Some company names have interesting stories behind them. For example, Nike is named after the Greek goddess of victory. Yahoo! Is short for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” Steve Jobs came up with the name Apple after a trip to an apple farm. He thought the name sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.”

All of these names now represent strong, successful brands. But how much does a name influence business success? And how do you come up with the perfect name for your small business?

Names aren’t everything

The first thing to note is that there’s more to building a successful brand than finding a good name. For every successful Apple there’s an Apricot, although Raspberry is doing well. And for every company with a Greek deity’s name that you’ve heard of, there are many you haven’t. Dozens, in fact.

Meanwhile, the tech industry has no shortage of successful businesses with weird names. You could start with one of the biggest, Google. But the past is littered with many more – especially during the dot-com boom and bust.

So a good name isn’t enough for your business to succeed. But the right name can help keep you in people’s minds. When it comes to winning new customers and retaining existing ones, that’s a big benefit.

Running out of names

It’s harder to find them now, though. The simplest names have already been taken and trademarked. Even the less simple ones seem to be off the market, though they may not be in active use. That’s true of products as well as business names.

So companies are forced to use more obscure words, or create new ones entirely. The pharmaceutical industry comes up with ever more contrived words for new products. Your next prescription will probably have at least five syllables.

Sometimes companies use combinations of letters and numbers. Or they might use words that sound like they’re from another language, but aren’t.

Unfortunately this can backfire, especially if you’re selling internationally. For example, Toyota wasn’t the first company to discover that the name of its product meant something rude in another country. Nor was it the last.

Doing it back to front

These days there are even more things to worry about. If you choose a company name, is the web domain free? What about the Twitter account or LinkedIn profile?

Sure, there are various permutations you could try. If you can’t get then perhaps you could get or or But for the most consistent brand presentation you’d want the same name across all channels. And increasingly you’ll find all these variations are taken.

You could flip things around. When I launched each of my last two businesses I searched for suitable domain names first. Only once I found one that I liked did I register that as the name of my company. If you’re planning to do a lot of business online, this could work for you, too.

Express yourself

Ultimately, you’re not limited to a single word for your company name. If you can’t be an Apple, maybe you can be The Really Scrumptious Popum Company, or We Love Tree-Based Fruit Ltd, or something equally quirky. Descriptive names are still memorable. They’re also less likely to have already been taken.

And if you are tempted to make up an entirely new word for your company, do some careful checks first. It might stop you stepping in the MR2.