What’s in a Name?

August 21, 2008

Recently, I was helping a friend try to figure out a name for a mobile software start—up. The field’s so crowded with ventures now that it’s not easy to pick a name that hasn’t already been taken. And it’s even harder to avoid names that are too techy, too cutesy, too clunky or just too, well, plain. The only thing we were certain of was not taking a regular word and starting it with the letter “i.”

After umpteen passes with random imagination we decided to take a different approach. Rather than just brainstorm names, we would first identify the qualities we thought would constitute a good name so we had something against which to judge our ideas. Here’s what we came up with:

FLEXIBLE — A word with multiple meanings and interpretations. Better yet — a word that can be used as a verb or a noun. Not only does this open up more possibilities for your marketing communications, it gives your design team a lot more options. At one point we had gone down the road of fly—fishing imagery (tangential, yes, but we still think it’s cool) and words like “fly,” “lure,” and “catch” all fit this bill.

EVOCATIVE — You want a name that conjures up interesting imagery. Imagery that will be powerful in telling your story and conveying your brand image. Words attached to common metaphors (like “window,” “door,” “sky”) are also more apt to translate internationally. But beware: you also want to conjure up the right imagery. One name that we came up with was quickly squashed by the graphic designer because the first thing it made her think of was the creature in Alien. Not so friendly. Google got this one right with the name of their new mobile platform, Android, even if it is a bit scary. Flickr got it right too. And Richard Branson really got it right with Virgin.

WE LIKE TO SAY IT — Maybe it’s hard to quantify this, but we all know it when we hear it. There are onomatopoeic words like “sizzle.” Words with hard sounds like “hatch” and “jot.” And just plain goofy words that are fun to say like “Google,” “Zoho” and “Twitter.”

AVAILABLE DOMAIN & DEFENSIBLE — a minor detail (heh)

We never did come up with a name. I think the lawyers are duking it out over a bunch of second string ideas. Turned out the one we liked most were too polarizing. But, we still think these are useful guidelines for those of you undertaking the Sisyphean task of naming your start—up. Good luck.

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One Response to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. joecool79 Says:

    I’ve been going through the same troubles when thinking of a name for a business I’m interested in starting. The biggest problem that I discovered is the reality that you can’t think of all possibilities of a given name. There’s a new trend where company names generated in English represent bad translations in foreign countries. I would say that if you have a decent enough name, it will develop its own following.

    Additionally, names are like designs; they fade over time. Hewlett-Packard became “HP,” International Business Machine (sp) is now “IBM,” etc. So it may be a good consideration to think of a name that may be flexible later. Or even comfortable enough to change it. Apple Computers -> “Apple.”


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