Naming that app (applr, …)

 directr   trrigr  mixlr      foodler   yummly

At the time of writing, there are just over 915,400,000 live websites online — and counting, according to New apps and sites are being added to our cyber-world by the second — and as fast as the new hopefuls pop up on our screens with their snappy vowel-less monikers, so do hundreds of Zuckerberg-wannabes surrender their lowercase domain names back to GoDaddy, hanging their bearded chins in their youthful hands and wondering what went wrong. Well, one thing that helps make a good site is a good name. But what gives a cyber-name its magic?

All the youngish site-apps pictured above have followed a formula that offers invariable success in this jungle of a name-game: to make your new brand work — and you usually get only one shot at it — you need to find a moniker that’s short, unique, memorable, and at least suggestive of the service it’s providing.

1) Brevity & memorability:

It’s no coincidence that many of the top 100 web sites have two syllables in their names:

google    netflix    groupon  foursquare   etsy  (although see some notable exceptions below).

With two syllables you can get two words for the price of one, which helps provide meaning and creative sound-play when you’re working in a “short and snappy” template.

Two-word “portmanteau” names (see Glosso’s earlier post on portmanteaux) have the advantage of being able to make both their words pop: some employ “camel-case” spelling — that is, capitalizing the initial letter of the second word, and they can further enhance this effect by using colors and graphics in their logos:

buzzfeed  whatsapp   paypal   youtube

Another good ploy is to make the two vowel sounds match each other, even if they don’t actually rhyme, giving the name a sticky sound-punch:

snapchat  dropbox   soundcloud   linkedin

And then there’s that modest lowercase initial letter: is it designed to lend the brand a hip sense of rule-breaking?

reddit    ebay    facebook    myspace   twitter

Not to mention a touch of snazzy punctuation to add some extra flair:

yahoo     tumblr  ….


2) Uniqueness:

Why use two syllables when one will do? Their names don’t necessarily capture the essence of what they do as successfully as their two-syllable or two-word rivals, but the short, unique and memorable qualities of a single syllable just can’t be beat — not to mention the speed and efficiency of only four or five key strokes required to type their names:

vine   skype     yelp


Adding a snappy prefix or suffix to a site’s core word — think insta-, -er/r, and  .ly/.lee — is a trendy (although some would say lazy) way of naming an app or dot-com; however, it does threaten to reduce the name’s singularity. On the Pinterest board “Names That End in -ly” there are 257 pins and counting … It’s just not going to help you stand out from the crowd if you go the route.

That being said, including the ubiquitous ‘-er’ in their names doesn’t seem to have cramped the success of certain well-known brands:  uber      viber  twitter ; even those with ‘-ster’ tails, like  napster  and  friendster  , have fared well, maybe thanks to the hipSTER effect…?

It’s also apparently cool to drop some of those pesky old-fashioned vowels and substitute them with an all-purpose 21st-century “r” — as in flickr and  tumblr  — thus upping the currntly fashnble ubr-consnant factR.

And so we arrive at our infant hipstrs:

directr  trrigr   mixlr   .


 3) Meaning:

Some names — especially the double-syllable two-word ones — are brilliant in their clever simplicity: “Netflix”= flicks (slang for movies) on the net; “Snapchat”, “Dropbox” and “ebay”, “YouTube”, “PayPal” and “Soundcloud” all convey with colloquial ease the essence of what they offer without stretching our imaginations too much, although they do sometimes use their logo graphics for additional visual clues.

Then there are those app names with more than two syllables that can roll happily off the tongue with ease and clarity, often because they are (or they’re riffs on) existing words or names that already carry meaning and familiarity at their core.

instagrampinterest  pandora  spotifyamazon wikipedia


See 5) below for the stories behind some of these uber-successful cyber-giant names.

4) What NOT to name your app:

Name magic doesn’t always come so easily, as thousands of new CEOs discover each day. Here are some app and brand names that didn’t make the grade, without much need for an explanation why. Sadly, clever wordplay doesn’t always guarantee net appeal…

Fairtilizer (the name is now back up for sale); Profilactic (being rebooted as My Web Clippings); Gravee (being relaunched as; LicketyShip (which takes you lickety-split to an unavailable web page); Agester (it’s unclear where the “hot or not for your age” site went, but did any of us hipsters really want to become agesters?); and hoooka, which now seems to direct to the website of a building and architectural firm. Go figure.

Last but not least is Qwikster, a short-lived offshoot of Netflix. As HuffingtonPost reported after its epic fail in 2011: “Qwikster sounds like a lot of things–a super cool startup from 1998 that’s going to be totally rad and revolutionize the way you “surf” the “web”; something a cop in a 1930s talkie picture might call an elusive criminal; a nickname for Rainn Wilson’s genitalia — but a DVD-by-mail service in 2011 it does not. Had the DVD website been given a more suitable, Netflix-branded domain name, the split would have simply been an awful strategic move; that it was dubbed Qwikster, and that the avatar for the Qwikster Twitter account was an illustration of beloved Muppet Elmo smoking marijuana, only served to increase the perception that no one at Netflix knew what they were doing.”

