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The name game

James Morgan

Custom Copywriting Ltd

PRO

Starting out as a freelancer copywriter is tough from the outset. Indeed the very first challenge, thinking of a name for your business, is nigh on impossible. You can go round in circles until you’re dizzy and feeling nauseous.

You could just call yourself Joe Bloggs Copywriting of course. But that’s no good because you’re supposed to be creative, right? What hope have you got of impressing clients – some of whom might want you to think of catchy names for them – if your own identity is about as interesting as a snooker blog by Steve Davis?

'What's in a name...' Shakespeare quote

Most freelancers soon realise, however, that calling themselves something creative or original is almost impossible. Everything, absolutely everything, has been done before. Every good idea you have is inevitably followed by a quick Google search and intense disappointment. How many copywriters thought, for an instant, that they were the first person to think of putting ‘Ink’ (rather than Inc) after their surname? I know I did.

After eschewing the various groan-a-minute wordplays like Write Hand Man, a copywriter’s default position is to concoct something that contains a benefit. This makes perfect marketing sense. Hair products like Wash & Go might sound hackneyed, but at least they say something about the product. Although in my case I washed my hair and it literally went.

Unfortunately it doesn’t take long to realise that all these ‘benefit’ names have been taken too. What’s more, even if the world had inexplicably forgotten about phrases like The Right Words, you’ve got a cat in hell’s chance of securing the web domain.

Ah yes, getting the web domain – another exasperating obstacle. For every brilliant name idea there’s an annoying sod who buys up random domains for fun and demands £thousands for them.

So where do you turn to next? Hmmm. If you can’t be creative think of something simple, dignified and professional. My wife suggested using my initials. I thought about this but eventually decided against it. I reasoned that using one’s initials is no more creative than using one’s name – but it’s less personal and more corporate sounding. And if your name is Andrew Brian Cotton, you’re on to a loser anyway.

So what do you do? You go around in circles, that’s what, and gradually become fatigued with the whole thing. Eventually, you come to realise that your best idea was probably your first one: just call yourself Joe Bloggs Copywriting. Or Joseph Bloggs for extra gravitas. You might not stand out from the crowd, but at least you don’t look like you’re trying too hard.

As for me, I called myself Custom Copywriting. I’m not particularly in love with the name but at least it sounds relatively professional and says something about my service. The domain was available too – although I promise this wasn’t the main reason I chose it.

I added the phrase ‘Anyone for copy?’ as a strapline, and based my website around coffee e.g. espresso copy – short, punchy, direct. I tell myself this compensates for Custom Copywriting’s rather bland, corporate feel. The bottom line, however, is there’s no perfect solution when it comes to naming your business. I could have spent another week thinking of ideas and come up with nothing better.

Thinking of a name is actually harder for advertising and design companies. They’re under even more pressure to think of something funky – hence the surfeit of obscure agency names like Red Banana or Blue Cow. I can see the logic in choosing something memorable, but they all sound a little me-too in my humble opinion.

I recently set up a small advertising agency alongside my art director Martin Wells. As the copywriter in the partnership it fell to me to think of names. It was a similar process: Morgan Wells sounded too much like an accountancy firm, while every single creative sounding name was already taken.

Conceding that no name would be perfect, we eventually bit the bullet and plumped for Howitzer Advertising. It says the right things: advertising is all about making a big noise and making an impact.

But why was the name and the domain still available? There had to be a reason. And then the penny dropped. Nobody wants to be the agency that gets fired. We’ll just have to make sure it never happens.


Image credit: Jack Dorsey on Flickr

Comments

PRO
22nd July 2015

Graeme Piper

Great post James! I went round the houses a bit to get my business name (DropCapCopy). My actual name is pretty poor as a snappy business name, so the thinking cap was on for a while. Thankfully, the domain name issue wasn’t a problem!

22nd July 2015

Hannah Danson

Hi. I was fortunate in that my initials can mean something relevant – HD – Hannah Danson or High Definition. So after some mulling, I came up with HD Words, which immediately lit a lightbulb for me. You’d be surprised at the number of people who say ‘oooh, it’s your initials as well’, or conversely ‘I wonder if she realises it could mean high def too’. But I like it, and I think it works.

22nd July 2015

James Morgan

Thanks guys. I think DropCapCopy and HD Words both work quite well. Choosing the right name really is a nightmare. It’s all that pressure! Of course, lots of big ad agencies cheat by simply adding the initials of all the various partners together. I suppose this sounds quite distinguished, but hardly original. There is no perfect solution.

PRO
22nd July 2015

Mary Whitehouse

I thought of the name for my business (Word Service) about 10 years before I started it. It sort of says what I do – which isn’t just copy but PR as well – anything to do with words. It’s worked for the last 15 or so years apart from a couple of people who think I must be something to do with the BBC.

23rd July 2015

Micky Stuivenberg

Spot on, James. Every good name for a copywriting business has already been taken – and is often used by different people around the world. There are some who try so hard to be clever with their business name that it becomes a bit cringeworthy. I think weird names can backfire, too.

I like the name you selected eventually, along with the strapline.

If you run a solo business, and don’t intend to expand, I think there’s nothing wrong with calling your business [First name] [Last name] Copywriting. Although short, easy to pronounce names probably work better than long names.

My husband started an online software business 16 years ago and we came up with Triple W Communications for the company name. When I launched my web copywriting business 7 years ago, I realised what I did fit nicely under that banner as well, but I got a clear domain name (contentwriter.com.au) for SEO and usability reasons, and that has worked well for me ever since.

