationale of Jerome Scriptunas when he named his business BRISC -- Benchmarking, Reconnaissance and Information Sharing Consulting. He advises companies on how to improve their business processes by studying the business processes and methods of others.

Like many other independent professionals, Scriptunas (who set off on his own after being bought-out by AT&T along with 15,000 other workers) saw the Internet as an important component to his business success. Problem was, someone else had already claimed brisc.com. So he reserved brisc.org. Although the "org" domain is usually reserved for not-for-profit companies, Scriptunas said that small companies have been using the .org designation when they couldn't obtain the domain they wanted.

Sometimes, however, a snappy name fails to attract any new business for its owner. Ann Latham Cudworth, a designer of virtual sets for CBS, named her company Electric Spaces. "I wanted a name that mentioned space--that's what I work with -- and I work on it with a computer, so I went to where the system gets its energy -- electricity -- and called it Electric Space," Cudworth explained. But she said that the tag hasn't attracted any clients. "People hire me by personal name," she noted. Moreover, the name has been claimed by someone else as an Internet domain name. "That pretty much put the kibosh on using it as my company name if I couldn't use it as my Web site address," she said.

When creative isn't the best option

For some independent professionals, the family name is soil too rich to be left fallow when growing their business. Rick Betterley, president of Betterley Risk Consultants, of Sterling, Mass., said that his family name has accumulated so much cachet in risk management consulting circles that his father, uncle, and himself have all used it in their business monikers. Betterley's grandfather had entered the risk management business in 1932 under the name Betterley Associates, and ever since the name has been synonymous with the work the Betterleys do.

In the 1970s, the two "associates" -- Betterley's father and uncle-- parted ways. "But the name Betterley was very well known in our business, very prestigious, so both of them wanted to hold on to the name Betterley," the consultant explained.

His uncle formed a company called the George Betterley Consulting Group and his father set up D.A. Betterley Risk Consultants. When Rick acquired the company from his father, he dropped the "D.A." but kept the Betterley. "I've seen all kinds of names for consultants, like Blue Sky Consulting," he observed. "The problem with that is that anybody can be Blue Sky Consulting. It's you and your name that makes you unique. If you're good at what you do and you have a good reputation, that should be your most valuable name source."

Article edited by Michael Nadeau and Eric Gershon
Illustration by Lawrence San

John Mello is an independent professional who writes on a variety of business and technical subjects from his home in Woonsocket, RI.

We'd love to hear your comments about this article! If you like, we'd also be happy to put you in touch with the writer or any of the other IPs named in this article.

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