Posted on: 05 February 2018
Deciding on a business name can be somewhat of a subjective minefield. Whilst it is often seen as an exciting prospect for business owners, there are lots to consider and get right. Your company name is the perfect chance to explain what you do, what you believe in and how you should be represented in the marketplace. Anyone can come up with a list of prospective names, the hard part, however, is ensuring they resonate in the real world.
To shed some light on company naming habits, we have conducted research into the thousands of businesses registered at Companies House. In turn, we set out to uncover evidence of any trends or useful insights permeating the world of company names.
To further aid our research into company names, we spoke to Rebecca Battman, Head of Brand at RBL Brand Agency. Rebecca and her team have helped hundreds of businesses coin the perfect company name, and have an unrivalled understanding of why this can be paramount to a business’ success.
Building brand equity is key to the success of many businesses, but it doesn’t always have to be earned. Naming is one route where you can quickly increase your brand equity by borrowing from an existing term that already has its own clear values and image.
Pride & passion
While there are common pitfalls to assigning a geographic location to a company name, there are some instances where regional pride or national heritage can work in the favour of a business. For example, in our research of Britain’s company names, we found that the word “UK” appeared more than 118,000 times, making it the fifth most popular word nationwide. Descriptive names which tell the consumer something concrete about the business – where it is located and so on – have the advantage of being able to evoke an emotion from the customer.
In the same analysis, our research showed that the terms “Scotland” or “Scottish” were three times more popular than “Britain” or “British”. Similarly, they were four times more popular than “England” or “English”.
Branding expert Rebecca Battman offers an explanation as to why the words “Scotland” or “Scottish” particularly resonate with consumers: “Ask anyone what ‘Scottish’ stands for, the answer is probably passion, history and pride. Ask the same question about England, and the answer doesn’t roll quite so easily off the tongue.”
One could argue that the word “Scotland” has also become a firm favourite among businesses due to its semantic ability to conjure up visions of verdant landscapes, opulent settings, and proud heritage. For example, the company Pringle of Scotland – more commonly referred to as “Pringle” – went about reinventing itself as an international luxury fashion retailer. Exhibiting new designs based on the company’s trademark Argyle pattern, Pringle of Scotland increased their brand identity by using their historic ties to Scotland.
In a similar vein, our research found that companies who are registered in Yorkshire like to cite their county more than other UK regions. An example is Yorkshire Quality Foods Ltd, a small food company based in Richmond, Yorkshire. As a company who supply locally-sourced products backed by quality service, we assume they emphasise their unique selling point by reiterating location in their name.
Wealth & prestige
Our research showed that many companies borrow brand capital from regions synonymous with tradition and prestige. For instance, 6,539 UK businesses were seen to be using the cities of Oxford or Cambridge in their company name. This is most likely due to the region’s first-class universities, local heritage and expensive property market.
Rebecca Battman told us how important location can be when it comes to naming a company:
“Naming can be a quick way to increase the brand capital of your own business, as it allows you to borrow some capital from a name/term that already has its own clear brand values. For example, Oxford — where a technology industry thrives — is the fourth most common city to appear in company names.
Just down the road from Oxford, Milton Keynes has a larger population and is also a large technology base. However, lacking the prestige of its neighbour, Milton Keynes does not feature in the top 20 names featured in this research.”
Converse to this, choosing a name that is too specific can obstruct a company from making a real connection with other audiences. For example, HP Foods Limited - the company behind HP Sauce - began in a factory in Birmingham, so named itself the Midlands Vinegar Company. Now a global conglomerate, the name “Midlands” has been stripped out in favour of the “HP Foods” moniker.
In our digital world, it’s no longer simply a case of coining an original company name: businesses must now find a suitable, and available, domain name too. With the internet playing a significant part in almost all areas of life, the world of business is no exception. Put simply, your brand name should easily translate to your web properties.
Our research showed how UK businesses have injected digital terminology into their names. After all, since most software and hardware is too complex for the laity, a business name is often the only thing an audience connects with.