From a branding point of view, however, it gets a bit complicated as clients may refer to me using my own name, my domain/website name or my official company name, all of which are different. But as long as I get enough work, I won’t worry about that.

PRO
23rd July 2015

James Morgan

Thanks Micky. Yes it’s important to keep everything consistent from a branding perspective but who cares if the money keeps rolling in. I was a bit of an idiot for choosing the Twitter name @DoctorCopy because it doesn’t fit with my website / company name. Then again, I tweet about all kinds of random stuff so maybe it’s best I don’t ruin my business reputation with late night social media rants 🙂

23rd July 2015

Tracey Dooley

Haha! You hit the the nail right on the head, there, James.

Unfortunately, your rather fantastic article wasn’t around when I chose my name for my first ‘wordy’ business, offering copywriting, editing and proofreading services. And, it seems, I had some sort of lobotomy at the time.

Thinking I was being really, really clever, I settled on the name MediaMinister…The idea behind it was that I was to take care of or administer the right words for anything media. (I know! I know!)

This was a VERY long time ago and I was young and rather stupid. In hindsight.

Anyway, the name stuck, people became aware of it and it was too late to change it by the time I’d woken up and realised it was a naff name.

Later on, I named another business, this time focusing on copywriting for e-commerce, mail order and multi-channel retailers. I panicked a bit, but eventually settled on Kingfisher Copy. I like the way it sounds. And the URL was available! My thinking behind it was that kingfishers have focus, energy and a certain brilliance about them, and so can words. But it may have come down to the fact that I liked the way it sounded. 🙂

PRO
23rd July 2015

Tom Albrighton

My name isn’t Andrew Brian Cotton, but I still ended up with ‘ABC Copywriting’! Originally I used ‘Albrighton Business Communications’ as a placeholder name, until I thought of something better. Then, when I was talking to a designer about getting a visual identity, he felt that ‘ABC’ had something about it, and was viable as a name. I was ‘ABC Business Communications’ for a while, until I realised that I should call myself a copywriter even though my background was in publishing.

Would I choose that name now? Probably not, but now it’s propagated across the web in the form of hundreds of backlinks I’m not sure it would be wise to change. Since ABC is such a hopelessly buttoned-down name, I’ve always hankered after something off-the-wall like ‘Blurb’. But that would probably raise expectations of a funkiness I just can’t deliver in person. Whatever you choose has to feel right – it’s a bit like buying a suit.

Having been going 10 years, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a client remark on my name, or indeed anyone else’s. Maybe, as writers, we worry too much about such things. Some would say a brand is just a peg to hang your values on, and can be almost anything – but it would still feel weird to just pull your name out of a hat!

Thanks for contributing this great post and starting the discussion.

PRO
23rd July 2015

James Morgan

Thanks Tom. I’ve always been envious of the name ABC copywriting. It’s solid and professional. Because it’s one of the more established domains, you know the person / people who work there have been doing it for a very long time. I imagine clients find that reassuring.

23rd July 2015

Jackie

Be aware that owning the domain name does not mean you own the business name. You also need to ensure no-one else owns the Limited company name or matching trade mark.

I find a useful place for searching is http://www.start.biz/business_names/search as it searches everywhere at once (you don’t have to pay them to protect the name you choose).

PRO
23rd July 2015

Rachael Wheatley

I found inspiration in a lifeboat station of all places. Gunsmoke was the name of a rescued boat. There was an uncomfortable moment when I realised I should probably check it hadn’t been linked to a terrible catastrophe. It hadn’t. So off we sailed.

23rd July 2015

Nigel Graber

So many ad and design agencies call themselves [COLOUR] [ANIMAL], as in Blue Frog, Purple Goat. No doubt they think they’re being wacky, but it’s about as uncreative as it gets.

I once thought about calling myself Catflap Copywriting. It benefits from alliteration and the implication is that clients can come and go as they please. Feel free to take it and send me a large cheque.

23rd July 2015

Gillian

I went with Taith – it’s Welsh for journey. I’m on a copywriting journey. However I’m not entirely sure anyone can pronounce it, or cares what it means, but at least I didn’t have to struggle with the name domain. 🙂

PRO
24th July 2015

Andy Nattan

I just picked a number. It’s got no significance whatsoever (other than also being my Twitter handle for seven years too).

It’s a good conversation starter – “Why 603 Copywriting?”

It’s also great for practicing your bullshit stats and figures when the wrong people ask. “Oh, because 603 words is scientifically proven to be the perfect length of a blog post.” “The average client will ask for 604 individual amendments over a campaign, and I’m all about being better than the competition.”

25th July 2015

Barry Hutchison

Great post. I opted for Squiggly Lines as the name of my company. Not perfect, but I like it.

PRO
27th July 2015

Graeme Piper

I bloody LOVE ‘Catflap Copywriting’ Nigel!!

At least you didn’t pick ‘303’ as your number Andy – the connotations with the A303 could’ve been disastrous – slow, unpredictable and something no one wants to use unless they really have to!

12th January 2017

Emma Cook

Thanks for this James. I am just about to leap out of teaching and into copywriting. I wanted to use my own name as a brand but sadly Emma Cook the Fashion Designer got there first. My boyfriend also didn’t think that my need of a surname change was reason enough to marry me. Shame. So after playing around with a million things over the last few weeks (including seriously considering Tom’s suggestion of Blurb) I decided to keep it simple. I have just purchased (at pretty much no cost) Black and White Copy. It suits me. I like to keep things simple and straight to the point plus I love the connotation of ‘black and white’ being a clear choice. Done.

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