Using place names as business names can be advantageous in some instances and almost suicidal in others.
But first, just what are geographic (aka place) names? Most obviously we’re talking about the names of cities, regions, counties, states and countries. We’re also alluding to geographic features such as the names of mountains, deserts, rivers, lakes, and oceans. On a more local level, we find the names of streets, neighborhoods and subdivisions are adopted for business names as well. And on a universal level, adopting the names of planets, stars and galaxies fall into this naming bucket as well. And, place names can have originated in myth and fiction, too
This business naming post has to do with the pros and cons of using these names, and avoiding the pitfalls.
The pros of geographic names
Many geographic place names have established images in the minds of prospects because of their history, location or physical characteristics. These images can be transferred to the company or product named. If relevant, names evoking the old West, or exotic destinations can benefit from those existing images. They usually have stories connected to them – Casablanca, Cheyenne, Rushmore and Atlantis, for instance.
Note, too, that many place names were originally the names of people, so there is often a story connected to those people who were admired enough to have a place named after them. There are the usual suspects like Washington, Lincoln and Jackson, and there are the more obscure like Pontiac, Denver and Raleigh.
Also, many two-part geographical names will have as the second part a type of geographic feature – Lake, Park, Hill, Glen, Brook are examples. These are often combined with personal names as well.
It is also possible to “invent” new words that sound like place names. These will sound and feel familiar even though they are unique. And as long as they are just quirky enough to stand out, they can be memorable as well.
So, geographic business names can be associated with images or stories that conjure good feelings, that feel familiar and that are usually easy to remember, pronounce and spell.
The cons of place names
Have you ever looked for a business in the white pages of a telephone directory? If the name is common to the area, you may have a devil of a time finding the one you want. Fir instance, here in Denver, CO, businesses whose “first name” is Denver occupy 12 columns. Those beginning with Rocky Mountain take up 11 columns. Using the name of geographical places and features local to your business will lead to confusion and certainly doesn’t differentiate your firm. You’re lost in a sea of sameness.
There’s another reason for not naming your business by using local geography. What if you want to expand? That’s what happened to a laser clinic founded 60 miles north of Denver named Poudre Valley Laser. When they opened two Denver area offices, they felt they needed to change their name. They changed it to Colorado Laser Clinic. Sure hope they don’t open offices is Cheyenne or Provo any time soon.
Many entrepreneurs who have no plans of expanding believe a local name will endear them to local people, but I’ve found no reason to think people need to have a business named after their town to be convinced the business is local.
There is an exception to local naming. If the name is chosen because it represents the actual location of the business, the name then serves to give people directions to the firm. And if there aren’t too many people naming their companies with the same location, the name is somewhat unique. Again using Denver as an example, there’s a smart little mini-community occupying several blocks along Pearl Street, so the Pearl Street Café, or Pearl Street Fashions identifies both location and business type. If expansion is not a problem, those names make sense. (But if a lease is lost and the business must move, yes, there is a problem.
That reminds me of a true story, though I don’t know all the particulars. There used to be an annual conference and trade show named the Pittsburg Conference. But for many years it was held in Cleveland. I don’t know the reason they had to move from Pittsburg, but their solution – thought up by engineers no doubt – saved them money while giving participants something to laugh about.
What would INC500 companies do?
As you may know, I’ve analyzed the names of INC500’s Fastest Growing Companies over the past 12 years. I looked at the trends of geographic business names. Over that entire period, only four-percent of all names studied were geographic, and in the last year, just three-percent. Most of those had adopted a local geographical name. Just goes to show you that there’s more to success in business that a successful name.
Anyway, using your locale as part of your name is not a good idea. It exhibits no personality – in reality it’s just a generic name.
On the other hand, by adopting a non-local geographic name with some rich imagery, some rhythm, some psychological trigger, or some romantic story, you may have exactly what you want: a unique, memorable, emotion-evoking name.
Since so few companies have not adapted this naming practice, it may well be a fruitful approach to naming a business today. So get yourself an American Atlas, a World Atlas and an Atlas of the Ancient World.
Mind travel: That’s the ticket.