“What's in a name?” mused Shakespeare’s Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
It’s hard to argue with this in principle, but Shakespeare wasn’t an Estonian e-Resident operating a location-independent business in a global economy.
And like it or not, the word ‘rose’ already conveys certain qualities, of appearance and fragrance and mood. These qualities create feelings and expectations in us, when we hear the word — we create mental images, based on our shared understandings.
We all know a rose is pretty and colorful and smells nice. If you called it a compost dump instead, the associations in your mind would be different. Perhaps you’d never even go and sniff it more closely… Why take the risk?
So, when it comes to your business, naming really matters.
First, you need to be found in the first place — and if someone is looking for blooms and bouquets, they’re searching among the gardens, not the dumps. The big difference today from Shakespearean times, of course, is that this applies as well to automated online searches. The words in your name matter for search engine optimization (SEO), as much as for humans to find.
Then you need to get chosen as well — because whether you’re looking at a list of flowers or a list of freelancers, there’s always going to be an element of selection at some point.
That means you’ve got to stand out, on that page of search results or in a trade directory or in a social media feed. Nearly 5 and a half million new businesses are launched every year… And many of them will be competing with yours.
You need to make sure your roses smell sweeter than anybody else’s, to your perfect customer! So getting the right name matters.
Many enterprise startups spend chunks of their funding on expensive branding agency support at this point, but sometimes they come up with names which seem safe and boring, or else meaninglessly quirky… So, there’s a lot to be said for simply thinking creatively as a solopreneur, and choosing for yourself, a name which reflects your true ambition and vision.
Choosing a name for your new business is one of your earliest decisions to make, as well as among the most important. Here are a series of steps to follow, to help get it right. You will need to complete them all in the end, but the order may vary, and involve going around and back a few times.
It will be worth it, to end up with the perfect business name for you!
Although you can change your business identity and branding later on (see below), there are always costs involved in this. So, whatever your plans for your business, you ideally want to choose a name for the long term — one that can grow with you, if that’s your plan.
When you create a business, as compared to freelancing, you create a new legal entity, and at this point you might decide to demonstrate that in the name as well — choosing something not personally connected with yourself at all, which doesn't necessarily say who you are, or the size/stage of your business.
This is great if you intend to grow and hire in the future, whether collaborating with other freelancers to deliver on specific contracts, or to employ staff in Estonia or elsewhere. A distinct company name can be chosen which includes the right search keywords and suggests the appropriate values, to help you market your product or service right out of the gate.
And of course, if you ever want to sell your business, it’s better if it doesn’t connect with you personally by name. In fact, it’s quite weird if it does.
Alternatively, you might be well known as a subject-matter expert, and never intend to scale up. Your existing reputation is an important part of your brand value, and you are creating a limited company (like an Estonian e-resident business) for legal or practical reasons.
In that case, it makes sense to lean in to your identity and personal brand, and go with something like “Jane Smith Consulting” — while bearing in mind that it may be more difficult to claim relevant domains and social media handles, unless your name is quite unusual. (If you really are called Jane Smith, you might need to add an adjective or otherwise switch things up a bit.)
The most important thing to consider in this choice is how you’re going to describe or present your business to others — are you a consultant, or do you run a consultancy business? A subtle difference, but an important one.
Even if you feel you’re already committed to that brilliant brand name which came to you in a dream, It’s really important to pause and reflect, to consider other options. The first idea is not always the best, and you want to try not to get overly attached to what you first thought of.
And if your mind is a blank slate at this point, then you have to come up with something.
Don’t worry, this is the fun part! Go large, get help — and get it down. You will refine later. There are no bad ideas, at this generative stage — follow word associations, capture anything, however random.
Here are some sources of inspiration:
Once you have a bunch of words and phrases, you can play around with them.
Try combining them in different or unexpected ways, while avoiding narrowing yourself into a corner which might mislead. You can do this in a document, or whiteboard app. Or unleash your inner preschooler, and print out your words to cut up and rearrange pieces of paper. This can help you to see possibilities in a new way.
To use my personal example, I knew my Estonian e-Resident business would work creatively with brands and publications in the emergent technology industry, which included a lot of blockchain startups, but also other futuristic niches. So, I wanted to convey this connection — but at the same time embrace generating new ideas and innovation. I also knew a brand-new word or phrase would make it easier to claim the online territories I wanted.
I ended up combining two short words from my big brainstormed list… and BlockSparks OÜ was duly born!
At this stage, when you’re whittling down possibilities and playing with your list, try to come up with a number of options just in case.
Now is a good time to involve others, including friends, family, former colleagues, potential business partners and — most importantly — potential customers. What do they read into a possible business name, that you might have overlooked?
Here are some of the questions you should particularly explore as a digital nomad, international freelancer or solopreneur, with a location-independent business:
Remember that the final decision is entirely yours. No-one understands your business as well as you, so while you’re encouraging other people’s suggestions and ideas, make sure they understand that your final choice will be made alone!
Ideally, you want to get to the end of this process with a clear preference, but also a few backups, just in case it all falls over at the next stages…
Even though your business is location-independent, it still needs to be legally registered somewhere, so you need to check that your preferred company names are available there.
Many digital nomads choose to register a limited company in Estonia because it’s the world’s most advanced digital society and provides e-Residency to anyone who wants to manage their businesses inside the European Union — no matter where in the world they are.
And as part of the digital first business transparency environment of Estonia, it’s super easy to check name availability on our website as a part of the sign-up process.
You’ll instantly see if the name is available to register as a limited company, as well as advice about any Estonian companies or EU trademarks that might be similar.
Keep in mind that a company’s name must be distinctive from other business names entered into registries. The name has to be written in the Latin alphabet, avoiding special characters and symbols if possible.
