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February 21, 2006

The Name Game

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There's a great article called “How they named companies” at the Day2Day Activities blog. How do you like this for irony?

Volvo- From the Latin word “volvo,” which means “I roll.” It was originally a name for a ball bearing being developed by SKF.

I'll never look at a Volvo without thinking about this irony again. (Latin scholars: if “volvo” doesn't mean “I roll,” please don't blame me--I'm just quoting the blog. Actually, I did verify this definition in an online Latin dictionary, but it's been a long time since I studied Latin. Plus, bloggers aren't necessarily journalists as you can read for yourself in this very interesting discussion at the Piaras Kelly PR blog.)

I'd like to provide some guidelines about naming a company or product because I meet with many companies who are in this process. Generally, the primary concern of most people seems to be whether a domain name is available. However, there are other considerations to keep in mind.

  • Begin with letters early in the alphabet. Here's the scenario: you bought a booth at a massive trade show like Comdex. The list of exhibitors in the show guide is alphabetized. Would you rather be listed in the front of the guide or at back of the guide? Another scenario: A reviewer analyzes a dozen or so products. She lists them in alphabetical order in the review. Would you prefer that your product be at the beginning or end of the list?
  • Avoid names starting with X and Z. This is somewhat repetitious but it's a pet peeve of mine. The worse letters to start your company or product name with are X and Z. First, they are both late in the alphabet. Second, they're confusing to spell and to pronounce. “Please Zerox this form.” “Let check out the Zilinx booth to see the latest in programmable logic stuff.”
  • Embody verb potential. A great name has the potential to turn into a verb. Examples: Xerox (fortunately, they overcame the X), Google, Digg, and StuffIt. (Scoble too?***) Words with verb potential are short--no more than three syllables and “active sounding.” They need to work in phrases such as, “Why don't we just ____ it?” Or, “I'll just ____ it.” (One of my big disappointments in life is that “Kawasaki” has too many syllables to become a verb.)
  • Sound different. Quick: What do the following companies do? Claris. Clarin. Claria. Clarium. Clarins. Clarinex. It's hard to remember whether they sell makeup, unplug your nose, or got killed by Apple. Great names sound different. They also spell different, for that matter.
  • Embody logic. The absolute best example of naming things in a logical manner is the approach by the clever folks at Pokémon. You don't have to be a kid to figure out what Geodude and Lickitung look like. Can the same be said of names like Tenaris, Abaxis, and Ceradyne? Sounding different + spelling different + embodying logic = a memorable name. Here's a good test: If you told your company or product name to ten strangers, would at least half of them guess what business you're in?
  • Avoid the trendy. Mea culpa: we made a big mistake when we started what is now Garage Technology Ventures. We called it “garage.com.” Yup, with a lower case “G.” It was a brief lapse into modesty and eBay envy. We had a great slogan too: “We put the capital in you, not in our name.” (Later, we considered an even better slogan: “We take the FU out of funding.”) The “.com” was a mistake too because “dotcom” became synonymous with “no business model.” If you think there's a cool trend in naming going on, my advice is that you avoid it.

It doesn't matter whether you check the domain first, then apply these recommendations or vice versa. But please do both because saddling a great company or great product with a crappy name is a real crime.

Written at: Atherton, California

*** I threw this in since he's always saying that I don't include enough outbound links in my blog. How's that for sucking up? :-)

Addendum 1: You have to read this Salon piece referred to me by Kevin Marks. It's hilarious.

Addendum 2: Avoid the commonplace and generic. This was pointed out by Shaula Evans. If you name your product or company something commonplace and generic, people will never find it in Google, Download.com, VersionTracker, etc. Her example is if you name your company “Water” and your product “Word.” At least one should be distinctive.


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Can any one of you great brainers help me naming my company name.

The company will be in the business of IT Development and Consulting. I would like my company name to reflect atleast one of these values such as trust, honesty, reputation, quality .

Hehehe - it's a great guideline for all wannabe brand consultants. I got a call some days ago to change our brand strategy, but -unfortunately- we've changed it three months ago... lol

Thanks for give me a lot of great infomation.
a p p r e c i a t e :)

I think these blog is really useful for new comers and Excellent resource list.

