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How to name your startup (and how not to)
April 22, 2012 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Before naming your startup, read this. "This guide is divided into three, independent sections: Why Bad Names Hurt You, Coming Up With Names, and Examples of Strong and Weak Names."

Caveat: the author, Julian Shapiro, is CEO NameLayer.com, which sells "brandable domain names".

See also: startup naming advice from entrepreneurs, on Quora.

Previously (2006) on the topic of company naming:
Details on how branding agency Igor does it. (They have some recent advice on "the marketing money pit of the descriptive name," suggesting that your company name should not explicitly describe what the company does.) See also: Igor's free Naming Guide to Creating Product and Company Names.)
posted by beagle (57 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mark: "Yourface....no."
Mark: "Facebang....no."
Mark: "Myface....no."
Mark: "Wasteyourface....no."
Mark: "2.0 something.......no."
Mark: "INYOURFACEWINKLEVOSSTWINS....no, that's too on the nose."
Mark: "Facecar....no."
Mark: "Facebridge....no."
Mark: "Faceinternet....no."
Mark: "Facemagazine....no."
Mark: "I GOT IT! Facebook!"
posted by Fizz at 7:34 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is the dropshadow optional yet?
posted by infini at 7:37 AM on April 22, 2012


The best startup name: BusinessVacuitiesRidingTalentedProgrammersIntoTheDirt.Com!
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:38 AM on April 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


Are vowels back?
posted by tommasz at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


For the most part, the names he likes and the names he doesn't are indistinguishably irritating to me.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


For the most part, the names he likes and the names he doesn't are indistinguishably irritating to me.

No doubt. He likes etsy? If I didn't already know what that was and someone told me to go to "etsy.com", it would be an hour until I sussed out that spelling.
posted by King Bee at 7:43 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think "Unique and unmistakable once you’ve learned it" is code for "already-successful counterexamples I must handwave away."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


Is EntreprenurialAssholesPseudojournalisticBlogghorreaticsFinanceRobotsMarketingDroidsBrainlessScionsGolfAddictsWithSaggyPantsHeavyDrinkingSchmoozersWithTooLoudRingtonesAndInsufferablyPerkyHipsterDouchesYouAssociateWithBecauseOneDayYouMightBeOutOfWork.com taken yet?
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:50 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was witness to the naming process for a website back in 1999. It was one of the first websites to offer a personalized product. The first choice was Me.com, but that had also been taken and no one wanted to pay the fee to get it, as mentioned in the article. I think there were other variations such as Pixme or Mirror or such - really, the memory is fuzzy after a decade - but then the name was finally decided on and the domain was still available. The client and project team then agonized over adding a ".com" to the end of the name for advertising and art. I think it was easier at the time to say "Whatever.com" because the Internet was still a relatively new concept, so they went with that, dropping the .com part about a year later. The site has not existed for some five or six years, sadly. I don't know if the idea was just too new at the time. All I have to remember it by is an old t-shirt.

Really, naming seems a lot like sausage making! The designers would sigh every time the name changed and they had to update the art while I sighed because I had to update the communications folder.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:53 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


His admonition against using "bug" in any instance other than its technical meaning, because it's such a negative, must be puzzling to the WeatherBug people.

And, yeah, Etsy as a good example? I suppose it's become a good example in spite of itself, but I have a feeling he would be against it if they were to come to him today for his assistance. It's an ass-ugly name that doesn't tell you squat about what it is.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:54 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


He makes some very good points, I think. Easily misspelled words or homophones can be pretty devastating. But he misses a major point: Your name and, more especially, your logo don't have to graphically explain what your business does. They are your company's "flags", and the goal is to create an association in the public's mind between your name and logo and your business.

Does Apple explain what they do? Or Mercedes? Or Nike? No - but they are iconic companies.

Paul Rand put it this way (he was referring to logos, specifically, but much of it pplies to company names, IMO):

"If, in the business of communications, "image is king", the essence of this image, the logo, is a jewel in its crown. Here's what a logo is and does:

A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon.
A logo doesn't sell (directly), it identifies.
A logo is rarely a description of a business.
A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.
A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important that what it looks like.

