Trademarks vs. Domain Names
You can trademark names that don’t work neatly in the characters allowed for your domain name. The only characters allowed for domain names are the letters of the alphabet A–Z, the digits 0–9, the dash or hyphen, and the dot or period.
If you know in advance that your business will have a web presence, you may take this into account when you name your business and products, but if you’re taking an established business and product line to the web, you may be in a different situation. Let’s say you started a company sixty years ago called Toys”R”Us, Inc. The use of the letter R in quotes was a distinctive print tool that shortened the verb are to one letter and helped concentrate the customers’ attention on the word toys. But you can’t use quotation marks—single or double—in domain names. toysrus.com might strike an innocent buyer as a site for buying Russian toys, but the company has done well with its online business anyway.
Other characters might need to be replaced rather than omitted. If an important element of the name you’re representing is, for example, a symbol or graphic, you might need to replace that with words or choose to characterize your business in some other way.
Normally, if your business name is not too long to make a good domain name, it is wise to spell it just the way its spelled in print. You might leave off such “extras” as Inc., Ltd., or Corp., but other than that, use the name as is, if the domain is available. You might start with .com, then check .biz, .net, .org, and .us. If you can’t find anything suitable, you wish to introduce some of the spelling alterations mentioned below.
Many companies had moved to name acronyms in print in the days before the Internet. Can you remember when you last heard the name of a television network like ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, TNT, or AMC said its full form? If you do not use an abbreviation in print, consider well before using an acronym: you may need to make an extra effort in your site material to make a connection in your user’s mind between the business name or product and the acronym.
What about purposeful misspellings? Some people decry them, but it might be a matter of making a good choice for your context rather than avoiding the option altogether. After all, there’s no company named Dunking Doughnuts, which is perfectly spelled, but the colloquial and “misspelled” Dunkin’ Donuts—found online at dunkindonuts.com—has done just fine with its name. So has the popular television show Numb3rs, while evidence supports that many people remember the Heinz Co. advertisement:
Beanz meanz Heinz
Not to mention the Apple Computers spelling adventure in their catchphrase:
iThink therefore iMac.
A bit of minor misspelling may also get you a domain with a desirable TLD that you couldn’t otherwise have. Since domain names are “first come, first serve,” this can and does happen. It’s your call whether a bit of misspelling is valuable or not. If old and new customers can quickly and easily find you, then that’s the bottom line.
Dashes or Hyphens
The same advice about misspellings can be applied to a certain degree to the question of dashes. If you have always marketed your service as Rent-a-Wreck, then you might just want to go on doing it when your business goes on line. Whether you want to add hyphens on-line if you don’t use them in print does not have a quick, easy answer. For more on issues related to spelling domain names with dashes or hyphens, see the article “Dashes or No.”