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Five Hidden Pitfalls When Naming Your New Company or New Product

You're exhausted from several rounds of brainstorming and finally pick a name that seems to convey what you want to say. Your legal eagles clear it, and you start incorporating the name everywhere - on the web, on T-shirts, on stationery and business cards and in correspondence with potential investors or customers.

But oops! You didn't notice that your name carries one or more of these five slowly sabotaging disadvantages:

Hidden Pitfall #1: The name can't be said aloud fast and clearly. Ever called a law firm only to be totally unsure what the receptionist said when picking up the line? Certain combinations of sounds are tongue twisters to say quickly and do not come across clearly to the ear.

For instance, if you named your retail shop Maps, Books, Mugs, Bangles, this four-word name might look great on signage and in newspaper ads. But anyone whose job it was to pick up the phone and say it fifty times a day would soon be in despair. Someone once told me that when I reeled off the name of my publicity book, they heard it as Six Debts to Free Publicity instead of Six Steps. I learned to pause an extra millisecond after "six" to get the name across. But I don't think it's viable to try to salvage Maps, Books, Mugs, Bangles in that way.

Hidden Pitfall #2: People can't spell it. Pity the folks at Cuil, a search engine trying to take business away from Google. "Cuil is an old Irish word for knowledge," says the company on its About page. Newspaper articles about the company note that it is pronounced like "cool." To most Americans, however, it looks like a nonsensical and unpronounceable combination of letters.

When the Internet is key to a company's success, a hard-to-spell name can be a fatal obstacle. If someone gets interested and hears the company name as Quill or Cool and looks at quill.com or cool.com, the company has lost the benefit of that publicity or word of mouth. Quite a different kind of spelling problem comes up when someone hears 24-7 Cleaning and doesn't know whether to look for it as starting with "2" or "t" and whether it contains a hyphen or a slash between 24 and 7.

Hidden Pitfall #3: The name restricts growth. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing quickly grew beyond selling sandpaper and wisely changed its moniker to 3M, a name that fits just about any kind of innovation or invention. Banks often run into this pitfall when they tie their identity to a town or county and try to expand into territory that belongs to another area in customers' minds.

Examples of restrictive restaurant names that seemed advantageous until tastes changed include Pizza Hut, which is now struggling to be known for other foods besides pizza, and any name containing "pasta," which used to sound European but now sounds fattening.

Hidden Pitfall #4: There's an embarrassing connotation you weren't aware of. Although English is spoken and written in many parts of the world, regional and national differences include slang or obscenity that's unknown across the ocean. This pitfall trips up some local or national companies that may do fine until they try to become known online, where people in another corner of the world begin to get shocked or snicker at the name.

For example, the founder of Nobscot Corporation came from New England, where Nobscot is an honorable Native American place name. However, she later learned that in old England, the name raises eyebrows because "nob" is slang there for a part of the male anatomy. Likewise, My Daily Flog, a photo sharing site, is not likely to become popular in Australia, where "flog" means a solitary practice not normally discussed in polite company.

Hidden Pitfall #5: You don't really like it. Before committing to your top name choice, try it out for a couple of days in casual conversation. You may find you feel embarrassed about it or shy about saying it. To make the new product or company successful, you must feel 100% comfortable talking about it, so this won't do. You need a different name. I've seen people invent a business identity that they can't bring themselves to spread wholeheartedly - and their whole investment goes to waste.

Take extra time during naming to make sure you've thought of every way in which you plan to use a name and that the name works in those contexts. This ensures you won't face a choice between continuing with a name that's slowly sapping the potential of what it stands for or taking on the expense of rebranding what you've already put out into the world.

Name your company or product so it can last!

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm .

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