The role of the logo is to point, to designate–in as simple a manner as possible. A design that is complex, like a fussy illustration or an arcane abstraction, harbors a self-destruct mechanism. Simple ideas, as well as simple designs are, ironically, the products of circuitous mental purposes. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, yet worth the effort. A well designed logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and services. It is good public relations—a harbinger of good will. It says "We care." "

posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:54 AM on April 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


Another dimension of this issue occurred to me the other day. I was taking notes on my phone at a speech given by the SVP of Intelius (the mega-background-check-public-information-aggregator behind ZabuSearch and others). Their new corporate umbrella name - "Eviia" - autocorrected to "evil." So, add "must be autocorrect-friendly" to the list of criteria.
posted by majorsteel at 7:55 AM on April 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


Your name and, more especially, your logo don't have to graphically explain what your business does.
Benny, excellent point — note that the linked post by Igor ("the marketing money pit of descriptive names") points that out in some detail.
posted by beagle at 8:00 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Post hoc ergo propter hoc FTW!
posted by yoink at 8:04 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Descriptive names are also a terrible choice for legal reasons: in most countries you'll have huge trouble trademarking a purely descriptive name, because it would be akin to trademarking your whole business.
posted by Skeptic at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2012


Also, Shapiro's company, NameLayer...doesn't it violate like all of these rules in its own name? The 5th domain on their site is OrganicHype.com, aka, overused word with no connection to the second word.

Also, NameLayer has one of the worst websites I have seen in a long time. I don't even know how to distinguish them from any other domain squatter and I spent nearly two minutes trying to figure it out.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:19 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honestly, this article and the one FPP'd just recently are beginning to make me question the quality of editorial discernment at the source site. (But, I could, of course be just wrong or wanting them to get off my lawn)
posted by infini at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2012


Just about to say what Rodrigo said, NameLayer is a stupid name and the names they are selling are even worse. TableNotify? ContactMethod? LevelRoute? There isn't even one good name on their home page. Worst advice ever.
posted by snofoam at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


It amazes me that people write naming articles and do not have a section on trademarks and the law. I see small companies start up all the time without running a trademark search only to pay for it in the end.

In the US:
Before naming your company, domain, or otherwise choose a trademark you are going to use to market yourself or your products, do a general web search to find out who, if anyone is using it. Also look up whether it or a variant of it has been registered. Spelling variants and the addition or subtraction of plurals, tenses, etc. do not mean your mark is different from one that is registered. If the mark is registered in the area of products or services you intend to sell, either approach the party that owns it to buy it or move on. If you're a small company you won't have the time, energy, or cash to get involved in a trademark fight and treading on another's trademark is a great way to diminish the value of your company if someday your exist strategy is to be acquired.

The examples of adding a word, like "get" to the beginning of an existing domain name or trademark is like asking to be killed. You're likely treading on a trademark again, and all the original mark owner has to do is start a UDRP action against you and they will likely end up owning your domain name.

The more generic your name, the better you think it will be for recognition of what you do and maybe the more attention you'll get by virtue of its descriptive nature. The owner of photos.com (Getty) might find value in the name being so descriptive - but then again, Getty Images is very well known in the industry and even now everybody knows the name Kodak. If you have a good product, your name will get known. If you have a product a hundred other people are selling, you have no customer base, and you don't otherwise have something special to offer (price, quality, service, etc.) you've got more problems than your name.
posted by Muddler at 8:24 AM on April 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Speaking of etsy, the other day I realized it is probably named after "et cetera," commonly shortened to "etc" in these modern times; the two or three programmers in our office pronounce "etc" as "etsy" when having to speak it out loud (when talking about folders and file paths, for example). Therefore a website dedicated to selling people's various handcrafted tchotchkes being named, in effect, "et cetera," makes sense.

Though this shows my vast amounts of ignorance when it comes to programming and the history of the domain etsy.com, I will not try to verify this information through wikipedia before posting. This is how I "live a little."
posted by m0nm0n at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


*Two minutes later: Damn you Wikipedia, you have disproven my theory!!!
posted by m0nm0n at 8:30 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I defy you to correctly spell my trendy startup name in less than 9 attempts: I|l|I|L.com

And Tebow help you if your browser font displays of the characters the same. I only want discerning customers, and ones that can use bookmarks.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:35 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to point out that when I hear that a business calls itself "whatever dot com," I immediately think less of it. Everything is something-dot-com these days; referring to yourself in any other way makes me think that you don't really understand what this whole Internet fad is all about, but you feel like you have to make some money off it before it ends.
posted by Etrigan at 8:44 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


TableNotify? ContactMethod? LevelRoute? There isn't even one good name on their home page.

