How to Win the Name Game

Naming a company is a critical marketing decision, but how do you pick from the staggering array of possibilities?

When Gabriel Shaoolian started his Web design and online marketing company in Manhattan in 2001, he followed tradition and named it Gabriel Productions. But as time went on, he wanted a different handle.

"Some clients were still nervous about the Internet," Mr. Shaoolian recalls. "We wanted a name that would help them relax."

In 2003, he was considering a vacation at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, whose name means "blue fountain" in (misspelled) French.

"I thought, why not call the company Blue Fountain Media?" he says. "It's both soothing and suggests a spring of fresh ideas."

The moniker seems to have been good for business--the client list for Blue Fountain includes luminaries such as Martha Stewart, as well as the United Nations--but Mr. Shaoolian regrets choosing it.

"This one seems to be hard for people to remember," he says.

Maybe so. When Mr. Shaoolian gave a speech at the New York Public Library, he was introduced as the chief executive of "Blue Mountain Media."

Naming a company is a critical marketing decision, but how do you pick from the staggering array of possibilities? Of course, if you buy a business with a loyal clientele, the decision is made for you: Keep the name it's got, as Rob Kaufelt did when he took over Murray's Cheese in 1991. The eponymous founder, Murray Greenberg, started the store in 1940, retired in the 1970s and died before Mr. Kaufelt ever even met him. But Murray's, at the corner of Bleecker and Leroy streets, is such a Village institution that renaming it--Rob's Cheese, for instance--would be crazy.

Some entrepreneurs seem drawn to clever plays on words, like Betterfly. Founder Josh Schwadron designed his online company, which has a stylized butterfly for a logo, to be a central source for consumers seeking what he calls "betterists": people like hairstylists, piano teachers, personal trainers and financial advisers who can make one's life, well, better. The disadvantage of a neologism like betterist is that people aren't likely to know right away what it means. On the plus side, maybe they'll log on to the website out of curiosity.

Read more on Crain's Executive Inbox

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