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Why do startups have such silly names?

Have you noticed how hot new startups often have really, really silly names? The traditional ‘Surname & Sons’ format is out for good, and in its place are random letters and numbers, jumbled up in some nonsensical soup.


Why is this? The most obvious reason is that the more businesses there are (and there are more and more every day), the harder it is to be original. How many different names could you come up with for a plumbing service, for example? The most imaginative one I’ve managed to think of in the last 10 minutes is “Plumbingenious” and… actually that’s not bad. Consider that a freebie.


There are other reasons for the rise of the nonsensical company name, too. A new business wants to be able to register its name as a unique domain, and the good ones are already taken. Did you know the team behind popular image hosting service Flickr wanted the site to be called ‘Flicker’? Unfortunately, that .com address was already taken, so they had to compromise. There is also a wider issue with trademark law. Most startups just won’t have enough money to buy up intellectual property or fight for naming rights with larger companies, so they get creative.


If you think about it, the big web companies we all know and use – Google, Facebook, YouTube, eBay – all have pretty weird names. But, somehow, they work. The name game is definitely not an exact science, but it’s good to keep these four points in mind.


Impression


When telling someone about your business the name is the first thing they hear. Try to make it as descriptive as possible, whilst still keeping it memorable. One of the worst startup names of the past few years was social news aggregator SocialThing. What does it do? Who is the target market? When they were bought by AOL in 2008 the first thing to go was the name.


Brevity


As a general rule, try to keep to no more than two syllables and no more than ten letters. A simpler name is easier to remember and therefore easier to search for on Google. If the Southern Ohio Amalgamated Steam Traction Engine and Boiler Manufacturing Company hadn’t closed down in 1927, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’d have come up with a new name by now.


Discoverability


Organic brand searches (when someone types the name of your business into Google and arrives at your website) bring in between 10% and 50% of traffic for the average company website. Your name has to be easily spelled and not too similar to other results, otherwise you’ll lose out on potential visitors. Do a quick search before you decide on a company name to see what competition you’ll have in Google results – if there are some big, established companies in there it might be time to rethink.


Connection


Your name should evoke some sort of connection or understanding. A great example of this is PayPal, which does both – ‘Pay’ tells me what it does and ‘Pal’ evokes the idea of a relationship.


With these four basic rules in mind, there are also a few Dos and Don’ts that you can follow to make sure you arrive at an acceptably silly startup name.


DO


Misspell the name. Just like the Flickr example above, sometimes it might just be worth slightly misspelling a word instead of having to pay someone off for a domain. There are plenty of good examples of this, including Reddit and Digg.


DON’T


Make the spelling too irregular. Take, for example, annotation service Diigo. Two ‘i’s can be pronounced the same as one, or as an ‘e’, so you’ll get people searching for the wrong thing. Search ‘Digo’ on Google and Diigo’s website doesn’t even make the first page.


DO


Use wordplay. Portmanteaus, compound words, prefixes and suffixes are all the height of startup fashion at the moment. Image-driven social network Pinterest is a great example. There’s a handy tool here to help with this. I just used it to come up with a name for my new all-weather picnic blanket, the Bumbrella.


DON’T


Just stick a load of letters together and hope for the best. Sometimes it’s possible to take creativity too far. Take, for instance, oooooc.com… it doesn’t tell you anything about the service and it’s also pretty impossible to type. Who’s going to remember how many ‘o’s there are?


DO


Use exotic domain extensions to your advantage. The .com Top-level Domain is a saturated market and there are loads of others to choose from. Take, for example, link shortening service Bit.ly, or music discovery service Last.fm. More Top-level Domains are becoming available every year, giving you more wiggle-room to come up with a perfect name for your startup.


DON’T


Be careless with your URLs – think about how they look, and how people might read them. In underlined links, g and q look very similar – could this confuse people? Be careful or you might end up like the unfortunate owners of whorepresents.com or penisland.net.


DO


Test your ideas. Ask your friends and family what they think of the name. You could make a survey and gauge opinion on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Taking it one step further, you could go out in public and ask people on the street what they think. After all, it’s them that you have to impress.


DON’T


Overthink it. It stifles creativity. At the end of the day, although your business name does matter, a perfect option that ticks all the boxes might not be out there. It’s better to choose a name that you feel good about and can get behind than one you were forced to choose by a set of rules (much like the ones I just tried to impose).


All sounds like quite hard work doesn’t it? The lazy among you will be glad to know that we’ve come up with a handy workaround for anyone who just can’t be bothered to follow all these rules. Use our Startup Name Generator and let us know the result in the comments below. If you like it, you could even go ahead and register it!


Startup name generator


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