5) The names that DO work:

Here are the stories behind the names of some of today’s cyber-giants whose various successes can probably be put down largely to their founders’ creativity and wisdom when naming their fledgling brands, among other things.

amazon: Jeff Bezos incorporated the company as “Cadabra” in 1994 and the site went online as the following year. Bezos changed the name to because it sounded too much like cadaver. And a name beginning with “A” was preferable, given the probability that it would top any alphabetized list. Bezos chose the name Amazon from a dictionary search, thinking that it was a place that was “exotic and different” just as he planned for his store to be; the Amazon river, he noted, was by far the “biggest” in the world, just as he also planned his store to be. (Wikipedia) And according to a book about amazon by Brad Stone, “Bezos and his wife grew fond of another possibility: Friends suggested that it sounded a bit sinister. But something about it must have captivated Bezos: he registered the URL in September of 1994, and he kept it. Type into the Web today and it takes to you to Amazon.”

ebay: ebay started life as AuctionWeb. Its founder, Pierre Omidyar, had already formed a web consulting firm called Echo Bay Technology Group. “It just sounded cool”, according to Omidyar. However, a gold-mining company called Echo Bay Mines Ltd had already taken the URL, so Omidyar registered his second choice for a name, thus AuctionWeb became eBay.

etsy: From an Etsy spokesperson: “The origin of the word “Etsy” is shrouded in mystery. Only our founder Rob Kalin knows for sure, and he often throws out red herrings. Some widely-publicized (and certainly fabricated) versions of the story include: a reference to a magic word in a Fellini film, the name of his grandmother’s favorite childhood pet, and something about a Unix directory, I think it’s “/etc,” pronounced “et-C.” Other fun facts (some of which may actually be factual): Phonetically, Etsy has many homonyms too. It can mean: “and if” in Latin; “horny” in Japanese; a slur for “loose woman” in Russian-speaking parts of Bay Ridge / Brighton Beach. Oh, and it rhymes with “Betsy.” (from Mashable)

facebook: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a computer programmer, had already developed a few networking websites while at Harvard, including Coursematch, on which students could see and read about others taking their classes, and Facemash, on which they could rate each other’s attractiveness. In 2004 he launched “The facebook”, basing its name on the pamphlets given to Harvard freshmen that introduced students and faculty. The network became in August 2005. (The Guardian)

foursquare: Dodgeball, Dennis Crowley’s first attempt at social networking for mobile phones, was acquired by Google in 2005. When Google killed the project, Crowley founded an improved location-based social game he named Foursquare. Does Dennis Crowley have some sort of unresolved childhood issues relating to playground games? As it turns out, no he doesn’t. “Dennis chose to name both companies after playground games because they were both designed to be fun and playful,” said Foursquare’s PR manager in an email. Apparently, Foursquare was always Crowley’s first choice, but the domain name wasn’t available at the time he founded Dodgeball. (from Mashable)

google: The name “Google” originated from a misspelling of “googol”, which refers to the number represented by a 1 followed by one-hundred zeros. Page and Brin write in their original paper on PageRank: “We chose our systems name, Google, because it is a common spelling of googol, or 10100 and fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines.” There are uses of the name going back at least as far as the creation of the comic strip character Barney Google in 1919. Enid Blyton used the phrase “Google Bun” in The Magic Faraway Tree (published 1941), The Folk of the Faraway Tree (published 1946), and called a clown character “Google” in Circus Days Again (published 1942). There is also the Googleplex Star Thinker from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Wikipedia)

pandora: The name Pandora means “all gifted” in Greek. In ancient Greek mythology, Pandora received many gifts from the gods, including the gift of music, from Apollo. She was also, as we all know, very curious. Unlike those gods of old, however, we celebrate that virtue and have made it our mission to reward the musically curious among us with a never-ending experience of music discovery. (from Pandora’s website)

spotify: Daniel Ek, founder and CEO of Spotify, explained: “This again takes us back to my flat that I had out in the suburbs of Stockholm. Martin and I were sitting in different rooms shouting ideas back and forth of company names. We were even using jargon generators and stuff. Out of the blue Martin shouted a name that I misheard as Spotify. I immediately googled the name and realized there were no Google hits for the word at all. A few minutes later we registered the domain names and off we went. We were a bit embarrassed to admit that’s how the name came up so our afterconstruction was to say that Spotify stems from SPOT and IDENTIFY. (Quora)

twitter: twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey explained: “We were trying to name it, and mobile was a big aspect of the product early on … We liked the SMS aspect, and how you could update from anywhere and receive from anywhere. We wanted to capture that in the name — we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word “twitch,” because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But “twitch” is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word “twitter,” and it was just perfect. The definition was “a short burst of inconsequential information,” and “chirps from birds.” And that’s exactly what the product was.”

yahooyahoo was a word invented by Jonathan Swift, which he used in his book Gulliver’s Travels; it describes someone who is repulsive in appearance and barely human, which Yahoo!’s founders, David Filo and Jerry Yang, jokingly considered themselves to be.

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