You should get a cat next time and name it Leontief.

Very good site! I like it!

I was just checking out keywords and did you know the value for the word "Blog" is $2.05?

VP of Marketing

Those are great guidelines, but they are just that. Names need to start a conversation. They need to Fascinate, Inspire, Reward and Engage kindred spirits. They need to MEAN SOMETHING.

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it does not do any good unless the link is to a specific post, you won't show up on his trackback list... but you don't need it anyway


You recommend that you look for a name with verb potential. While I google (search) for information every day and occasionally fedex (send via overnight) packages, companies that encourage (or passively allow) others to use their brand as a verb risk their brand becoming generic and thus lose trademark protection for their brand.

Here's a pretty good article to consider: http://www.sutherlandsurvey.com/Columns_Papers/Google-%20$%20Billion%20Brand%20in%20Peril.pdf

World of Warcraft has caught people’s imagination and this has led to a variety of creative offshoots. One key sign of the game’s popularity is the existence of Warcraft(wow gold) fan fiction. Players like to write fictional stories about the characters and events of the game. Fan art is also popular. People draw and paint images inspired by the game and post them in galleries online. Blizzard run their own Fan Art Program that fans (wow gold)can submit their art to for display. There is great creativity and beauty

Guy, The name game is simple for me to understand. The thing I don't understand is why professionals in business have email accounts like jdrjimd@aol, or bobsmith@yahoo.com, or even joeg@gmail.com. Take the later, if Joe owns Joe's Garage and joesgarage.com, then why not have an email account that relates to it. I mean, talk about someone who has the name, but doesn't see through to have an email utilizing the name. Programming the subconscious mind, (advertisers and marketer's goal) is accomplished by repetition. It's like brushing your teeth, or A MAC, you don't have to think, you know what it is.

Just something to think about...


Thank you, very interesting!

I wish i would have read this before I did my "strategic" thinking about my company name. Actually, I did not read anything about my naming a company, in fact I thought to myself, a name is just a name. After reading about this, I realized I should have done more reading. Luckily, I try to do more personal business, where people remember me rather than my company name.

Guy, the Latin really does look great up there, but I keep wondering if you're going to change it to "Laissez les bon temps rouler" in honour of Mardi Gras...

Guy, thanks for the advice. We just picked a name for our new company, and guess what it fits all the criteria except one. (early in the alpha) But it definitely fits the verb stance, and is one syllable. Quite frankly, I was surprised that it was available. Also, it is an acronym for what the company will do. Man, this is going to be great. Ping me, and I will tell you what it is.

Regarding names, my company is incorporated as Errands Express LLC (Personal Assistants). I market our services through 2 websites 'Montclair Concierges' and 'New Jersey Concierges'.
I picked the first one because I am based in Montclair, New Jersey. The second is to have customers understand that we do not offer our services exclusively around Montclair.
We come up in a good position in most search engines.
My blog, 'Serge the Concierge' got its name through a piece that Debbie Galant wrote about us. When I googled it, I found out it was also the name of an episode of NYPD Blue.
You can find our blog easily through most search engines.
Just my 2 cents.


P.S: I use CoComment to track my Comments

Business Sites:


Hello Guy, your article reminds me of a series of 8 posts I put up on my blog in July of 2004, starting with this one: http://smbayle.pingotter.com/blog/_archives/2004/7/6/158879.html

That Salon article was hilarious especially in 1999 when I thought it would never apply to me.

Little did I know that a couple of years later I would be caught in the same naming quandary.

Our first name emaximarket was ridiculously long and generic. Absolutely no one could spell it over the phone. Plus it had the dreaded e prefix, which is as bad as i one.

Our company finally decided that enough was enough and to find a simple 6 letter name relating to auctions and whose domain was not already registered (easier said than done).

Bidera is what we ended up with. Has a meaning and avoids the eBay soundalike syndrome.

Still there is that unfortunate association with a certain personal hygene product... Luckily it seems only Europeans who have this association, but not Americans.

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