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Ask YC: How did you choose a name for your startup?
27 points by endlessvoid94 on Feb 13, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments
I'm a student working in my spare time on a web application. One of the big things keeping me from taking it off my personal server (on a subdomain) is the lack of a good name, and hence a domain name.

Do you have an advice on how to come up with a good name?

We knew the site would involve reading what's new online, so I would spend classtime thinking about domains involving something like "read." It was also during this classtime that I first doodled the alien in the corner of a notebook.

I was in my beloved Alderman library when "reddit" came to mind, as in "I reddit on reddit" (although this slogan was courtesy of PG). I'd also registered reditt because I couldn't decide which one was better. Granted, I was worried about how poorly it was spelled, but it seemed easy enough to remember.

For a time, it was just added to a long list of potential names. We spent the first month of YC without a confirmed name, but I always stuck with reddit despite being repeatedly told how terrible a name it was :-)

Finally Steve acquiesced and we went with reddit. This was after wasting a solid 2 entire days just hunting for domains -- not a great use of time, I must say.

It was also before instantdomainsearch.com, which I highly recommend.

I found a good URL that didn't have a squatter and then developed a product to fit that URL.

Was the URL bass-ackwards.com? ;-)

"There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things" - Phil Karlton

For, http://www.mobtropolis.com, it came out of the concept of collectively finding interesting things to do that were out of the norm. If they were doing it all at the same time and place, it would be likened to a mob. I figured this sort of thing would only happen in more urban areas with denser concentration of people. Hence after a short brainstorming session..."Mobs in the City" became "Mobtropolis".

I hesitated for a while since it's a 4 syllable word, and people might not remember it. But since I couldn't find anything better, I just went with it.

After a while, a name just grows on you and others, as long as you're consistent about it. It also helps you when you're pitching it if you don't feel stupid saying it. I would imagine del.icio.us wasn't exactly easy to associate with bookmarking, but as long as people consistently associate a name with a clear idea of what your product is, I think it'll be ok.

I go to thesaurus.com and try mutilating synonyms of what I want to convey. I mash word combos together, along with substituting similar sounding made up syllables. If you tell me what you're working on and want to convey, I'll take a crack at it. I bet others on here will too. Some examples of my creations (I've only paid a squatter once):

Testomatix: test + automation + "ix" added in for high-tech-soundiness and anti-domain-squatter non-obviousness.

RentRocket: I loved the alliteration, and got it cheap.

Wincognito: (privacy software and pop-up blocker for windows back before they were free) win + incognito

Ziptuck:(fashion site) I have a theory that similar known names "prime" the mind to remember other like names. (Osama, Obama, Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton) and that the other associations of the 'original name' disappear quickly, so I went with it.

Edit: Also, I suggest moniker's bulk lookup: http://www.moniker.com/domains/batch_reg.jsp

A friend's favourite was: sport + portal = sportal

I like that--it's a good name. That's the spirit of what I tried for in most of my names.

I had tipr.net for a while. I think tipr.com was some italian trading platform.

I just kept thinking about it. It is a iterative process. I like flow of consciousness. Two short words together work. Tipping, giving, paying, happy, support, joyful, micro (all all other SI prefixes)...

Shortest words there: tip pay joy

tipjoy.com was available and I immediately purchased it.

Domain availability. Think of a two/three word description for what your app is, see if it's available. Go to the thesaurus and look up alternates.

http://instantdomainsearch.com/ roxx

or ajaxwhois.com (not quite as fast, but does more than com/net/org for delicious-type names)

or http://domify.com -- it bruteforces the synonyms for you and checks availability

or http://pickydomains.com/ description: If you need a great, memorable, easy to pronounce domain name that EXACTLY describes what your website is all about - you are in the right place. This is what we do. We find available domain names that are descriptive, concise and are easily remembered. And if we can’t find one, or you don’t like any available domain names we suggest – you don’t pay anything. PickyDomains.Com is completely RISK FREE.

I recommend http://www.bustaname.com. It allows you to check the availability of websites as you type and has a word combining feature (warning: it's very easy to waste hours on that site trying out various combinations of words)

1.) always do your domain searches on http://www.internic.net/whois.html so you can be sure that they're not being registered as you search for them.

2.) Read http://www.thenameinspector.com from beginning to end

3.) Come up with words that describe your ideas then use thesaurus.com

4.) Look to chop words down by syllables and then combine. ie. a personal bookmarking service or online profile service that was described as "my highlights" would become mylights.com.

I agree overall, although Moniker's batch lookup is much faster, IMHO.


That's one of the hardest things about a startup, if you ask me. I find that brainstorming a little each day helps, and then eventually names will come to you when you're not trying to think of them.

Opened a text document on my Palm Pilot. (You could use any computer, but I always have my Palm with me.) Every time I had an idea, I appended it to the end. Every once in a while, I sorted them into "most desirable" sequence. After a year or so, I noticed that the same name was at the top of the list for the previous 3 months. It won.

(It's also amazing to see how bad some of your ideas look a week later.)

I like to have a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern throughout any name I create. Such names are easy to pronounce and can sometimes have a sing-song sound to it.

I usually think of the idea I am working on and write as many words about it as possible. I then filter/add as needed. After I have a long enough list (and this is where it gets sketchy) I read the words aloud and then set the list aside.

