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How to Name your Company (judegomila.com)
98 points by judegomila 1794 days ago | hide | past | web | 73 comments | favorite



Or, just name your company quickly and move on. We lost a couple weeks early on to naming Matasano, and after some false starts, eventually gave up and thumbed through a list of exotic plants. By the time the book of plants had been opened, the naming premise had been accepted: we were done trying to find a semantically "fitting" name for the company. We just picked a plant with a cool name.

We ran into two "problems" down the road; first: it turns out that a "Matasano" is a "quack doctor" in South America, which we discovered shortly after hiring someone from Argentina. We quickly convinced ourselves that the irony was a value-add, not a cost.

Second, we kept getting confused with Monsanto. This sounds (a little) sillier than it actually is. A lot of our clients, particularly back in 2006-2007, were large enterprises where the staff was particularly likely to have some confusion. We had more serious conversations about renaming over the Monsanto thing than over the "quack doctor" thing.

Ultimately, we just got over it and kept plowing forward. Equity goes into your name; it usually doesn't get extracted from your name. There's some sense in picking a good name, but keep in mind that weeks of time --- which is what we were facing --- is a very steep price to pay for something that might only be marginally important down the road.

I submit that the term "Airbnb", while memorable, has very little intrinsic meaning to most people who rent out their places on Airbnb. Ebay has none whatsoever. "Heroku" was one of YC's biggest acquisitions; that name breaks one of the rules of thumb of this post (3 syllables, yet means nothing to its customers). "Stripe" and "Square" and "Paypal" are great names, but "Braintree" seems to be doing pretty well too, and if "Braintree" is OK, I humbly suggest that "Mindweasel" and "Thoughtpants" will work too.

This is a good post. All I'm saying is, be careful of the procrastinate-y issues that come up early in your company. They all matter less than execution on everything else.


It's certainly more important to execute on product and market than come up with a good name, however don't discount the importance of a name. Consumers do judge companies by name, and first impressions matter immensely.

Matasano is not a good name for an American company. It is difficult to spell and has no apparent meaning or association. That doesn't mean you can't be successful, but you will have harder time and lose consumers early in the funnel because of various points of confusion about what your company does, the spelling of your name, and what language your founders speak.

Compare mint.com to wasabi.com. Which one will my mother be more comfortable with? Which one will I remember easily? Which one will I go to first if both are equally positioned among a list of alternatives? Which booth will I (or more importantly an average consumer) walk into at a convention?

All of the above is somewhat less important for a B2B company, but still vitally important.

For sure, move forward with your business and product. Don't procrastinate on a name. But do carefully consider what impact your name will have on someone who doesn't know, and probably doesn't care, what your company does.

One analogy - if you want to invite people to a party, are you better off looking like a 60 year old, bald, fat man, or a beautiful 25 year old Argentinian woman? Both can probably get a party going, but one is going to have an easier time, need a less compelling case, and spend less money.


I feel comfortable arguing that Matasano has never lost a customer early in the funnel because of various points of confusion about what it does.

I am willing to stipulate that there are names that can cost customers if you're a general consumer-facing company. For instance, Casimiroa edulis is the species name for the Matasano plant. If Matasano sold appointment reminder software to people like my mom, and had chosen the name Casimiroa instead of Matasano, we'd have lost business just because nobody could spell the name. It is a true but boring retort to my post to suggest that there are names that will cost customers; of course there are.

But common sense will navigate you away from most of those names. "Braintree" says nothing about payment processing. "Ebay" says nothing about auctions. Those names work regardless.


Just because a company is successful doesn't mean it has a good name (just as a good name doesn't make a company successful.)

Ebay is a terrible name, but they had other advantages.

Braintree is a poor name, which may explain some of their struggles with entering the broader market. PayPal and Stripe are much better - emotive and associative.

If github were called snaggletooth, they would have struggled much much more.

Regarding your experience, the point where you lose customers is generally before they talk to you. You would not know that you were losing them.

I don't know what Matasano does, and truthfully if I am honest with my emotions, I care less because I don't associate with the name and initially discount the company because of the naming choice. This is a base emotive response btw, not a conscious judgement. You may have a fantastic product that I would ultimately select if I were in the market, but you are starting at a disadvantage.


Most of us aren't really in businesses where customers find us by Googling relevant-sounding names and following one of the first 2 links on Google.

The point of my comment isn't that there are names that are better than other names. There clearly are. My point is that the difference is unlikely to be determinative of success. Again: Heroku is meaningless. There are many companies in Heroku's space with much "better" names that do not manage to outcompete Heroku.

I am now repeating myself, but because this is worth repeating: there is a long list of things that "founders" procrastinate on that won't really help their business. They include logos, designing replacement web frameworks so they don't look like they're using Bootstrap, finding the optimal company name, business cards, attending SXSW or going to meetups... the list goes on and on. Most founders would be well served to at least note that these are likely to be unproductive tasks.