It’s likely that your preferred company names will have a few similarities to existing companies. That’s helpful to know, as you’ll want to avoid any confusion for marketing and legal reasons, but that shouldn’t usually stop you from picking a name you love. Obviously, it's important that you don’t look like you’re trying to pretend to be that other company, or pass yourself off as being related to them; otherwise their lawyers might have a view on that…
Regardless of any similarities, if there is no other company registered with the same name, then you’ll be able to proceed with your registration.
To create your unique home online, you will need a domain, and it’s hard to imagine a business without even a basic website for contact details. Depending on the role of this site in your business plans, it might be essential for getting found as well, and conveying trust in your service (for example, an ecommerce site that customers buy from directly needs to be reassuring and clearly identified.)
While ‘dotcom’ was once the OG defining factor for a business brand, there are now a huge range of top-level domains (TLDs) you can choose from, so hopefully you will find your fit, especially if you’ve come up with something really original at the previous stage.
Be careful with location-specific domains, as they can add specific connotations — the .eu is managed by the European Registry for Internet Domains (EURid), which ensures that all .eu domains are registered by residents of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, or Norway. If your business is e-Resident in Estonia, you can have that reassurance and brand value, wherever you are in the world.
However, some have come to mean something different anyway — such as Colombia’s .co domain, which Google now recognizes as connected with businesses anywhere in the world, and .io, which is widely used by tech companies and startups which have nothing to do with the British Indian Ocean territory!
(Funny story: despite my certainty that BlockSparks was utterly original, the .com was NOT originally available to me! Someone had liked the sound and squatted it, years before. I got everything else, and was happy with a .io domain, and was later able to acquire the .com on renewal and redirect it, and now I only use it for mail anyway! Domain farming was once a lucrative business for some, but opportunistic entrepreneurs ran into legal trouble in this space if they bought up existing trademarks and known brand names.)
Ideally you also want to have consistency across your social media accounts and related services, so one easy way to check availability is using namecheckr — simply enter your preferred brand name at Namecheckr, and see what’s on offer:
Apparently, the name ‘Google’ is pretty well covered already (although someone could potentially claim the MySpace account!)
Namecheckr is great to play around with for social, even though it doesn't offer any other TLDs beyond .com, which will be taken 99% of the time
So if you do find all your social handles are available, then it’s well worth checking your domain on a service like Whois, or going straight to a domain registrar to see what variations they’ve got, especially if you’re ready to buy.
Don't forget to go and claim all those social handles asap, at least the ones you ever anticipate using! Even if you are not going to post straight away, you need to make sure you grab them, so that no one else does.
And you can see Namecheckr isn’t a cure-all, it has some glaring omissions — no Instagram? TikTok? Alternatives include Namechk, Claimbrand and KnowEm UserName Check (which looks like it probably still has MySpace, but seems to work quite well.)
What we have presented here as a series of steps, may well be more of a circular and iterative process. If your name passes the client association test, but you can’t get a single online availability match, then back to the drawing board you go with it.
Eventually, though, you’ll be ready to get going and register your Estonian business name, and that’s where Xolo will guide you step by step through the process.
Once your business is named and registered, you can put that decision behind you — unless of course you later want to CHANGE the name of your business.
There could be a number of reasons, that any business might change its name.
However, unless you have a reason like one of these examples, do think long and hard before you change your name, especially if you are essentially carrying on the same professional business activity.
If it’s more of a nudge sideways than a big pivot you have in mind, then maybe a new social media account for a trial project, or even a new website, is the way to go — and you can still indicate you are ‘trading as XXXXX OÜ’, so you don’t lose the brand equity and goodwill of your old business.
Still want to change your business name? No worries, Xolo is here for you! And as with most things in Estonia, it’s both straightforward and 100% digital. As ever, you do it all with your e-Residency digital ID card, directly in the business registry.
Obviously, this is not a typical service because most clients will never require it, so for Xolo it’s an add-on fee from our additional services menu. For Xolo to manage your company name change it costs a flat rate of €49, plus the state fee (€25, for a solopreneur OÜ.)
If you prefer to do it yourself instead, then it’s perfectly possible…
Simply go to https://rik.ee,log in to the Estonian company portal, click on the current name of your Estonian company, and start the alteration petition.
You will need to have worked through all the decisions above about what you’re going to call yourself, because the first thing you will do is navigate to the ‘business name’ tab and pick out the new name you want to use. The system will automatically check for matching trademarks and names at this point, just as when you originally registered.
Assuming everything is fine with your new business name, you can edit your articles of association directly in the Business Register, you no longer need to download and edit it offline.
Of course if you have multiple shareholders, especially if any majority holding is non-e-resident, it can be more complicated, but it can all be done, and template forms of words (e.g. for shareholder resolutions) exist to facilitate things.
All shareholders will need to digitally sign the resolution to amend the name, and the dates of the two documents (amended articles, and the decision to make the amends), must match.
Processing times in the Estonian business register are typically up to 5 business days, after which you are free to trade and act under your new business name.
Xolo will update everything in your portal to reflect your new business identity, and raise invoices etc., under your new branding. While you just keep doing what you do best.
Maya Middlemiss is a freelance journalist and author, excited about the future of work, business, money, and technology. She operates her e-resident business through Xolo Leap, so that she can work frictionlessly with brands and publications all over the world, and she is the host of the Future is Freelance podcast. Exploring the social impact of technology on our changing world, and bringing those stories to life in an accessible and inclusive way, is her passion — because all of this is far too exciting to leave it to the geeks. Maya is a 'digital slowmad', originally from London, presently living with her family in Eastern Spain.
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