A history of Catchword

in names and numbers

Since our start in 1998, naming has transformed from cottage industry to serious marketing discipline. For Catchword, an early focus on Silicon Valley and internet startups gradually yielded to deep experience across industries, and collaborations with market leaders in every space—Amazon, PwC, Intel, GM, Aetna, and McDonald’s, to name a few. We’ve had the privilege to work with over 500 companies on over 1,000 naming projects. We’ve seen it all and named it all!

This following brief history encapsulates some of the highlights. You’ll hear how we got our start and how we chose the name Catchword—is there anything more challenging than a naming firm naming itself? And along with some fun facts about our firm, we’ll share favorite names we’ve created from each year of our history. Thanks for coming along on our ride!

The Story.

Our Team

So a Stanford MBA, a Harvard MBA, and a Berkeley linguist walk into a bar…

… well, the Rockridge Cafe, actually. In early 1998, three co-workers, and language lovers, began talking about founding a new agency dedicated to the development of compelling names that are equal parts creative, strategic, and legally protectable.

At the time, specialized naming firms were few. Most companies created their brand names in-house or asked their advertising firm to do it. Maria Cypher, Laurel Sutton, and Burt Alper wanted to bring much more process and creative rigor to the nascent industry. In the midst of sea changes like the internet and globalization, they knew that the need for great, globally available names was about to explode.

On May 5, 1998, Catchword opened its doors in Oakland, smack in the middle of the dot-com boom. Many of our early clients were Bay Area dot-coms with startup funding, like Petopia and SquareTrade.

In January 2001, Mark Skoultchi joined the firm to head up East Coast operations and soon after became a partner. 

Why Catchword?

An obvious question to ask a naming firm is why they chose their own name and how it expresses their brand. And you should ask. A naming company with a bland, unpronounceable, or hard-to-spell name isn’t worthy of your business.

Our name had to be memorable, evoke our pragmatic but fun personality—so nothing too whimsical or too academic—and suggest our services without limiting us as we evolved. We also wanted to avoid the words Name and Brand, which were a bit on the nose and also overly used in this business.

We explored every imaginable word, coining, and metaphor, resulting in an enormous pool of names. Some of the other finalists were Fluent, Lingo, In A Word, and Namesake (which we could not stop referring to as “na-ma-sa-ki”! And of course it violated the no Name names rule).

But in the end, we kept coming back to Catchword, which has several meanings, including a memorable or effective word or phrase that is often repeated and a guide word in a dictionary. We loved the relevance of all of them, along with the playful, active tone and the suggestion of catching the right name.

We’ve never looked back.   

Why Catchword

Catchword by the numbers.

#1 Rank Given Among Agencies on Clutch
Two Offices
#1 Rank Given Among Agencies on Clutch
Two Offices
Two Offices
#1 Rank Given Among Agencies on Clutch
Two Offices
#1 Rank Given Among Agencies on Clutch
Two Offices
Two Offices

Catchword Yearbook

Let's look at a few of our favorite names over the years and some key agency milestones. (Want to see more cool names? Looking for names in a particular industry? Check out our full portfolio.)

MAY 5, 1998

Catchword opens its doors

Dreyers Dreamery

1998

Dreyer’s Dreamery

Our debut year produced some tasty names, including this one for Dreyer’s premium ice cream.

Petopia

1999

Petopia

The name of this e-tailer of pet supplies, and poster child for the DotCom Boom (and Bust), is one of our all-time favorites and positioned Catchword as a leading naming partner for startups.

SquareTrade

2000

SquareTrade

This little startup became the premier provider of device protection & warranty services for phones, electronics and appliances, and it’s still going strong.

January 1


Catchword moves to its permanent office in the Oakland Tribune Tower

May 23

Catchword completes 100th project

Rally Soda

2001

Ahold’s family of sodas - Rally, Dr. Bob, Quist, Ramp

Naming private-label brands to suggest their well-known counterparts is more fun than a tub of tamarins. Over the years, we’ve named more than 20 of these feisty challengers for Ahold (parent of Giant Food and Stop & Shop).

January

Catchword opens East Coast office

June 24

Co-founder Laurel Sutton profiled in the San Francisco Business Times

Rancher's Reserve

2002

Rancher’s Reserve

Catchword helped name Safeway’s new line of beef that’s guaranteed to be tender. Rancher’s Reserve became one of the supermarket’s top brands.

Cora

2003

CORA

Catchword’s been proud to partner with many nonprofits over the years, including this organization that serves victims of domestic abuse. We’re also proud to have created a name that’s both an acronym (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse) and a personal name for discreet client communication.

Quintess Collection

'04

Quintess

The assignment was to develop a quintessentially elegant name for a premium vacation club. Cropping a meaningful term is a common namer strategy, and it worked perfectly for this luxury brand.

July 4

Co-founder Burt Alper profiled in the Oakland Tribune

FireEye

'05

FireEye

Company naming is often renaming. In 2005, Netforts (a ho-hum cybersecurity name) was reborn as FireEye. The Eye of Fire is an ancient symbol representing omniscience. The name was compellingly graphic and still sounds cool.