That doesn't mean you can't engage in those tasks. If you love web design, vent some steam by replacing Bootstrap. Just don't con yourself into thinking you're doing something vital by doing that.


Okay, I don't think we are too far apart. We probably just disagree on how strong an impression a name can make. Similar to bad design and user experience, a product can be successful with a bad name. That doesn't mean user experience, design, or the name is not important.


Agree wholeheartedly.

Terrible names (e.g., Mad Cow for steak company) can sink companies, but companies by and large succeed because of their product, not their name. Amazon outshines everyone in e-commerce, even though one rival -- Buy.com -- owns the perfect name for online shopping. Would you care if Google renamed itself to Moogle? Probably not. Google's search engine is the best, independent of name. To paraphrase billionaire investor Vinod Khosla, brands are nothing more than proxies. Meaning, great names cannot hide poor products -- especially in the information age.

There are many examples of ordinary names representing extraordinary businesses. Apple. Four Seasons. Amazon. These names evoke excellence because the underlying services are excellent. Strong brands today will fade tomorrow once quality suffers. Think GM, Dell, and Sears. These were once among the most respected brands in America.

Build something people value, and value will flow to the name.


Not sure I agree with your Amazon example.

Think about the websites that are commonly spoken by the general public - none of them have a pronounced "dot com"


Aren't GM, Dell and Sears still respected brands? The BigCorp I work for issues Dell laptops to everyone, I thought GM had regained it footing in the auto world and Sears is still the go-to place for a new dishwasher?


I don't mean to offend you but Matasano is probably one of the worse names I've encountered in the past few years. My thought process:

1) Sounds like Monsanto, do they do agriculture? Sounds boring.

2) Sounds Latin American, is that their origin / market they're focusing on? Sounds boring.

So I think there are a lot of names where you guys could've avoided those 2 problems. I still don't think of Matasano as a high-tech company. I think of a mexican farmer that's trying to sell me grain.


I'll definitely look into dealing with those problems. Thanks.


You should be able to pull off a great name in 1 day. Heroku is a great name: abstracted, unique, interesting and developer related. Ebay is also a great name.


I think Heroku is a terrible name actually. Same goes with Ebay.

The only reason these names make sense at all is that you already have identified them with a very popular product. That doesn't mean the name is good, it means the product is succeeding despite the name.

That of course raises the entire point of names not being that important overall.

Pinterest, for example is a wonderful name for that company. Microsoft is another. Oracle, even better.


I am not clear on how "Heroku" is "developer related" in a way meaningful to most of its customers.

"Abstracted", "unique", and "interesting" are very easy bars to clear when you take "relevant" out of the mix. So yes: I buy that you could come up with a name as good as "Heroku" in a day. Just open up a book of Japanese plant names.


Heroku could mean '6 farts'[1] You'd have to open up something other than a book of Japanese plant names to come up with that :p

[1]http://www.quora.com/What-does-Heroku-mean/answer/Matt-Van-H...


It's funny; first Google search result:

http://koi-z-are-us.20m.com/japanese_plant_names.htm

... and most of these are viable company names.


"You should be able to pull off a great name in 1 day."

One of the things I always suggest to people is running name choices by potential customers when appropriate. As such you simply wouldn't be able to do this in one day. Even if you just wanted to check and see how well people hear the name when you say it and can easily spell it that is going to take some time. The amount of care you take in this area of course is related to what the name is being used for of course.


Ebay had the advantage of a tremendous amount of free publicity because of when it started. While it's no longer relevant whether it's a good name or not that is certainly worth mentioning.

Heroku is an interesting name and has trademark and brand potential certainly because it's a made up word. The problem is it can be confused spelling wise. You could do hiroku or hirowku or herokoo just to name a few. It's usually a good idea if possible to steer clear of names like this lest you want your email, or some web visitors to end up in the wrong place.

A great name depends on the circumstances. Things have worked for heroku obviously given who they are selling to. It might have been a good name for a car model as well. But I wouldn't say a heroku like name is the right choice in all situations.


Another reason not to procrastinate on the name, logo, etc: Almost everyone starts more than one product/company. Most of these fail. I seem to remember that 30% of YC companies change their product during YC.

I can tell you from experience - the 5th time that I had to come up with a name/logo for a company, because I switched to a new idea, I already understood that this was not a productive use of time.


Equity goes into* your name; it usually doesn't get extracted from your name.*

-- This is a good articulation to remember.


But, especially at an early stage, the rate at which equity can enter your name is determined partially by the name itself.


Matasano sounds good to me. I want to start a business ay some point called something like Jorge's Taco Truck. The business will not be owned by Jorge, there will be no sale of tacos, and we won't have a truck. I bet the name would be just fine, perhaps even memorable.


