What's In A Name?

Welcome to my first post for Online Spin. I am a marketer with 25+ years of experience on both the agency as well as the client side. I’'m also the co-author with Joseph Jaffe of the book “Z.E.R.O. -- Zero Paid Media as the New Marketing Model.” Joseph and I will alternate on Mondays here on Online Spin. Exactly why we agreed to subject ourselves to the Monday morning graveyard shift, I don’t know. I blame Joseph.

 “Why?” is an incredibly powerful question that I have mastered by observing my son Robert when he was five. All parents will recognize that phase when your offspring questions everything you say. “Eat some fruit” leads to “Why,” which leads to “Because it is good for you,”  which leads again to “Why?”

I have come to rely on “why” in business a lot. Stripping layer upon layer is a very powerful approach to get to true insights. You should try it. (I hear you thinking: “Why?” -- but I think I just answered that question.)



In this light, I would challenge most app makers and startups to think about “why” when they are considering name options for their business. It seems that a naming convention has been established that has me asking “why” frequently.

(Note: I used Crunchbase and the Apple App store as my research tools, so I am not being totally scientific. Especially because I conveniently omitted any app or startup whose name actually made sense.)

Here are the naming trends I’ve I observed:

Random words as names: What does “uber” have to do with ordering taxis or limos? Or Europe’s Uber wann-be “Blacklane,” for that matter? There are over a million apps across the Apple and Android app stores. I am venturing that at least a third fall into this category. The random words approach can also be found in startup land. For example “Village Laundry Service,”  which is … an Indian VC.

Just put the letter “r” at the end: Tumblr. Flickr. Domainr. Levitatr. Txtr. Blottr. Growthr. Splatr. Consumr. Need I go on? Twitter and Blogger clearly missed an opportunity when they created their names -- and thus will fail. Mark my wordr.

Just put a random period somewhere: (an online research tool like Survey Monkey), Inc. (a SaaS company) and (analytics platform) are just a few examples. It is

Misspelled on purpose: Lyft. Hukkster. QlikView. VuClip. Prysm (which was first known as Spudnik). Really, guys? Of all the naming trends, this one “grindrs” me the most.

I guess naming your business is really hard (and I will readily admit that I failed in the originality department for myself). I’ll add my two cents and suggest you  follow a few simple rules:

1.     Keep it short and simple.

2.     Have it relate to your business.

3.     Or, make it relevant to you as the business owner  -- or  relating to the story of your business.

In this era of storytelling, it might be a good idea to have your business name be a story in its own right. Yelp relates to Yellow Pages. Google comes from the mathematics term “googol.”

However, if your story has to start each time with “Why did you guys choose “” as the name for your dry-cleaning delivery service?,” it might have been wiser to choose a different name. And then don’t go for Bubblr or Suddz.!

10 comments about "What's In A Name?".
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  1. Steven Osborne from Osborne pike, December 2, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.

    Hi, totally agree with your tack here, but as it happens in Dutch that would be a corker. But not for dry-cleaning.

  2. Steven Osborne from Osborne pike, December 2, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

    Oops, er, your name is Maarten... then you probably already knew that. Excuses.

  3. Ted Pryor from Greenwich Harbor Partners, December 2, 2013 at 10 a.m.

    Nice post Maarten. Having named several companies, I have lived through the agony of the decision as well as the repercussions of missing the mark. By the way you, didn't mention two common categories: street names and geologic terms.

  4. Michael E. Keenan from Keenan & Company, December 2, 2013 at 10:01 a.m.

    Prior to Yahoo!, an early trick name, we had a creative agency client, Olive. I asked the owner why he'd picked the name, "Olive"? He replied,"That's just what I asked the former owner when I bought the agency from him, he said, 'Why not?'"

  5. David Carlick from Carlick, December 2, 2013 at 10:15 a.m.

    Well, the .ly suffixes are domain handles, so those name breaks aren't random but uses of the domain suffix. Somewhere in the 90's, made-up words surpassed 'traditional' words in the English language, and naming became very difficult. My favorite from the 80's was SOLFAN, a security company. (Shit Out of Luck Finding A Name) and Soroc, a monitor company, whose name was selected after some hours of drinking and thinking, as an anagram of Coors and whose logo was the top of a beer can (although, then, the opening was a church-key triangle.) Ira Bachrach started NameLabs in the 80's and had quite a run (Sentra, Compaq, CompUSA); Name Lab still exists.

  6. Dan Ciccone from MEDIAFICIONADO, December 2, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.

    Having two of my own businesses - one app and one online marketing agency - the approach of several companies mentioned makes total sense to me. First of all, those "random" words to you may actually have a lot of meaning to the audience the company is trying to reach. Noone knew what Google meant except for the geeks out there who would initially use the service and look where they are now. Also, it is INCREDIBLY hard to find a simple name, word, or term that hasn't already been purchased - most likely by a person or company who is just sitting on domain names thinking they will become millionaires. Thus, purposely misspelling a word has helped many of us avoid the ridiculous hostage demands of domain squatters.

  7. Max Kalehoff from MAK, December 2, 2013 at 11:54 a.m.

    Greetings Maarten! I think the name, when a new one is given, strongly reflects the aspiration of the namers, not necessarily reality. What the name comes to stand for is rooted in the behaviors and contributions of the company. Similar to people, a name does not predict future success.

  8. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), December 2, 2013 at 3:44 p.m.

    Two of my favorite naming stories involve a multi-million hit song from 1979 and another for a dog. The hit song is Le Freak, and in the highly entertaining memoir from Chic founder and all around cool dude Nile Rodgers (still cool today: reference his recent work with Daft Punk) he reveals that the song was born out of frustration with the Studio 54 doormen. Nile and Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards were refused entry and back home jammed around a theme of Fxxx Off! The song worked, but the lyrics had to be adjusted.

    The other is a story my wife told me. She met someone who had a dog names Dioji. My wife asked for the origin of the name. It was D-O-G.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 2, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.

    "trippingly on the tongue" is how Shakespeare describes executing words. See Gullivers Travels for Yahoos.

  10. Paul Robinson from Viridian Development Corporation, December 10, 2013 at 7:20 p.m.

    I once considered starting a software company called "Los Angeles Marijuana Farms" just for the publicity value. We could release Personal Computer Programs and ship them in boxes marked "Another shipment of PCP from Los Angeles Marijuana Farms," but fortunately I came to my senses before my place would have gotten regular police raids.

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