What's in a Name?
Naming your practice is like getting a tattoo. It’s painful. And, excluding expensive surgery, it’s something you’re stuck with for life. As difficult as it may be to decide on what, you know, you want to be known as to the public, I’ll provide some pointers on picking a good name for your practice.
1. You don’t need a name to open shop
Finding the right name is a process. Resist the temptation to rush into a name that you might later regret. When trying to find a name for my practice, I spent a couple months writing possibilities on napkins and in the margins of books I was reading. There were long nights tossing back and forth ideas with friends and confidants. All the while my practice was open, just unnamed (like so many counseling practices, people just referred to it as “Anthony Centore’s office”).
Eventually, I came upon what I thought would be the perfect name: “Thrive Counseling.”
2. Make sure your name isn’t taken
Before deciding on a name, you’ll want to check if the name (or a confusingly similar one) is already in use by another practice in your area. Moreover, it’s wise to check whether someone else has already registered your potential name with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
To do this, you can hire a firm (for around $500) to do an “exhaustive search” or just do your own “basic search” for free at USPTO.gov.
A word of caution: If you choose a name that infringes on someone else’s trademark you’re likely to get a “cease and desist” letter from their attorney. On that note, once you choose a name for your practice, consider protecting it by applying for a trademark yourself. This will cost you some money, but the cost is nominal compared to the expense of rebranding your practice later.
When I first named my practice, I didn’t check USPTO.gov, only to later learn that a small California-based company known as Keiser Permanente had already registered “Thrive” under the broad category “healthcare services.”
Where did this leave me? You guessed it, back to scrawling on napkins. If I wanted my brand to have any legal protection, I needed to change my name.
3. Get the .com
Things change, but for the last 15 years the “.com” has been the domain suffix of choice. Today, and likely for a while, having a .com website that correlates with your brand name is highly desirable. For example, if you’re considering the name “Aspire,” for your practice, you’ll want to acquire “aspire.com.”
Of course, unless you want to pay a couple hundred grand, you’ll never get a domain name like “aspire.com.” That’s okay! You can register “aspirecounseling.com,” “aspiretherapy.com,” or settle for a variant like “goaspire.com.”
If you can’t seem to find anything simple that matches your potential name, you may want to choose a different practice name — it’s that important.
When I chose the name “Thriveworks,” Thriveworks.com was already registered by a graphic design firm in California. I paid the firm several thousand dollars for the domain name and it was well worth having a .com that matched my brand.
4. Choose a name that will work long term
I run across too many “Bayside Counseling Centers” that are no longer near a bay, “Amherst Counseling Centers” with a second location outside Amherst, and practices called “ThePlayTherapyGroup” that at some point expanded to serve children and adults.
Before choosing a name, ask yourself, “Is this name likely to work if I change locations, or if my company evolves?” If you want to start an online counseling company, but later decide to also offer coaching and in-house services, WebShrink isn’t probably the best choice.
5. Avoid trends
The name Lamps-a-Rama probably sounded really hip when it came out, as did every computer store name with the prefix “micro-” or “digi-.” But today, they all just sound dated. Avoid fashion!
6. Avoid your personal name
This is a matter of opinion, but I find that “Smith Counseling,” or “Smith and Associates,” can hold a practice back. Name your practice after yourself and you’ll face an uphill battle to convince new potential clients that any counselors working for you aren’t second fiddle.
7. Your name should be poetry
A great brand name looks good from all angles. When RIM (Research in Motion) was searching for a name for their most popular handheld communication device, they hired the California-based firm Lexicon Branding to help. The team steered away from names related to the word "email," since research showed that the word could increase customers’ blood pressure.
Instead, the team searched for something "more joyful that might decrease blood pressure." When someone pointed out that the buttons on RIM's device looked like seeds, they began exploring fruity names: strawberry, melon, etc. They finally landed on “Blackberry.”
Says David Placek, of Lexicon, "BlackBerry sticks better than something like ProMail or MegaMail." Blackberry is a great name. It’s enjoyable, and “black” as a color is often associated with premium quality. The one limitation with “Blackberry” is that object is isn’t immediately obvious by the name.
One of my favorite brand names is “Zappos.” Originally “shoesite.com,” CEO Tony Hsieh knew the name was too limited, and changed it to “Zappos” early in the company’s life. The name Zappos relates subtly to their primary focus on shoes (as a derivative of the Spanish word zapatos) without limiting the brand to the footwear category.
Also, the “Zap” in the name communicates speed and performance. Need something? Zap! Here it is!
8. A Name isn’t everything
When you start a practice, you’re striving to create a brand that can be bigger than you, and that might even outlive you. A good name can help. That said, a name isn’t everything. It’s a small piece of the much larger puzzle of building a great company.
There’s no shortage of examples of companies that have less than great names, but that are still great companies. If given the opportunity, however, why not choose to have a name that matches how great your company is?
Anthony Centore, Ph.D., is private practice consultant for the ACA, founder of Thriveworks Counseling (with locations in 9 states), and author of the book, How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts and Virginia. Find him on Twitter at @anthonycentore or @Thriveworks.