I would totally buy word processing software from Jorge's Taco Truck.


Braintree is the name of a town in England... I think they came from there. I dont think there was a suggestion of brains on trees.


Braintree is named after the town in Massachusetts, because the founder liked John Adams: https://www.braintreepayments.com/blog/whats-in-a-name-custo...


Many of the towns in MA were named after towns/cities/counties in the UK (Essex in particular); Braintree, Chelmsford, Billerica[y], etc. Indeed the counties of MA are mainly UK town/city names in the UK. It's only 3 out of the 14 that aren't (Dukes, Franklin, Nantucket).

It always made me chuckle to see so many place names I recognised from home (UK) when I visited our office in Lowell, MA.


Same happens in other former UK colonies, e.g. Australia.


Hey guys you know what is a cool name? HeyZap. There's a lot of names you could call your company, like Zap Hey, or Hi Nap. But I really like HeyZap. You know what looks awesome? Lighting bolts. You know what name has a Z which looks like a lighting bolt? HeyZap. Did I mention HeyZap is a cool name? Do you like the name HeyZap? If you're trying to name a company I think you should pick a name which really has PUNCH, something disruptive, something like HeyZap. Don't you think HeyZap is a great name? Obviously you're not going to think of a name as cool as HeyZap, but if HeyZap wasn't already taken you should really think about naming your company HeyZap. Has anyone heard of HeyZap? It has an awesome name, it's HeyZap. We really put a lot of effort in; we tried HelloBuzz, HiZing, GreetingsEbullience but we finally decided on HeyZap. It's just so catchy, HeyZap, HeyZap, HeyZap.


A good list of considerations. The most important ones I think are still the classic two:

1) Emotive - The name should evoke some sort of emotional connection. This is essential to being memorable and likable. This is why computers.com and chairs.com are not so great for selling computers and chairs unless you are going for mass-market, price-based, SEO-optimized, unbranded sales.

2) Meaning - The name should evoke some sort of actual meaning associated with your product. This becomes less important as a company becomes established. When a name is established is the right time to separate the meaning component, not when the company is formed. Apple was formerly Apple Computer, but Apple would have been a terrible name choice in 1979 because it would require too much explanation.

Hipmunk is terrible name for a travel product, despite Jude calling that out as a good one. It has decent, if confusing, emotive response, and zero meaning or association with travel. Establishing that as a travel brand will be much more work than, say Kayak, which has at least some association with travel. I, for one, struggle to recall "Hipmunk" much more than Travelocity, Kayak, or Orbitz.

AirBNB is a good name, but fails is the secondary concern of being easy to communicate and spell. Despite that, it is strong in the two primary concerns above, so it is ultimately a good name. I agree with Jude that at some point they may follow the path of Apple and reduce the name to a more essential emotive component, such as just Air.


Agree, other than I will only call Orbitz for space travel. In 500 years time they will be a great brand.


... All that and the best you could come up with was "Heyzap"?


I did not realize that the author was from the company named Heyzap. When they used it as an example of a good name, I scoffed and then hit the back button. That name is one of the worst out there. I don't know why in particular but it annoys the hell out of me every time I see it.


Something missing here: SEO considerations. It matters less as the days pass, but there is still value to getting an important keyword or two in the domain name (or to be the important keyword, better still).

This is especially true if your business is planning to generate lots of business through organic. Especially false if it doesn't.


The audience for your corporate name is most likely: investors, bankers, family members, and people who know nothing about you.

In light of this, a perfect company name is easy to say over the phone, memorable, and suggestive in roughly that order of importance. A perfect example is "3D Robotics".

Your company name is the only chance you have to verbally communicate everything there is to know about your business in a split second. Your corporate name != your app name, and your app name != your URL.


Lots of people are pulling Airbnb up on their name, but I think it's great:

Air = air travel, BnB = Bed and breakfast

I'm not sure if some people don't know what it means because it might be a British colloquialism or whether it's totally unintentional Airbnb's part.


Airbnb is an iteration on the company's original name, which was "AirBed and Breakfast." The idea was (and I think still is) that there is a ton of unused potential "capacity" in terms of empty couches and inflatable mattresses (airbeds) that people could offer for rent if given the opportunity.


Great points!

But just to list more counterexamples, from another Hacker News thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3181272

I'm pretty pleased with my own similar essay on this topic, which I called "Nominology": http://messymatters.com/nominology


Speaking of defining names, "Nominology" comes across as the study of eating.


You're thinking of nomnomology. :)


Useful.


Alternative suggestion : name it after anything you have the matching .com domain as long it is not offensive.


Mine is named Robots Everywhere and has a 1950s logo. This came from my mom's exclamation in entering the workshop while we were testing mesh-networked antbots.


