How To Choose a Domain Name for a Startup

Jan 01 2011

Choosing a good name for your startup is one the most important things you can do for your new company.  It can either become a word that when spoken or said, is instantly recognized or another confusing blockade to your corporate success.  To make matters even more complex is the marketing, web presence, and trademark issues.  So how does a new company choose a good name? Below is some great advice from various sources around the net as well as as some advice from members of Quora (one of my favorite question and answer sites).

Tristan Kromer

I am not an expert on this, but for god’s sake please make it something that people can actually spell. I am continually baffled by phonetic spellings of names that a consumer will almost certainly misspell. I would also recommend that if you have a company name that your URL should be the same. (I’m looking at you Aardvark.)

Dennis Liu (founder of skyara)
– keep the letter count as short as possible.
– try to use real words from the dictionary.
– Use nice sounding letters like s, sh, y, w, o
– avoid harsh sounding letters, k, q, etc,
– try to keep it under 3 syllables
– don’t be too creative, often the simpler the name the easier it is to remember

and as a final note, at the end of the day, the name doesn’t matter as much as what you build.

Michael Redding

Whatever you do, don’t end it with .ly or skimp out on vowels.

Rich Barton (founder of Expedia, Ziollow, and countless companies)

  1. The fewer syllables the better.  My first son was born on the day of the Expedia IPO in 1999.  My son still couldn’t say “Expedia” very well even when he was 4.  Pick a word that a 4 year old can say.
  2. Use high-point Scrabble letters.  My wife and I love to play Scrabble (a great brand name, btw).  The highest point letters (least often used in English) are Z, Q, X, J, K.  These are memorable letters for people because they are so seldom used.  Use them in your brands.  Xerox, Kodak, Coke…
  3. Palindromes (spells same word backward and forward) and double letters are nice, too, as they are memorable visually and audibly.  (Kellogg’s, Apple, Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Zillow – I couldn’t come up with palindromes, but my instinct is that they would be great.  Near palindromes are XeroX, KodaK,..)
  4. If your service is an active tool of some kind, try to pick a word that people can turn into a verb easily.  Google is the ultimate example here.

He has a fantastic article on how he chooses names (A great site on company names)

Use collective intelligence

Another good way to diversify your pool of name ideas is to have lots of people contribute. They can help both by suggesting names and by critically evaluating others’ name ideas. Other people will notice gems that you ignored, and duds that you’re attached to for your own idiosyncratic reasons.

To avoid embarrassment in other languages, ask the experts

If you’re releasing something on a global scale and are concerned about what your name might mean in other languages, there’s simply no way to get around asking native speakers. Nothing else will work. One native speaker’s opinion is worth more than any amount of research you might do using dictionaries or online resources. If this is an issue and you can’t afford to hire a naming firm to screen the name for you, try to identify the main languages you’re concerned about (start with the ones with the most speakers in your market, obviously) and find speakers yourself. Try friends of friends. Try online social networks. Try a university with international students.
Gus Fuldner

Opportunity for trademark protection: To get a trademark you need to be able to show distinctiveness of the name. It is easiest to get trademark protection for invented or “fanciful” names. “Quora” is a good example of a fanciful mark.  It isn’t a word by itself. Arbitrary marks like “Amazon” or “Kayak” are also relatively easy to register if the term is unrelated to its meaning (’s business isn’t really related to the river of the same name and sells flights and hotels, not kayaks. You can do a basic US (federal) trademark search at… but if you want to really get an opinion about the trademark potential of a name, consult an IP lawyer.

Other factors that might matter (generally more for consumer internet companies):

  • Availability of the name in other namespaces (e.g., Twitter, Facebook)
  • Search term competition – How hard is it to get to the top of Google’s search results for your name (sometimes a problem for dictionary words)

As you can see, everyone has different ideas of what makes a great name.  Rich Barton’s “use the high value Scrabble letters” defies what most people will tell you but it’s hard to argue with a man that’s built some of the most successful sites on Internet.  At the same time, there is a general consensus of basic things you need to watch for, company description,  availability on the social networks, trademarks, audio and visual simplicity, creativity, and translation issues.  Picking a name works best as a team as the more opinions the better.  In the end it’s your name to pick. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone and every rule.  When it’s all said and done it will all come down to your business model and implementation.  If you business plan stinks you’re just be picking out a name for your company’s gravestone on TechCrunch.

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Outsmarting the Dumb, Outworking the Smart

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  1. Richard

    Good thinking bat man. I was reading a blog post only the other do where they were highlighting an example of a bad url. The company used a word that was really difficult to pronounce let alone spell.

    Thanks for sharing oh and loving the new logo. Only just noticed it had changed.

  2. benoitfallenius

    Since a week you can for the first time do a free trademark availability search at This will save you hundreds of dollars.

    What ever name you choose, you should make sure nobody is using a similar name for a similar business. Markify will show you the similar trademarks, so you can avoid them.

  3. Gene

    Very glad to see this article written. Thank you.

    I’m convinced that in the coming years, many domainers will earn a good portion of their revenues from sales to end-user startups.

    But to take full advantage of this opportunity, domainers need to (a) really have their finger on the pulse of early stage technology – and tech startups -, (b) have some experience prosecuting trademark applications with the USPTO – to understand what names are capable of being approved for registration, and (c) possess great ‘instincts’ on the types of names that have enough cache to (alone) contribute to an organization’s success.



    I agree, but I still see some companies registering business name and then thinking about the domain, which is wrong. It’s better if the domain matches the company name, even if most of the company’s business is offline.

  5. Robin Ong

    Shane, I love the new logo. The post contains great pointers for new business and also new domainers. However, why isn’t there suggestion on the use of Would be great too right?

  6. Post author


    The English speaking world is not quite used to companies with number names. The Asian community is much more accustomed to this. I think that numbers are VERY brandable and certain numbers are perfect names. I’m just not sure I would advise it for the majority.

  7. MQJ

    Nice post Shane.

    Mostly Chinese use numbers names. It is not so popular in English countries. Even in India, i can merely find a company using number names.

  8. Tristan Kromer

    lol! Nice post. I’m appalled that I’m listed first though. I am notoriously bad at picking domain names. I personally own,, etc.

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