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Sounds About Right: Name Review of Mmhmm

By Stevie Belchak

July 21, 2020

Although videoconferencing has become a staple to pandemic living, many features and functions remain basic. That’s where Mmhmm comes in. A conferencing app (now in beta) that is billed as “your personal video presence,” Mmhmm goes beyond filters and aesthetics. For instance, presenters can share screens like nightly news anchors or move into and out of frame by shrinking and dissolving.

At a time when joy is hard to come by, Mmhmm is likely to inject a dose of surprise and delight that we all could use. But as a namer, I can’t help but focus on the merits of the name itself.

Mmhmm is what namers call a real-English interjection. An impromptu expression, “mmhmm” is typically used as a verbal sign of consensus or accord.

As a name, Mmhmm has many positives going for it. For starters, it’s a shock (in the best way) to our current system. In a space dominated by descriptive names (e.g., Google Meet) and suggestive but expected names (e.g., Zoom), Mmhmm‘s naming ingenuity cuts through the noise, its style quickly communicating that this is not your run-of-the-mill videoconferencing tool. Being an extemporaneous, colloquial utterance, Mmhmm suggests a fluid and vibrant experience—one dotted with fun and unexpected functions.

Mmhmm is also a palindrome and, as such, is visually balanced with the two “m”s on either side of the “h.” Because of this visual equilibrium, proper spelling is more assured.

Given Mmhmm’s audience will likely be a bit more buttoned up (this is a videoconferencing tool after all), one does wonder if the name is too casual for even Casual Fridays. Six months ago, when work still happened in “the office” and videoconferencing was used solely for, well, conferencing, I’d say yes. But, not any more. As Zoom’s uses have proliferated (Zoom workouts, Zoom poetry readings, Zoom happy hours, Zoom book club) it has become clear that these apps are very much “business in front,” “party in back,” making a name like Mmhmm more than palatable.

For all these strengths, there are real issues with the name. Depending on the inflection one uses with “mmhmm,” this sign of approval can turn into an expression of sarcastic disapproval. In the United States at least, it’s not uncommon to hear an exaggerated “mmhmm” (more of an “mmhmmmmm”) served with proper side-eye or sneer and translating to “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And, this is just one of many shades of meaning that Mmhmm has garnered in English. Many interjections and onomatopoeic words don’t work cross-culturally, and therein lies the rub for a company selling itself as “clear, compelling communication for everyone.”

Finally, there is bound to be at least occasional confusion over whether someone is saying “mmhmm” as an acknowledgement or as a reference to the app. The name requires a certain pause to differentiate it from everyday speech. As founder (and Evernote ex-CEO) Phil Libin’s practiced pronunciation reveals, it’s a punctuated moniker that requires time to get right.

The final take? While one can admire the positivity and originality of Mmhmm (both the company and its name), this new app needs to overcome potential verbal stumbles and international acceptability issues before it can solidify its spot in our business arsenal.

Grade:
B
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