Reminds me of the "total concept marketing slash public relations organization" from Chuck Palanuik's Survivor that copyrights every combination of words a (drug) company might use to name a new product.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 8:45 AM on April 22, 2012


I can't wait for domain names to diminish in importance.
posted by roboton666 at 8:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Compuglobalhypermeganet is a perfectly cromulent business name, really.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:51 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't wait for domain names to diminish in importance.

I think they already have. If you have a popular iOS app or Facebook app, your domain name really doesn't matter. Also, Google search results are more important than domain name, IMHO.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:52 AM on April 22, 2012


Can we go back to just naming companies after the proprietors? Domain names are slowly becoming less important, especially when I can just Brin & Page search results directly from my Jobs-Wozniak smartphone and share them on the social network of Zuckerberg, Moskovitz & Associates.
posted by rh at 9:01 AM on April 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Haughey & Co: Domain names are slowly becoming less important.
posted by tempythethird at 9:07 AM on April 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


TableNotify? ContactMethod? LevelRoute? There isn't even one good name on their home page.

I was looking at those wondering why they fill me with a kind of cold horror. Then I realized they look like nothing so much as variable names in a $29 website package written in Visual Basic.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:18 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


blaneyphoto: "I think Compuglobalhypermeganet is a perfectly cromulent business name, really"

The only brand name that sticks in my head is this one.
posted by barnacles at 9:19 AM on April 22, 2012


It occurred to me last Friday: most new companies sound like drugs. (Accelify? [I've had to deal with these morons for the last month, so don't get me started!]) And every new company, like your friendly local drug deal, just wants a small slice of your revenue stream.

You know, like Dracula.

My favorite brand name? Augmentin! It probably does something useful, but it sounds like a penis-extender. Stand tall with Augmentin!
posted by SPrintF at 9:23 AM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Hmph. Metafilter? What is that? Some kind of water filtration system?"
posted by Askiba at 9:30 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some good (and some obvious, commonsense) points here, but I disagree with him on cardpool.com. He says that it is "a pun that holds extreme relevance: CardPool pools together gift cards (as kids are pooled together in a car pool). This is a level of naming quality that every entrepreneur should strive to achieve. This is a fun and completely unforgettable name." Yes, but the pun doesn't work beyond the most superficial level. The idea of pooling kids in a car is so that each rider can save money, and each rider generally has the same goal/destination. In cardpool.com, everyone does save money, but it has nothing to do with a shared overall purpose: it's just about swapping cards.
posted by anothermug at 9:46 AM on April 22, 2012


Amazon dot Alt + 0153
posted by infinitewindow at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2012


Fizz: you left out facemash
posted by delmoi at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2012


Why Bad Names Hurt You
That reminds me of the Monty Python "Vomit Coffee" sketch (they couldn't figure out why their sales dropped so low).

Your name and, more especially, your logo don't have to graphically explain what your business does.

That's not always true. I remember when Audible.com (recorded books) had an incomprehensible logo. Unfortunately you had to look for this logo when picking an mp3 player that was compatible with audible.com. I could never remember the logo and so put off buying a player to listen to audible.com books with. They finally changed to a logo that looks something like a book.
posted by eye of newt at 10:03 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite is Kukhaven. It's an American online, natural-design home goods retailer.

Their unfortunate choice of name translates as 'seas of dicks' in Swedish.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Metafilter? What is that? Some kind of water filtration system?

It's either something that filters filters, or something that filters "MeTas".
posted by philipy at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2012


Oh come on. This is trite and terribly written. Even Hacker News didn't buy this crap. Doesn't belong here.
posted by oulipian at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's either something that filters filters, or something that filters "MeTas".

