In some ways, naming a startup is easy: you have a blank slate and nothing but potential. Renaming an established company or product can be a trickier proposition. Your customers and employees know you by the original name, and selling them on a new name can be costly, arduous, and even alienating if it isn’t done right. Remember: We all hate new names (until we don’t).
That’s why it’s important to know when to undertake a renaming project and when you’re better off focusing on other business matters. Here are some guidelines and caveats.
Do consider a name change when the name is no longer telling the right story. You may have gotten too big for a startup-style name, or you may have made a major change in the nature of your business. The name may be confusing, as in this New York Times story about a personal-care company that was originally called Ms. & Mrs. (Customers misread the name as “Mr. & Mrs.” The company rebranded as Pinch Provisions.) The name may be tied to a time, a place, or a specialization that is no longer relevant. Or it may have historical baggage that’s weighing the brand down, as in the case of Aunt Jemima, a name associated with slavery and Jim Crow. That company rebranded in early 2021 as Pearl Milling Company, a name that taps into a more positive aspect of the brand’s history.
Do get to work on a name change if another brand issues a legal challenge. There may be room for negotiation, but no one wants a weakened, compromised brand name. Better still, don’t let the situation get this far — make sure your original name choice has been thoroughly vetted by an experienced trademark lawyer.
Don’t consider a name change only because you’ve had an upper-management change or only because you’ve added a product line. A strong company is more than the sum of its parts, and a strong name reflects a bigger purpose than personnel and products.
Don’t consider a name change if you can’t afford it. In addition to agency or consultant fees for name development, you’ll need to pay for trademark review and filing, logo or wordmark design, new business cards (at a minimum), and website redesign. You may also need to budget for buying a domain from another owner. Which leads us directly to the next caveat: