Find Cool Project Names (no hair pulling required)

Learn how to find a cool name for your startup, project or idea, without pulling your hair out.

Naming and branding a new project, business, or idea can be tricky. A good name is rarely obvious, and can take some work to find.

That's what I faced with UsersThink; I had the idea long before I had the name.

I read the same bazillion other articles you've probably already read on naming a project (I found the ones from Nathan Barry and Buffer the most helpful).

I noticed that they all seemed to have the same gaps in the naming process, ones I had to fill in myself.

So I built this guide to help you name your next big idea.

Step 0: Delay naming your idea for as long as possible

Seriously.

Figuring out ideas for project names isn't as important as figuring out what your idea is and then building your idea.

Even when I was using UsersThink feedback to improve UsersThink, naming was delayed until as late as possible.

While you're working on your idea, you might change the focus, which could make a once perfect name no longer appropriate.

This is the most important part of the naming process, and is an area I see no one else talking about.

Step 0.5: Ignore everything I'm about to say and pick something short

To be honest, this is viable.

But often this requires a greater amount of time and money to make it work, and there's a high risk of ending up with startup name ideas that are just awful.

A number of startups have paid in the mid-five figures for the perfect one word name, one that has little direct association with the problem they're solving.

But if you're not venture funded, or you're more invested in the problem you're solving than the name your project ends up with, avoid this tactic.

I did, and using the following steps I came up with UsersThink, which cost me $10.

Step 1: Brainstorm a list of words related to your idea

Open a new document and type out a list of words that come to mind when thinking about your project.

This stage is about generating, not editing, so don't worry about how good or bad a word is; just get it down.

Use a Thesaurus to help generate even more words.

Step 2: Plug the words into LeanDomainSearch

LeanDomainSearch will give you a list of available dot com domains that contain the word for which you're surfing.

Prioritize your list of words, and plug them one by one into LeanDomainSearch.

Each word will give you a MASSIVE list of project names, so don't catalogue every option, but spend time writing down the domains that might work for you.

Only downside with LeanDomainSearch is it only searches for dot com listings, which means you can't find top-level domains (TLDs) like dot io or dot co or anything else that might work for your branding.

Use a tool like Domainr or Domize for ideas that might have different TLDs available.

Step 3: Narrow your domain list using these parameters

Once you have your list of names/domains, narrow your focus.

Quick parameters to help narrow your list:

Does it pass the phone test?

Is it easy to say and spell correctly over the phone or in a loud room?

Record a voice memo on your phone and play it back. Or call a friend, tell it to her, then ask her to say it back and spell it out. If it's hard to repeat back or spell, it might not be ideal.

Relatively short (two words or close).

In general, shorter is better.

Less to type, less to shorten, less to remember.

Two syllables (or close).

I broke this rule with UsersThink (it's three syllables), but having a name close to two syllables helps it pass the phone test and makes it easier to remember.

If the name relates to the field of your idea, don't make it too specific.

Having a name that ties into your idea isn't bad, but don't make it so narrowly focused that if you change your idea the name no longer works.

Will it be easy to find?

Is there already a lot of competition for anything close to your branding idea?

Do a quick Google search (logged out) for your specific name as it would be written (not including the TLD).

Do the same with social searches (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) or any other places where you think your target audience might hang out.

This was an issue for UsersThink for the first 3 months after launch on both Google and Twitter (ruh roh!).

UsersThink Google branded search results
Searching for "UsersThink" on Google, when this post was written, returned these results. Not great.

If you're able to build a brand around your idea and name, it will cease to be a problem, as was the case with UsersThink, but know early on if this will be a concern.

Bonus: can you cheat with a short addition?

If you check out Buffer, you'll notice their domain is bufferapp.com.

You can always append words like get, app, start, try, lets, and a number of other short words to either the beginning or end of your name to get a domain.

Just be careful, as it's common for people to think your domain spelling is the actual name of the product.

Names don't have to meet all of these parameters.

Keep in mind your ideas for project names don't have to meet all of these qualities (UsersThink doesn't), just be aware of the potential downsides.

Step 4: Prioritize your short list

You should have a list of domains/startup names that fit the previous criteria, so time to prioritize that list.

This should be based on your opinion and gut instinct, and that's okay. This is your project, and you have to be okay with whatever name you choose.

Narrow it down to your top 12 picks.

Step 5: Get feedback

Are you surprised I'm in favor of getting feedback?

Talk to people you trust, both in their opinion and also to not steal the domains out from under you.

Explain your idea in a sentence or two, then give them the list and ask what they think.

UsersThink was on my short list of names, and I got a lot of feedback saying to use it.

One example of the feedback I received on the name UsersThink: "I actually like that a lot. It's easy to remember, doesn't sound like anything else I can think of, and is descriptive."

Step 6: Register the domain and get back to work

Register that sucker and plaster that name everywhere. Huzzah!

Not 100% certain? That's okay, you can always change it later (did you know the original name for Stripe was "/dev/payments"?)

Now that you have a name, you can focus on the real work of building your awesome idea!

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