Building a Name for Oneself in Tech: Popular Name Styles

By Erin Milnes

March 31, 2016

NameTypesPic1We had so much fun walking through a few notable name styles from South by Southwest Interactive 2016, that we’re back for more!

Company and product names can be grouped into several general styles, including simple metaphor, invented spelling, and custom capitalization, which we discussed last week.

But these aren’t the only ways to build a name.

Eponymous Traditions

The most traditional way to name a company and its product is with the founder’s surname (still the go-to style in some sectors, such as law and other professional services). Brands from the mid-20th century or before are usually named this way (Pears, Hoover, Ford, Hilton, Wrigley, Jacuzzi).

You don’t see a lot of this style in tech, for the obvious reason that the founder’s name doesn’t convey anything about the brand (unless you’re one of the few folks dubbed with an aptronym, like Broadway star Tommy Tune, MLB pitcher Jack Armstrong, or meteorologist Sara Blizzard).

Compound Connotations

Compounds are one of the easiest and most popular of name styles. Take two aspects of your company/product and smash them together. Presto! A descriptive new name that’s ownable cuz it’s a new word.

This style comes in at least two flavors: real words (Lighthouse) and coinages (Facebook, Snapchat, Bluetooth).

You can make the second half of your compound more prominent by using an internal capital letter (StubHub, TeamSnap). This style of intercapping is charmingly called “camel case” because of its two cap humps.

We saw a ton of compounds at SXSWi this year. Some of the most memorable were

  • Moneythink (financial education app)
  • WhereFor (travel search engine that lets you find “where you can go for what you can spend”)
  • CinaMaker (video recording and editing tool)
  • PopUp Play (app to turn digital creations into life-size cardboard “playscapes”)

The primary pitfall with coined compounds is overreach—jamming together words or word parts that don’t make sense, are ugly, or are just too odd. You might be surprised what works, however, Food Lion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the company has built a strong brand. (You can always try marketing your way to success if you have a solid product, but it’s easier to start with a great name.)

At SXSWi we saw a few compounds that didn’t fit together or were a bad fit for the product. Accelerator finalist Thrillbox has a terrific name in the abstract, but I can’t parse how it applies to a data analytics platform, even one for immersive media. TheCityflag app does, indeed, relate to interacting with your city, but the two words suggest a thing (your burg’s banner) more than an action (tagging city issues that you care about).

The tech world is no stranger to compound calamity, even among established brands, so newcomers shouldn’t feel alone in such a naming faux pas. Some were pulled immediately, like TrekStor’s i.Beat blaxx (I mean, what the ?!, really?). Others, likeiMuffs and ChubbyBrain have all been around for a while despite their name.

Next time: More Tech Name Styles—Coinages and Agentives

We had so much fun walking through a few notable name styles from South by Southwest Interactive 2016, that we’re back for more!

Company and product names can be grouped into several general styles, including simple metaphor, invented spelling, and custom capitalization, which we discussed last week.

But these aren’t the only ways to build a name.

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