November

Co-founder Maria Cypher profiled in Stanford Magazine

pop chips

'06

Popchips. ClickStart. Eska.

What do a popped potato snack, LeapFrog’s intro computer for preschoolers, and glacial water from Canada have in common?

Good taste in naming agencies. 🙂

Vudu & Crazy8

2007

Vudu. Crazy 8 (for Gymboree).

We still really dig the message and consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel simplicity of Vudu. The streaming content service worked its magic on the industry and was acquired by Walmart a few years later. And maybe it’s because many of us are parents at Catchword, but you gotta love how Crazy 8 evokes the spirit of your favorite miniature maniac.

August 27

First (of many) Catchword quotes in the New York Times

Palm Pre & Asana

'08

Palm Prē. Asana.

Another great naming year! Palm’s prescient new phone kept things short and sweet. Asana, all focus and flow, has become a top productivity platform (PC Magazine Editor’s Choice) as well as a model for company culture.

May 5

CATCHWORD CELEBRATES 10 YEARS WITH EPIC LAS VEGAS RETREAT

June

CATCHWORD PUBLISHES 1ST EDITION OF COMPREHENSIVE NAMING GUIDE

Sprize

'09

Sprize (for Gap)

Though short-lived, this rewards program that credited customers with post-purchase price drops was truly a surprising prize. The program may not have lasted, but this little gem of a name remains one of our favorites.

Freeslate

'10

Freeslate

This spinoff biotech company had a new approach that gave scientists greater freedom. … Ah, coined compounds: the unsung workhorse of naming. Well, we’ll sing it to the world—Catchword wants you, needs you, and, yes, loves you.

July 8

Catchword launches online naming game PopNamer

Deem

2011

Deem

This name, for an incisive Commerce-as-a-Service provider, anticipated the rise of the REWN (real English word name), a fave brand name style among the “age of the authentic” millennial generation.

Starbucks Refreshers

2012

Starbucks Refreshers

Green coffee extract and fruit juice in a sparkling bevvy. The name and the product are straightforward, satisfying, and cool. (We know Refreshers have been on the market for some time, but we still get a little thrill when we see them on the shelf.)

Corning

2013

Corning Willow Glass. Fitbit Flex.

Bendable glass—whaaat?! Yep, Corning keeps engineering glass in ways you never thought possible. And Flex was the first fitness tracker you could wear like a watch. Getting to learn about incredible innovations is one of the unexpected perks of naming.

Keysight

2014

Keysight

Spinoffs are a common reason companies need names. This testing and measurement company was a spinoff squared (a spinoff from Agilent, which was a spinoff from HP).

October

Catchword publishes Just Name It! revised edition of naming guide

Optane

'15

Optane (for Intel)

We always strive to provide the most creative, strategic names we can, but when a client tells you the technology will revolutionize computer memory, the pressure’s really on. And Intel delivered. Optane dramatically increased speed, endurance, and responsiveness without compromising capacity.

Mochidoki

'16

Mochidoki

Mochi is ice cream wrapped in rice-flour pastry. Very tasty—both this line of mochi from Gordon Desserts and the name we created for it. LIA agreed and chose Mochidoki as a 2016 winner.

November

CATCHWORD WINS LONDON INTERNATIONAL AWARD IN DEBUT YEAR OF VERBAL IDENTITY CATEGORY

LIA Badge
Habitat

2017

Habitat Soundscaping. Corning Valor Glass. Hitachi Vantara.

With Habitat Soundscaping, Plantronics combines the energy of an open office with the calm focus of a peaceful garden. Valor pharmaceutical glass from Corning reduces contamination and provides 30 times more protection than conventional glass vials, with potentially life-saving results. Vantara brought Hitachi’s IoT solutions (including Lumada, which we named in 2016), cloud, application, big data, and analytics under one roof.

Soluna

2018

Soluna

Blockchain mining requires huge amounts of energy. Soluna offers the natural solution to this problem: all-in-one computer processing and energy production using its own sustainable sources.

May 5

Catchword celebrates 20th anniversary

October

Catchword wins Transform Award for Excellence in Naming Strategy for Soluna

December

Catchword again ranked top naming agency in the world by Clutch

Aetna

2019

Attain by Aetna. Ursa. GoMotion.

Aetna’s app helps members attain their health and fitness objectives using health history, personalized goals, and big rewards. Ursa, a music service designed by working musicians, enables a deeper connection between artist and audience. With GoMotion from SportsEngine (a division of NBC Sports Group), it’s easy for studio owners, parents, and students to manage activity classes, registration, and more on the go.

APRIL

Catchword receives Hermes Creative Awards gold for Soluna

JUNE

Catchword ranked top naming agency in the world by Clutch for third year

October

Catchword awarded Gold by MarCom International for Ursa: Music Extreaming

NOVEMBER

Catchword wins Transform Award for Attain by Aetna