“.com” and “.co.uk”
“.com” is a term solely influenced by the emergence of the internet. We found that in the year 2000, “.com” saw its first spike, with 434 companies referencing the now widely regarding term in their name. The largest peak for the term “.com” occurred in 2016 when 557 businesses included it in their name - an increase of 27 per cent. Our research showed a similar pattern when we analysed the popularity of “.co.uk” over the same period, with 102 instances in the year 2000 versus 172 in 2016 – an increase of 69 per cent.
A term which did not peak in 2000 was the word “tech”. However, its popularity has been steadily increasing since 2009, with 1462 instances occurring in 2016 - a 1,182 per cent increase.
Rebecca Battman told us how changing behaviours are now shaping business names:
“The way we find new companies is changing. We now hear or read about a company, and then search for them online to find out more. From there, consumers make the decision as to whether they should trust them or not.
A company with ‘.com in its name effectively is doing part of the searching for the consumer. Not only is the business name telling them who they are, but also where they can find them”.
New business opportunities thrive from social and technological change. As innovation drives new products and the creation of original industries, new businesses look to launch and capture the market opportunity. For each one of these new businesses, there is a tendency to start off with one product or service and name a company after this first innovation. But what happens when you have five different products? Or indeed five different divisions? Or five different businesses?
“By choosing a name that’s too specific, you may limit your future,” explains Rebecca Battman.
“This is where brand architecture comes in to play. A good naming solution will provide a framework that enables a business to grow and develop its service offering in ways that might not have been imagined at the beginning.”
To find out more about how social and technological change affects company names, we researched the impact of new products and neologisms, such as “Drone” and “Brexit”.
Drones were first introduced to the UK in 2015. Our research shows that the neologism grew in popularity during 2016 - with 98 companies making use of the word in their name – but dipped in 2017. While there is a 41 per cent decline in the use of the word “drone” in 2017, it’s likely that we will see this figure sky-rocket over the forthcoming years, as the market adapts to advancements in the technology.
“’Drone’ is an interesting term, as the product itself is fairly new to the commercial market,” said Rebecca Battman.
“As drones rely heavily on the latest technology, there is likely to be growing interest over the years as technology progresses, making this a good choice in a business name.”
Vape was the Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) ‘Word of the Year’ in 2014, and as such, there was an increase in companies including the neologism in their name. Our research shows that use of the word “vape” increased by 446 per cent from 2014 to 2016, with 273 uses in 2016.
The OED explains that ‘Words of the Year’ are chosen based on how they represent the “passing language of the year”, usually including new words which signify a change in society. However, as these are usually terms which have an ephemeral lifespan, business owners should tread carefully before making them the main staple of their name.
Whilst “Brexit” was coined as early as 2012 - in relation to a Twitter discussion around “Grexit” - it only became a common term used once David Cameron announced the referendum in February 2016.
Despite the ongoing debate on the EU referendum, we found 62 instances of “Brexit” in business names during 2017. Some of these include:
- Brexit Biscuit Company Limited
- Blame it on Brexit Ltd.
- Brexit Beverages Ltd.
- The Brexit Diner Limited
- Brexit The Opera Ltd.
Content with playing on the divisive connotations surrounding “Brexit”, the companies listed above may have used the word to spark intrigue and add an air of cheekiness to their brand image.
Unsurprisingly, the term “2000” peaked in the year of the millennium, with 196 uses in the UK. Interestingly, 478 companies continued to use the term after the year 2000, increasing overall usage by 144 per cent in the years following the millennium.
While business owners will often first look to words that help to define what their company embodies, proper names are also a traditional territory.
People have been accustomed to using or adapting their own name for centuries: Walt Disney, Ralph Lauren, Dyson and so on. We also see names which stand out from the competition and honour their founders/inventors, such as Tesla Motors.
Rebecca Battman explains why proper names can be an effective means of enhancing a company’s image:
“John Lewis was named after its founder over 100 years ago. This quintessentially English-sounding name presents a sense of reliability and heritage. Similarly, Wendy’s was named after the founder’s daughter, Melinda Lou, known as Wendy. This familiar name hints at homely, good food.”
