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Must a Great Business Name Be Short? (No)

Look around the Internet, particularly at blogs written by high-priced naming consultants, and you'll find a lot of rules about what makes for a great business name. Some of these are pure nonsense. They're not observations but opinions - shaky opinions, too.

For example, some naming consultants claim that a great business name must be short. True, some are: Google. Nike. Intel. Ford. Best Buy. Sprint. Deere.

One expert says names should be no more than three syllables, and another says no more than three words. Supposedly, shorter is more memorable. But this is not necessarily true. Consider Etsy, Boku, and Eska. These four-letter names are hard for English speakers to remember because they involve combinations or sequences of sounds that do not naturally occur in the language.

If you look at the 2009 Fortune 100 list of America's largest companies, only 47 out of 100 of the official company names fit the three-syllable rule, and the number gets only to 53 out of 100 if you consider their shortened company names (for example, Liberty Mutual instead of Liberty Mutual Insurance Group). So any attempt to link shortness of a company name with financial success is absurd. If you did a similar survey of companies that land in the news, I'm confident that the results would be the same.

Here are a few companies with rather long names that do quite well in the marketplace:

* New Horizons Computer Learning Centers (the world's largest independent IT training firm - 11 syllables)
* Edible Arrangements International ($174 million in annual sales - 11 syllables)
* The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (nearly $7 billion in annual sales - 13 syllables)
* Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn (#1 selling brand of popcorn - 11 syllables)

A longish name might be a smart strategic choice if it helps you capitalize on history (A&P was established in 1859), ground yourself geographically ("Philadelphia" has five syllables right there) or include essential industry words (like "miniature golf" in Eastern Miniature Golf Supply).

Admittedly, longer names are harder to manage on the telephone, in radio ads, in logos and on signage. But no longer than three syllables or three words is a completely unreasonable absolute standard.

If you're leaning toward a business name on the long side, think about how it might be affectionately or not so affectionately shortened, and make sure the nickname or acronym is acceptable. For instance, Chevrolet to Chevy - good. Agonistes Shipping to Agony Shipping - not so good. International Business Machines to IBM - okay. Sutton Health Insurance Tracking to SHI_ - oops!

Some companies with long names acquire a shorter version of it for their web domain, but if you do this, make sure the shortening is intuitive, such as Orville.com for Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn.

Don't get hung up on the length of a business name. Much more important than length are whether or not the name sits well on the tongue, makes sense to the ear, spells easily, is easily pronounced its first time seen and sticks in the mind.


Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms catchy business names, product names and tag lines according to the clients' criteria. For a systematic process of coming up with a snappy and appropriate new 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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