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Assessing Viability


Names are trademarks. Trademarks are intellectual property. Property is, well… property. And as most of us learned in grade school, you don’t mess with other people’s property.

That’s why you screen the names you have developed during your exploratory. We suggest you walk the ones you think have potential through at least two types of screening.

For US based brands, the first is TESS — The US Patent & Trademark Office’s database of registered trademarks. Just search “TESS” and you’ll find it. While it’s not the most intuitive system, you’ll figure it out.

There are more sophisticated, targeted searches you can do to save time in the process, but the easy way is to type it into the database, click search, and review the listings.

We won’t get into too many dirty details on how to search right now. But a quick tip is that if you are reviewing the listing of a registered mark that is the same name as what you have created, and in the same industry (for example if you make software, and there is already a software company registered under the same name), kill the name.

Unless you have deep pockets (like Apple did to settle the use of the name “iPhone” with Cisco) or are interested in acquiring the company (like Google did with “Android”), it’s probably best to move on to another option.

For brands launching outside of the US, it gets more complicated. Most countries have searchable trademark databases. And there are sophisticated (and expensive) trademark search solutions that check multiple databases at once to offer a comprehensive assessment of names globally. We won’t get into that here.

The second check we recommend is a simple Google check. Just type the name that you developed into Google and see what the results yield for the first few pages. Is it a completely diluted, generic term — for example “milk,” which could be a cool name for your company but obviously has billions of existing hits all focused on dairy? Evaluate the first 20-30 results.

Once you’ve screened the name alone, check the name with some keywords that describe what your company does. For example “NAME + software,” for a software company, or “NAME + insurance” for an insurance company.

If you see results that show brands operating under the same name, in the same or similar field, in the region or country you want to operate in, this might be a conflict. While it’s almost never black and white, you might want to consider moving on to other options.

URLs are a big hurdle if you want a pure domain name for your company. If you want a pure URL, you’ll want to check the availability by typing the name + .COM into your browser and by checking a domain registration site such as GoDaddy.com.

If you’re open to a modified URL, come up with a list of modifications (e.g. Go + NAME, My + NAME, Name + descriptor, etc.) and check each of them until you strike gold.

For more information on URLs, check out our blog post entitled “How to Create a Pure, Available .COM Domain Name.”

The last type of screening you’ll want to carry out is a check in foreign languages. This will help you avoid negative meanings and associations with your names, especially if you are considering a highly coined name.

Contact a translation company to see if they can have native speakers of key languages evaluate the names you are considering. This check is important for global businesses, but also domestic ones. Thanks to the internet, people all over the world can have access and exposure to your company.

Use a spreadsheet to track the results of your screening. It’s the easiest way to keep tabs on results for more than a handful of names.

Once you have your results, weed out names with obvious conflicts, and highlight names that seem clear.

For more tips on naming a company, check out our new FREE naming guide.

Jill Stanewick is Naming Director at Tanj, a boutique naming, language and brand consultancy in NYC. Follow @jill_at_tanj for Jill’s latest thinking and updates.

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