Are you holding up on chasing your dream of launching your business until you come up with the perfect name? Don’t worry I was there too. The overwhelm of trying to come up with a business name that would resonate with your audience, be a strong base for your company, and makes you happy is real.
When I was naming Olive Fox Design, I used a word mapping technique to push past the plateau. The result is the perfect name that suits this venture. Below we’ve detailed the steps of this technique so you can move forward on bringing your own entrepreneur dreams to life!
What is the Word Map Technique?
I am not sure of the label for this specific technique- so I call it a “word map”.
If you dig back into your school days you might recall using similar techniques in class. The word map combines word associations and the visual mind map.
Word associations are great because they help to push out of a rut. They force you to look beyond the obvious/ first ideas and into another layer. This is a brainstorming technique that will help you generate ideas in a systematic way. For word associations, you start with one word and write down the first word that you think of. Then, that new word becomes your base as to write down the first word that pops into your head. Ultimately this will create a linear path of words.
Mind maps are used to organize data and information around a centralized idea. Think of starting with a central idea and then branching off of a tree with sub-ideas. From there taking the sub-ideas and branching those out even further.
The word map technique combines these two brainstorming exercises. It will push you to use word associations to think in a less rigid way than a straight line. You will be surprised at some of the results you come up with when you move in a systematic way in many different directions.
Using the Word Map Technique for Your Business Name
Step One. Start With Base Words for your Business Name
The word map technique is dependent on starting words. If you are to the point of starting a business you will have a general idea of what you want to do, who you want to serve, or a strength you would like to highlight. If you haven’t decided on these items, pause and work on defining your business and niche.
Pick 2-3 words from your business concept, niche, and/or an adjective to describe your ideal customer. General words work very well so don’t overthink or worry about being specific at this step.
For example, if you are launching a dessert restaurant in Charleston. Pastry and Charleston would be two great base words.
Using one sheet of paper per word, write the word in the center of the paper.
Step Two. Expand on Your Business Name Base Words
Focusing on one sheet of paper with one base word use word associations to expand out from your base words. Write down anything that comes to mind. Some people will go until they fill up the entire sheet of paper and some will use a timer for 10-15 minutes. Go with whatever limit works best for you- but be sure to put a limit on this step.
The word expansion should include both literal and figurative words. Literal words are the straightforward terms that you think of for the base word. Figurative terms are more abstract that could be objects, phrases, feelings, or moments. Going off our Pastry base word, the literal association would be a bakery and an abstract association would be a sweet tooth.
Don’t get hung up on coming up with perfect words or phrases at this point. If any words seem out of place to you, that’s fine just write them down and move on. This list is the unfiltered mind/research dump and we will sort it through in the next step. Repeat this process for each of your base words.
Resources for Expanding
Personal Experience – Using the space and structure we have laid out, you will be surprised at what associations flow onto the paper just from your mind. This should be your primary resource because you will feel more connected to your business name.
Thesaurus – This tool is so helpful to break past a difficult spot or to jog your memory in a different direction. I will look up one of the words on my map and write down a few synonyms to see if they spark any natural associations.
Wikipedia – This is a great source to help draw from historical references, symbolism, definitions, or cultural references.
Google Image Search – Sometimes seeing a picture commonly associated with a word you are stuck on will help create new word associations. Maybe looking up sweet desserts will bring to the forefront the figurative description of tan and brown.
Step Three. Organize + Combine
Your word maps have provided you with a wide base of terms. This unfiltered map will have a wide variety of words that reflect different tones, themes, and feelings. Get out another sheet of paper to help you organize and narrow down the options.
On this clean sheet of paper draw the same number of columns as base words. Then populate the columns with the phrases or words from each word map. While transferring you can filter out terms that do not fit in with your target audience. However, if you are torn or hesitant to eliminate a word transfer it to the list. You might dislike a standalone word, but adding another word could make it just right.
Moving the words from the map form to columns will create the space for you to start combining the terms. Now dive into combining the terms in a systematic way by starting with the first word in the first column and pairing it with each word from the next columns. Keep a list of the combinations that you are drawn to.
Step Four. Filter
Using the list of potential name combinations, start eliminating from the list based on the business naming rules below. The key is to keep your target audience in mind and what will attract them to your business.
Business Naming Rules
Keep it simple – Your business name should be as short as possible. Make sure your combinations are not too complicated so you are the only one who understands. Limiting yourself to a maximum of 3 columns will help with this.
Stay away from technical jargon – Avoid using terms that your target audience will not understand. If you are focusing on serving other businesses that will understand the technical jargon- then you can decide if you want to apply this rule.
Make it meaningful – Applying this word map technique will help you get to meaningful combinations of words.
Convey the right emotion- Be sure as you narrow down names the business name evokes the right emotion for your target audience.
Provide what you do- Your business name should provide a clue or directly communicate what you do.
Future Potential- Consider your future plans for your business and make sure they can be covered by this name.
Step Five. Viability Check for Your Business Name
Availability of Business Name
Don’t forget this important step once you have found a combination of words you are drawn to. At a minimum check to make sure the domain name is available, look into the legal clearance of the name, and the big social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). Depending on your business needs your list of items will expand. If you have a podcast in the future, be sure to check iTunes and YouTube for availability.
Trusted Source Check
Once you have checked the availability, run your name idea by family, friends, and target audience. Sharing your business name with trusted individuals will help point out potential pitfalls. Pro Tip: Make sure you are sharing your name verbally with some friends and with others written. This will help you to identify the pitfalls of both hard to spell or hard to pronounce business names.
Once you have the perfect name confirmation from your trusted community will give you the confidence to go forward with your venture!
Step Six. Secure Your Business Name
Once you have verified the availability, make sure to secure the domain, and file the required legal paperwork, and social media handles. Consistency is key to building a strong brand, so secure the social media handles even if you have no plans to utilize that platform.
Now that you have the administration portion of securing your business name, you can now dive into developing your brand identity and launching your business!
See it in Action- How Olive Fox Design Came To Be!
Step One. Olive Fox Design’s Base Words
Military – I knew I wanted to focus my business on the military audience because I wanted to push myself to be an active part of the community. After six months, I can confirm this business has been the perfect gateway for connecting with like-minded military family members.
Sage – This keyword is derived from a discovery questionnaire about my archetype. I am OBSESSED with personality tests, so it seemed fitting to take one about the direction I wanted to take my company. Sage archetypes use intelligence and analysis to understand the world. Since many of my peers in this space would typically fall into the creator archetype, I wanted to highlight my unique point of view in my business name.
Design – This likely didn’t need to be included in the word map, but see my sage archetype above. I am a sucker for the details and wanted to make sure I was making an educated decision to communicate my line of business.
Step Two. Expand on the three OFD Base Words
Expanding on each of the three root words. I personally used a timer for 10 minutes- and yes it was HARD to cut myself off. As you can see from my expansion, this is not meant to be a pretty process- it is a quick brainstorming technique.
Step Three. Organize + Combine the Olive Fox Design Word Maps
I found through the combination process there were certain words that I tended to focus on- olive being the one shown here. To help prevent too much anchoring, make sure you are going back to your organized list and coming up with new combinations.
Next Steps for Olive Fox Design
Once we had the brainstormed list, I went through and applied the viability checks outlined above. After all the checks were performed I happily dove into the design process of creating our little fox, color scheme, and brand elements. I am so happy that we were able to use a systematic process to create a meaningful business name that suits our military family-owned business perfectly!
Once you’ve established your business name, you can start diving further into establishing your brand! I recommend reading more about what is a brand and why you need more than a logo.