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Does Your Proposed New Company Name Open the Door to Ridicule?

People who intensely dislike your company or feel wronged by you will always find some way to complain. However, a lack of attention during the naming process can inadvertently make it easier for comedians, protesters and whiners to poke fun at your company.

Before finalizing your new company name, run it by these tests so you can tweak the name or reject it if necessary to avoid predictable problems. Also ask the funniest people you know whether they see an obvious (well, obvious to them, at least) way to make your firm a laughingstock.

1. What do the initials spell? One reason why National Skyway Freight changed its name to Flying Tigers is that "NSF" is a well-known abbreviation for "not sufficient funds." Likewise, you wouldn't want to discover after you'd already invested in and promoted your name that disgruntled customers were calling Condo Renovators United of Detroit, your company, "CRUD."

2. Does the name resemble or evoke a disreputable word? Marketers coined the name Allegis as an umbrella name for United Airlines, Hertz, Hilton and Westin Hotels. However, many people who looked at the first five letters thought about "allegedly" and "allegations" rather than "allegiance." That, together with the challenge of pronouncing it, led the corporation to abandon its $7.5 million investment in the name and go back to its previous name, UAL Corporation. Something similar happened to Allegheny Airlines, which got tagged with the nickname "Agony Airlines" until it renamed itself USAir.

3. Do the letters or anything about the way the name is spelled suggest anything negative? When Standard Oil (S.O.) of New Jersey morphed into Esso, then came in for criticism under the name Exxon, commentators sometimes latched onto the double "X" and called it the "Double Cross Company." Likewise, you might find it cute to call your caf� that's at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Route 66 "Caf� 666," but many people associate the number 666 with the devil, so this would be certain to generate notoriety - negative publicity.

4. Does the name suggest a catchy parody version? You can't prevent this kind of lampooning entirely, but you also don't want to make it easy for the public to make fun of you. The natural foods supermarket chain Whole Foods is often derisively called "Whole Paycheck" by those who find its prices high, and the elite department store Neiman Marcus has been dubbed Needless Markup. People who do not like the food at Applebees, a casual restaurant chain, call it "Crapplebees." Be forewarned about this move by asking your comedian friends how they'd twist your proposed name in a satire.

5. Does the name shorten into something you'd be embarrassed about? In New York City, the neighborhood South of Houston Street became known as "SoHo." Washington Mutual, a bank, similarly let its name get shortened into "WaMu." However, if your company was named "California Carriers," you would most definitely not want to be known as "CaCa."

Make sure these techniques don't turn you into a humor target! Be wise about selecting a name that is easier to keep reputable.

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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