Skimping on Name Game Can Land Small Businesses in Trouble

By Virginia Bridges
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

In the beginning, the partners of Chubby’s Tacos made long lists of potential business names.

They thought about a casual Mexican restaurant mixed with something tropical, like Tiki Tacos. Then they did a Web search, only to find the domain name already in use.

“We weren’t getting anywhere with it,” said owner Jody Lytton, who went on to open Chubby’s with then-partner Tony Sustaita.

Then one night, the two went out drinking and played a game that generated potential adult film star names by combining the name of their first pet with the name of the street where they grew up.

In the game, Sustaita’s name was Chubby Herrera. So he said they should name their Mexican eatery Chubby Herrera’s Taqueria. But Lytton said he could barely get that out of his mouth.

“I was, like, ‘What about Chubby’s Tacos?’ ” Lytton said.

With that name, a restaurant chain was born in Durham, N.C., on Cinco de Mayo 2008. But unfortunately for Lytton, now the sole owner, the company was built on a borrowed brand.

Six years later, Lytton is paying the price for using a name legally claimed by another business. His out-of-state expansion aspirations are now limited, and he’s at risk of a lawsuit. So Lytton’s 2014 plans include renaming and rebranding the business, which has four locations in North Carolina and a fifth in the works.

Todd Coats, chief creative officer for Capstrat, a marketing and public relations agency in Raleigh, N.C., said small-business owners should not shortchange the process of coming up with an effective and appropriate moniker.

There are billions of business names already in existence, Coats said, so owners should start by listing hundreds of options.

“This is a quantity game, more than anything else in the beginning,” Coats said. Coats will generate names by mashing up words, trying different variations, prefixes and suffixes.

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