When you start a new company or non-profit, it’s human nature to spend hours brainstorming and obsessing over the perfect name.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Perhaps my most rewarding branding assignment was creating Every Mother Counts, the non-profit maternal health organization founded by Christy Turlington Burns.  We had two months to turn her documentary, No Woman No Cry, into more than just a documentary.  She wanted something that would live on and grow and make a real impact in the world.

I won’t tell you how many names we considered, but suffice it to say, when the website was ready to launch prior to the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, there was still a big hole needing to be filled by a name and logo.  Bono and the team at ONE provided plenty of inspiration and we finally landed on Every Mother Counts.  (Now Calvin Klein is helping out…so I guess my work is done here.)

Websites and search engines have added complexity to the expanding universe of trademarks to wade through when choosing a brand name.  If you found the perfect name, you better hope a similar organization doesn’t hold the trademark.  And you better hope the domain is available.  And you better check Google while you’re at it to see what baggage comes with that perfect name.

Before you become too attached to that your new brand name, save time and heartbreak by following these three steps:

  • Search for trademarks with the USPTO.  If you find more than a handful of similar trademarks, be cautious.  If you’re selling cowboy boots, a company with the same name that sells ski boots, hiking boots or soccer boots (i.e. cleats) probably won’t want to share with you.
  • Search for domain names at GoDaddy.  You might be able to get by with variations on that perfect name, a hyphen or two, or maybe a .co extension, but isn’t it better to have perfectname.com?  If the domain is taken, check out the website.  Is it active?  Does it look real?  If not, contact the owner and negotiate.  Better yet, play hard ball.  If they’ve been squatting on it since 2007 and playing $8.95 a month, they might part ways for a bargain.
  • Search for your brand name in Google.  What do you find?  Anything negative or alarming?  Is anyone buying paid ads on the brand name?

It will probably become apparent if you need to consider plan B.  If you’re stuck in that gray area – the domain is available, Google looks clean, but you’re not sure about the trademark – it is best to get a lawyer involved.  Who every said branding is fun?!