At this point it's worth mentioning that I'm HIGHLY dyslexic and this is where it comes handy: I start mixing the words together in my mind by cutting them up and combining them. This is a process that is very specific to how I might create a name for a project and it might not work for you ;)

Also, I sometimes violate the first rule of the consonant-vowel pattern if I have two words that compliment each other semantically. This can yields the worst results, but it helps filter out what I don't want in a name.

When creating a list of words, I sometimes throw in adjectives that are not related to the concept but evoke a certain feeling/emotion/color. This sometimes helps, sometimes doesn't.

You are not trying to pick a name. You are trying to build a brand. The canonical text on the subject is The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.

The name, logo type, mascot, tag line etc should all be coherent and consistent.

Here's Steve Yegge on branding: http://blip.tv/file/319044/

We worked with words that essentialized what we were trying to achieve - never more than 2 together.

I recommend naming your startup "Essentialize", or some variation thereof.

Oh, we spent much time trying different combinations of short english words having any relations to what we do, but all the domain names were taken. Then we tried a world play on english and latin words and came to "talk" + "naut" (lat. for sail) = talkonaut.com, which I believe precisely represents our mobile chat/voip software we develop: talk while you go. We also discovered that there's a chinese word "taikonaut" meaning astronaut (cosmonaut). So we used the idea of "talk while travel in space" in logo and promo. I think digging some rare languages (greek, latin, japanese, maybe scandinavian) can give you interesting names as well.

If you know your target market (and you should), and you have direct access to them, propose possible names to them and get feedback, while at the same time soliciting them for more name ideas.

We struggled with ours for a while. We had several possibilities that we liked, and started telling people we'd meet at conferences and whatnot. When we talked to them again days later, they would always remember one more than the others. We had several clever names with nice flow and alliteration, but RateMyStudentRental.com is what everyone always remembered (though for us, this is most likely due to the already-existing and popular ratemyprofessors.com).

Think about what your application's supposed to do - what are its benefits for users, then come up with some metaphors for that. Should be terms that give people a general concept of what it is that you're offering. Then use the various domain search engines mentioned here until you find a free domain. BTW, make sure you can get the .com, .net, .org, and that all the rest (.biz, .us, .eu) are free. Once you're certain you have a name you'll stay with, register a trademark ASAP.

A former client named his educational enterprise after his building which was named after his area. He was able to register the .com despite .net, .org, .co.uk and .sch.uk being registered. How fluky!

I think that it is important to have a story behind the name it doesn't have to be something complex, but a sense of authenticity does come through.

The easiest way to do this (and advice elsewhere here in the comments) is to switch up different descriptors of your idea, businees, etc into something where you can get a free domain.

I did this for my startup, Fabjectory, and it was even written up by The Name Inspector:


- Mike

Check out http://instantdomainsearch.com/

It's a tools that lets you check the availability of domain names on the fly, without reloading pages. They index available domains and then display the results based on what you type in. the result is that you get the availability quickly, but it's not always up to date (as we found out after several "available" names were really taken).

It's still a powerful tool and a great brainstorming help.

I did a domain hack using .us, but i would say you could also use an action word plus your product name. 37Signals does it for most of their apps, backpackit.com, campfirenow.com also the vitamin web resource thinkvitamin.com. The trick is to create something memorable for people. I also try to make its easy for people to say over the phone to someone. Take slashdot.org, if the app is for normal people a name like that is not the greatest.

Your slashdot.org thing reminded me of this list: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/lists/27MichaelWard.html

Email addresses it would be really annoying to give out over the phone.

* Use a thesaurus * Read lots about the problem you're solving. You may find obscure (but cool) academic terms that apply to your space. * Buy theburdenofdestiny.com from me for a MILLLION DOLLARS

It took us months to think of a domain name we really liked. We thought we'd have to settle for something we hated. But we didn't -- we thought of something, and we love it.

Our name was based on established (oldish media) competitors and a requirement to have the main search word/term in the URL (not for SEO but rather to avoid the confusion most 2.0 startup names incur)


Its hard to do. It took me 2 months to settle on fotoblur for my project. Try combining different words together and you'll find something unique. The other day I just thought of the url linkolicious.com ...and guess what, It was available.

Nice try...I already registered it :)!

You can always hire some high-paid consultants to come up with the perfect name for you: http://www.salon.com/media/col/shal/1999/11/30/naming/print....

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names” – Old Chinese proverb.

"But if you misspell it, it's easier to trademark, and the domain is probably still free." -- the Google guys, the Digg people, etc.

You seem to be having an e-dentity crisis. Try 37 Signals' Nametron 3000:


It seems that latest iteration of web company names do the following: start with a "regular" word, then start dropping vowels.

Flickr, et al.

girlfriend came up with it based on certain requirements (had to begin with "m" and be short)

like "mine," "moped," "moping," ...

or perhaps, "muzzle" ??


Science fiction has been very fruitful for band names, such as Duran Duran and T'Pau.

I name the project/product based off what it does, like:

remindsyou.com (mine) routetracker.com

www.microsoft.ac is available through www.speednames.com

That's a great name, I'm sure you will get a lot of publicity if you do your PR right.

All you need is a good lawyer ;-)

Do you remember the www.mikerowsoft.com story :)

Microsoft (dot) Alcatraz.

Great domain right there!

An acronym of a common accounting equation.

it is easy, you take a bunch of popular sites and combine into one mega name.



my middle name + a color as a prefix

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