But beware. Saatchi and Saatchi were left with quite a headache when Maurice and Charles parted company with the agency acrimoniously and set up M & C Saatchi! Putting your own name above the door may have unintended consequences further down the line.
But proceed with caution: if you choose to refer to your proper name, you could find yourself competing in a haystack of other businesses. For instance, there are more than 8000 businesses across the UK which make use of the name “John”. “Rose” was the only female name to feature in the top fifteen first names.
Other territories can include animals, fruits and colours. If it works for Red Bull, surely it can work for you, right? Red (the third most popular colour) gives connotations of passion, intensity and love, making it a nice fit for any business who wants to evoke these themes. Green, on the other hand, is the most popular colour word used in company names, and connotes nature, growth, health and tranquillity.
Orange, Lime and Apple were the most common fruit names, while more obscure fruits like Cherry, Olive and Mulberry, were also very popular.
As a country famed for having more than 10,500 specialist fish and chip shops, it’s hardly surprising that “Fish” is the most popular animal company name. Likewise, animals like Fox, Eagle, Lion, and Swan are all commonly featured among business names and are commonly used as pub names.
Some of the world’s biggest brands have short, snappy names that leave an impression on their audience. If new companies want to make sure their name stands out from the crowd, they too should place emphasis on coining a concise name. It can be helpful to picture your name alongside a logo, on a website or social media platforms, so you can picture what will work in the places where you will be communicating with your audience.
Our research shows that an overwhelming majority of registered companies (1,600,000) make use of three words in their name. However, it is worth remembering that 92 per cent of UK businesses are registered as limited companies, and are required to include “LTD” or “Limited” within their name. Therefore, it’s likely that most UK companies use two words in their name.
Rebecca Battman told us how length can be important when it comes to naming a company:
“One of the first rules of naming a business is make the name easy to say, easy to spell and easy to remember. So short simple names like Eat, Virgin, Apple or Biba work well. However, securing a simple name at Companies House and with a strong URL, without infringing on anyone else’s trademark is becoming increasingly difficult. The best names are often gone, which is why we see so many made up or conjoined names emerging.”
Businesses registering at Companies House have a maximum 160 characters to play with. While we don’t recommend exhausting this character capacity, there are a handful of companies who have chosen to do so:
Our findings suggest that a large percentage of businesses across the UK choose to start their name with soft sounds, like ‘S’ and ‘M’, rather than harsh fricative sounds such as ‘F’. Various studies have found that harder sounds are useful for indicating more durable and robust characteristics for a product, while plosives (sounds like k, p, d, g, and b) are good for brand recall and awareness. Most surprisingly though is that a third of company names start with one of four letters. Those four letters, in order of popularity, spell out the word S, C, A, M.
|Letter||Number of Businessses||Percentage|
Sons vs Daughters
Most people have encountered a company with "& Son" or "& Sons" in their name. In fact, it’s pretty difficult not to: nearly 17,000 companies across the UK append these two words to their name. This is usually a result of a business being passed down through the generations, or a nod to a long line of tradition. What’s rarer, however, are companies who append "& Daughter" or "& Daughters" to their name – only 320, to be exact. But these numbers are increasing. R Duffy & Daughters Ltd, for example (a waste management, building and interior contractors company in London), have broken tradition, and donned a name which makes them stand out from the crowd.
When it comes to business buzzwords, some words are more popular than others.
Leading the way are:
- “Services” (228,612 businesses) – the 3rd most popular term after “limited” and “ltd”.
- “Management” (135,610 businesses)
- “UK” (118,314 businesses)
- “Company” (106,253 businesses)
- “The” (105,151 businesses)
While many feel their business name sounds more robust with the inclusion of “The”, we’ve seen an abundance of big brands drop this common suffix, in favour of a shorter name. One example is Facebook, who dropped ‘The’ from its name after purchasing the domain name facebook.com in 2005 for $200,000
Also very popular are:
- Solutions (101,925 businesses)
- Consulting (83,225 businesses)
- Holdings (48,891 businesses)
- Group (48,550 businesses)
- International (34,997 businesses)
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