Considering that you are naming a new company some of these points are not valid/applicable. Being memorable is not easy unless people can repeatedly bump on to you which requires that your keep it in the news/advertising or that people can find you through mental or google searches. If you choose an abstract name people are not likely to find you again through search. I believe it's important for the name or part of the name to contain something descriptive. Names like "apple" "stripe" "zynga" are completely random; it would be a bad idea to name your bookmarking app after a tree or a liquor. Now, 'paypal', that's a great name. In the end however, a name is just a name, and doesn't really matter that much.


Keep in mind these things change like fashion and it depends if you're selling to consumers or business.

You'll also want to be sure that the name appeals to your target audience or you risk it being liked only by clones of yourself, which are likely to be few.


Great names are built not found.


Although I have heard quite a few of these tips before, this is still a great article refresher. I like the idea of tip "8. Light up a MRI scanner", but I'm a bit skeptical on how easy that is to access/try.


It's also not really actionable. Cool, my company name lights up the parts of the brain that deal with mathematics, shape recognition, and spatial coordination. Is that good? Is it better or worse than lighting up the part of the brain that deals with vocabulary, puns and humor? Or one that tracks moving objects?


Pinterest has a pin in its logo? At first I thought I had never noticed this, but then as I look for it I'm not sure if it really was designed to be a pin.


I disagree about the vagueness of a name. If I see a great name, I'll understand the point-of-view of the company (usually, a key element of their product or audience). If the company pivots so much that the name becomes detracting, they can always rebrand later: "NewProduct by NoLongerRelevantName" eventually becomes just "NewProduct".


Counterpoint: "xkcd"


I don't find 'xkcd' particularly easy to pronounce or remember.

Given its target audience, it works for xkcd. Geeks like geeky sounding, hard to pronounce names (like gnustep, xmlhttprequest and PostgreSQL). If a name like 'xkcd' were chosen for a consumer service, it probably wouldn't work very well.


The name was chosen explicitly to be difficult to pronounce and remember.


No, it wasn't.

I named my company in the same way Mr. Munroe named his webcomic: a four-letter domain available in .com, .net, and .org.


http://www.redhat.com/magazine/025nov06/features/xkcd/

"Actually the domain name came after the instant messaging screen name, which I picked late one night. Five, six, maybe seven years ago, I was tired of having names that meant something. Skywalker4, Animorph7... I wanted to pick a name that I wouldn’t get tired of. That would just always mean me. So I just went down combinations of letters that weren’t taken, until I could find one that didn’t have any meaning, didn’t have any pronunciation, and didn’t seem like an obvious acronym for anything."


Agreed there are exceptions! We need an xkcd sketch for this....


Golden tip: go and play some Wordfeud. You'll come up with tons of nonsensical abstract words and names that have an interesting sound to them while trying to place your letters. I'll bet you some of those would make for great company names.


The best resource for this I've found is: http://www.thenameinspector.com/10-tips-for-naming-your-comp...

And the rest of that guy's blog.


We struggle with our name: Bitesize Irish Gaelic.

It's a language learning tool.

The Irish language is called "Irish" in Ireland, but often "Gaelic" elsewhere (depending on who you're speaking with).

The name we've ended up with is a mouthful of a compromise :)

I don't know if there's a fix for that...


Your name is fine for the product. If you went with just "Bitesize Irish" or "Bitesize Gaelic", you'd likely be much more confusing to a big chunk of your target market.

"Bitesize Irish Gaelic" isn't great as a company name because it's so narrow, but "Bitesize" is a good name if you want to expand to other languages at some point. I don't know what you'd have to pay for the domain, but it's probably available since it's just parked right now.


Call it Eolas, the Irish/Gaelic word for knowledge.

Interestingly yours is the first site listed when Googling "Irish/Gaelic word for learning" so grats on your SEO.


This is invaluable advice. You should start a web service with which people like me can submit all the crappy domain names we think about buying and you give us feedback. I'll let you think of the name for it though...


This just inspired me to throw out my startup's name and buy a new domain.


Really? If you don't mind my asking, what did you throw out and what did you switch to?


Meh. These days it's so hard to find an available .com name that any bootstrapped startup is probably going to find its name by spending quality time at a domain registrar.


What? Airbnb are re-branding to Air? That's a terrible idea.


I was also under the impression that BankSimple rebranded to Simple due to regulatory issues (I think certain states have rules about the type of company that can have the word "Bank" in the name).


Just a prediction there...


I believe the syllable division should be "Ap" "ple."


When in doubt, name it after a fruit!


And then your next startup is called Banana. Great idea!


slashdot?


ask on coWonder and let the crowd decide it http://www.cowonder.com


Talk about company names, I thought this is pronounced cow-onder, and is a tool to communicate with cattle.




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