If you're starting a business, one of the first things on your To Do list is deciding on its name. After all, what your business is called is important.

Like all things ’creative’, naming is very subjective. But during 20 or more years of working in branding and naming I have learned that there are some fundamental qualities that are common to the majority of great business names.

Here are 10 tips which should help you make the right naming choice.

1. Keep it short and sweet

When it comes to names, short is good. It helps people to remember you, makes saying your name easier for everyone and - on a practical level - makes signage, logos, email and website addresses more manageable.

2. Make sure it passes the phone test

It may seem obvious, but your name should be easy to say. If the pronunciation isn’t obvious, people won’t remember it or pass it on to their friends and colleagues. So try saying your name a dozen times in succession to make sure it sounds sensible, and clear when you answer the phone.

3. Don’t be weird!

Although people are increasingly comfortable with a name that breaks spelling rules, there’s a fine line between weird and wonderful. So using a K instead of a C, or replacing an F with a Ph can work. But if your brand name is too strange - and uses combinations of letters never seen before - it will simply become distracting and off-putting.

4. Avoid puns

Not everyone shares the same sense of humour, and one person’s clever ’play on words’ is another person’s groan. So if you want to be taken seriously, avoid the puns. (Unless you're setting up as a hairdresser.)

5. A word or two will do

There are no hard and fast rules anymore, so your company name could even be a phrase or a sentence, or even a combination of numbers and letters (even keyboard characters). But you really should resist the temptation. Names like this might seem like a good idea at the time, but they're cumbersome and awkward and lack credibility. They're a gimmick ...and the novelty will soon fade.

6. Get inventive

Creating entirely new words is difficult, but it's full of branding potential. An invented name is distinctive and it will be much easier to ‘own’ and protect by registering as a trademark. Even when a word is not in the dictionary, people still need to feel comfortable with it. So try combining parts of familiar words or creating words that are based on real words.

7. Be suggestive

You can’t build a brand out of a purely functional, descriptive name. Imaginative or invented names are better. They might not describe a business literally, but they can still give people hints about what your business does, its style or its personality - even if it’s just that your business is hi-tech ...or reassuringly traditional, or all about fun ...or sound finances.

8. Don't get hung up on uniqueness

It's always a good idea to run some basic online checks to see if your proposed name is used by someone else. But even if you’ve invented the name, it’s still quite likely to be used by someone, somewhere in the world. The important thing is to be sure that it’s not used by a relevant competitor. If you install computer networks in London, the existence of a carpet fitter in Lagos with the same name is not really an issue. ’Quite unique’ is unique enough.

9. Own the .com

Make sure you go for a name with an available ‘dot com’ domain. The world has had 30 years to get used to .com domains, so they are the expected web address for most people. And because the major players use them, they add brand authority. Don’t be tempted to use hyphens or to add ’Ltd’ or ’UK’ to create a domain name that’s available. In short: don’t compromise.

10. Don't limit your potential

Most businesses change over time, so you don't want your name to become irrelevant or confusing when you develop your product offering, expand or move. So it's a good idea to steer clear of specific references to your product or location because both of these things could change. It’s a big ask, but before you get going, you should look to the future.

These tips will help you to avoid some common naming pitfalls, and to find a name that will be a real asset to your business.

By Dave Clark, co-founder of Novanym.com