Name that start-up – simple?

Back in December 2004, there was article in the US magazine Business 2.0 entitled The New Science of Naming. This excellent article talked about the history of the ways companies chose their company’s name and the current fashions that determined their approach.

The link above points to the text, but the most interesting part were the four graphics reproduced here on the left. (I hope I do not get into trouble reproducing them here but in amelioration, Business 2.0 really is an excellent magazine!)

In the early days of mass production, eponyms – companies or products named after the people who created them – used the comforting familiarity of personal names to evoke traditional ideals of quality and craftsmanship.
Industrial firms with long, descriptive names gradually embraced the shorthand acronyms used by customers and employees alike. Like New York Stock Exchange ticker symbols, these two- and three-letter names made companies seem larger than life.
Company names became abstract as the computer age got under way. Names often sought to imply high-tech precision, encouraging customers and investors to em­brace the future. Seldom-used let­ters like ‘X’ were believed to have extra potency.
Hooked on the idea of synergy,companies adopted meaning­less umbrella names that could accommodate expansion into multiple lines of business. Dur­ing the dotcom boom, the rush for online addresses pushed this logic to absurd extremes.

Following my earlier post, The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki that talks about company names, it’s interesting to ponder about what the appropriate strategy for naming companies should be in 2007. If you look through TechCrunch’s list of Web 2.0 company names, there are some really unmemorable ones! To quote the article:

Today’s style is to build corporate identity around words that have real meaning. Aucent’s transition to Rivet is a typical effort to eliminate the obfuscation of the Internet era; the preference now is to name things in the spirit of what they actually are. The new names are all about purity, clarity, and organicism. Rivet helps companies tag financial data, for example, so the name functions as an effective metaphor for what the firm actually does. Similarly, Silk (soy milk), Method (home products), Blackboard (school software), and Smartwater (beverages) are new names that are simple and make intuitive sense.

“There’s a trend toward meaning in words. When it comes down to evocative words va straightforward names, straightforward will win in testing every time,” says Jeff Lapatine, group director of naming and brand architecture at New York branding firm Siegel & Gale. That hardly comes as a surprise, of course. But why has it taken so long for this idea to catch on?

Here are a few things that come to my mind:

  • The name should be a domain name. This is very challenging as it seems to me that you can string any three words together and the name is already taken. Also, choosing a ‘simple’ name will enevitably cause problems when trying to find an untaken domain name.
  • The name should be a ‘xxx.com’ NOT a ‘xxx.net’ where ‘xxx.com’ is another company! This happens so often when a name is chosen first then someone decides to use WHOIS.
  • It should associated with what the company actually does i.e. the company does as it ‘says on the can’.
  • The name xxx should be spellable. If you can’t spell it intuitively then no one will be able to enter the URL into a browser.
  • The name should be pronouncable. If the name does not have a unique pronounciation, then everyone will say the name differently e.g. do you say Skype with a silent ‘e’ or do you say Skypeeee with the ‘e’ pronounced? It’s very confusing.
  • As Guy Kawasaki commented, if it can be used as a verb, or in a sentence that would be good.
  • If the name can also contains a call to action such as “You can ContactMeAnywhere at any time!” (They probably don’t say this – or do they?) so much the better.
  • Don’t use hyphenation to get round taken domain names.
  • Don’t choose a temporary name that you plan to change later – that’s just a cop out and will put in jeapardy all the early launch publicity you might receive.

I reckon that chosing a company name is one of the most difficult tasks facing a new company and the effort and arguments that can ensue during the process are to be seen to be believed.

Oh and lastly, please don’t spend thousands of dollars buying a name from a domain horder – start as you mean to go on by being frugal.

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