Entrepreneur Life: How To Name Your Startup

SMS Text

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 two 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 two syllables than those with names with two 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!

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski

This post originally appeared on Buffer, and is reprinted with permission.

Joel Gascoigne

Joel Gascoigne

Joel is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture. Say hi to him anytime @joelgascoigne.
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • http://gravatar.com/nickocook Neko

    I like this brief overview. In no way did it help me in naming my startup, but it did show me that I don’t need to get it 100% the way I want it off the bat. If the users don’t like what I offer, they don’t care if my name is perfect in a domain or not, it will either grow or not. When it grows, THEN I can work on tweaking everything.

  • James R. Halloran

    Pretty cool tips here! Thanks!

    I think you’re right about keeping names down to one or two syllables. You really can’t think of many beyond two. The only successful one I can think of Pinterest, but a lot of people cheat that one syllable to say “Pintrest.” (You see?)

    I also agree with you about the domain name. It’s really the last thing to worry about. Even if someone already has it, you can always find alternatives like “BufferBlog.com,” “Buffer.co,” etc.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, Joel! Always good stuff from you guys. 🙂

  • http://ignitevisibility.com John E Lincoln

    Nice post. Picking a name is the hardest thing ever! Coming up with Ignite Visibility took us so long, there are just so many businesses out there now-a-day

  • http://mustadapt.com Spencer Turner

    Hey Joel, it can be incredibly hard for start ups to come up with an effective name that hasn’t already been taken! Thanks for the tips.

  • http://www.kingged.com Sunday

    Great ideas for naming a startup. Making use of two syllabic words should be used as the starting point. There are lots of success stories with this approach.

    I guess following other rules would apply if the two syllabic rule fails. The take on domain name is contestable even with the very clear examples provided.

    Sunday – kingged.com contributor

  • Patrick

    It is still a good goal to try to match the biz name with the domain early on, as the more valuable your startup becomes, the more likely the owner of the domain you want will increase the price. Could save a lot of money to get the domain before demand ups its price.