No no, it's one who metafilts.
posted by King Bee at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2012


one who metafilts

I can't even filt, never mind metafilt.
posted by philipy at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Your name and, more especially, your logo don't have to graphically explain what your business does

The name shouldn't give a very different impression, either. I used to work for Club Mom, which was much less violent than you might think.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:18 AM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


CommuniBlog?
Lil' Blogger?
YerBloggin'?
TogetherBloggin?
MechanicalHaughey?
Blü?
MemePoolWithComments?
BlogFilter?
MetaBlogger?
Metafilter?
Metafilter.
posted by gwint at 11:09 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the bad names bit he doesen't like IObits, and then in the good names bit he likes Chart.io and then says "I know exactly what these companies do before I even visit their sites ... Chart.io naturally offers a technical (“input/output”) approach to data visualization..." Make your mind up mate.
posted by marienbad at 11:10 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Envolve doesn't pass the "only one obvious spelling" test, either. Hearing it, you'd probably think it's "Involve".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:22 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


funny that he took the time to write that article about how bad it is not to think about a proper name and then just slapped stock photos onto it. I mean - a smiling pregnant woman holding a flipchart at an awkward angle while pretending to be writing. really?
posted by krautland at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2012


I too found the stock photo of a pregnant woman to be a bit gauche.
posted by salvia at 11:32 AM on April 22, 2012


One tip: don't name your company with a word in a different case than expected. My last company was named something like Advance Foo Bar. Just about every customer and vendor we talked to, we had to first explain that no, it wasn't Advanced Foo Bar, and if you try to send email to that domain, we won't get it. Annoying as fuck.

Also annoying? We had hundreds of customers and vendors and I swear they were all named from the same 5 or 6 keywords in our industry. I'm pretty sure we mixed up FooBarTel and BarFooTel and FooBarCom at times.
posted by kmz at 12:10 PM on April 22, 2012


Metafilter? What is that? Some kind of water filtration system?

It's either something that filters filters, or something that filters "MeTas".


No, "meta" and "filter" are just synonyms. It's like "ATM machine" or "PIN number."
posted by John Cohen at 12:13 PM on April 22, 2012


I mean - a smiling pregnant woman holding a flipchart at an awkward angle while pretending to be writing. really?

There's more thought there than you realize - it's the second hit for "choosing name" at iStockPhoto.com. The pregnant woman with a clipboard in the first hit is blonde, and it's a less colourful picture.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:17 PM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


IObits sounds like a Haskell module to me.

> I only want discerning customers ...

Have you ever read out loud the following: "http://slashdot.org/recent"?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:49 PM on April 22, 2012


Given that he subtly advocates putting aside "a few thousand dollars" to pay domain "owners" for names, and did not mention any of the legal avenues for getting control of a name without paying one for it, I suspect this guy is a domain squatter. They are the only people who don't use that name to describe themselves.

Domain squatters are people who have figured out a way to be paid to fuck off, so that those who pay them can get some real work done. They add no value. On the road to success, they are the speedbumps. Unfortunately there is no way to be rid of them, as there is no practical method of distinguishing "real use" from parking, and domain names probably need to be a saleable asset.

So the backchannel message in this is: pick a good name, but make sure it's one that is already "taken" by him, or someone like him.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:35 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


urbanwhaleshark: "TableNotify? ContactMethod? LevelRoute? There isn't even one good name on their home page.

Reminds me of the "total concept marketing slash public relations organization" from Chuck Palanuik's Survivor that copyrights every combination of words a (drug) company might use to name a new product.
"

Or 80s sci-fi villains.
posted by symbioid at 3:42 PM on April 22, 2012


Does Apple explain what they do? Or Mercedes? Or Nike?

In the latter case: uh huh.
posted by hermitosis at 4:24 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in marketing, and god DAMN it is hard to convince business owners to go with a good name. People tend to get caught up with the shiny object they think will be social or attract investors without giving a second name to things like homophones, competitors, category, pronunciation, etc. That said, I do have some sympathy as naming is one of the hardest things to do. Even a brilliant business genius can be beaten down by the process, and now that domain names, etc. are involved it's harder than ever.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:20 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh man. The company I work for, FreshBooks, had a terrible name to start with: 2ndSite, found at www.secondsite.biz.

We had it all: the logo (2nd) didn't match the domain (second), you had to clarify the "second" reading the URL aloud, the "site" vs "sight" pun and/or confusion, and the dot-biz.

For online invoicing.

But thankfully we renamed (and we did it with a brand murder mystery!). The only things we've run into namewise with FreshBooks are tongue-stumbling with "Facebook" and people thinking we have something to do with (reading) books, but that's been a thing with our vendors, not with our customers.

(There was clearly a brainstorming effort on renaming, though, where we registered anything that we might want to go with just in case. We have an interesting domain portfolio now.)
posted by mendel at 7:52 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


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