A Bolt From The Blue: Name Review Of Facebook’s Bolt


The word is out that Facebook (via its adopted child Instagram) is getting into the ephemeral messaging game. You may remember their attempted foray into the space before, when Facebook unsuccessfully tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion.  Now it seems that Facebook/Instagram have developed a SnapChat competitor of their own. And they’re calling it “Bolt.”

Bolt has many meanings—it’s a polysemic word.  In fact, it is also a “Janus word,” or auto-antonym, because two of its meanings are contradictory (Janus is a mythical, Roman, two-faced gatekeeper). Bolt of course means to fasten firmly (I bolted the frame to the wall), but also means to flee quickly (after grandma entered the room, I bolted), which are essentially opposites. Other meanings include an object that attaches to a nut, a strike of lightning, a roll of fabric, and a sharp metal arrow used in a crossbow. Like Frankenstein, the English language has bolts coming out of its ears!

Many interpretations of Bolt work for this product, which allows you to send a picture with a single tap of the finger that recipients can view once before it disappears. If you see the name with the logo, it’s clear that the lightning denotation is meant to be the primary message. Additionally, Bolt meaning to leave quickly also speaks to the ease of sending the picture and the speed at which it disappears after viewing—and even the crossbow arrow definition works in the same way.  What doesn’t jibe as well is the bolt you buy at the hardware store, and the verb describing what you do with it. If that comes to mind first (moderately likely for those who happen to only hear the name rather than see it with the logo), one might conceivably think a photo sharing service called Bolt would be a Pinterest on steroids, where, I don’t know, you permanently fasten pictures to a virtual wall…you get the idea. And needless to say, that meaning of Bolt is antithetical to the function of the app. One of the most important criteria for naming is making sure the name doesn’t have any negative connotations (or denotations).

Not that Bolt means anything too screwy, but the fact that one of its primary definitions directly contradicts the function of the app is its biggest flaw. (Though of course the logo certainly helps.) Otherwise, it’s a wonderful name, being short, active, and very fitting in the world of apps, but I can’t ignore the fact that it does come with some denotational baggage.

Grade: A-

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