Coins and Agents: More Tech Company Name Styles

By Erin Milnes

April 7, 2016

NameTypes2ImageThe past two weeks we’ve been touring some of the most common name styles for tech companies and products. There are many flavors of tech names. First we looked at simple metaphor, invented spelling, and custom capitalization through the lens of South by Southwest Interactive 2016. Last time we talked about eponymous names and classic compounds

We’ll round out the discussion with two very popular name construction styles: coinages and agentives.

Coining It Like It Is

Coinages that clearly and elegantly describe their brand are naming gold. Even before they were industry giants, you knew exactly what Microsoft, Snapchat, and Groupon were all about.

In new categories, coined brand names that simply combine the primary aspects of the brand can even become synonymous with the category. “I have a groupon for skydiving” clearly conveys you’re ready for a discount adventure. “I have a living social from Tiki Tom’s” suggests you might’ve had too much of an adventure with Mr. Tom.

Notable coinages of the crystal clear kind at SXSWi this year include

  • Basslet (a bracelet that enables you to feel your jam’s bass flow through your whole body)
  • Parknav (service that helps you navigate to a parking spot)
  • Vetta (24/7 support from a vetted team of veterinarians)
  • Phoodie (social network for foodies that focuses on food-friendly photo sharing)

The primary dangers with coining are forcing together ill-suited word parts, coming up with something that sounds vaguely interesting but doesn’t convey anything (or conveys the wrong thing) about your product, or creating an unpronounceable frankenword. 

SXSWi 2016 had a few coined name non sequiturs, including the hard-to-say Rorus, a water filtration system, and the meaningless (or worse) DeeMe, an image-based messaging app. In the U.S., D has a slang meaning that this company certainly did not mean to evoke with its imperative moniker. DeeMe is a Norwegian company, and Dmight have a significance in that country that I’m missing, but given the importance of the U.S. in the global economy, the company should make sure its name does not convey something vulgar here.

As we’ve said before, naming pitfalls are not exclusive to startups. Sony’s invented spelling/coinage Qriocity (later Music Unlimited) certainly hit a wrong note, as did Grace Digital’s Ecoxgear Ecoxbt (?!) and Tivoli’s iYiYi (is that Xena ululating in the distance?).

Agentive X        

Names that denote the person or thing doing an action were all the rage last decade (SFist, Idealist, Napster, Flickr, Grindr, Tumblr). There are several agentive suffixes in English (-er, -or, -ist, -ster) that you add to the verb to get the agent noun. Many of these suffixes are similar to the ones in German and the Romance languages, so the agentive quality of such a name is conveyed in several key markets.

Agentive names are simple, active, and descriptive, but should be used with caution these days, given the saturation of this form, particularly in the social and peer-to-peer space.

SXSWi 2016 featured a number (or should I say “numbr”?) of agentives, several with the trademark drop-the-e invented spelling. We liked

  • Scoper (social engagement platform that enables you to request live video clips from “scopers”—amateur videographers—around the world)
  • Emoters (builders of tiny pets that happen to be AI robots)
  • Yabberz (social platform to share and discuss complex issues)

A few SXSWi participants fell into the 2009-is-calling-and-wants-its-names-back category: Logr, a smartphone-based authentication solution, and social networkNawkr. If you must go with the Me-Too naming strategy, do it within three years of the start of the trend.

And here are some of the big players whose agents were not so special. Pentax decided to lose the verb completely and go solo agentive with its *ist series. And Qwikster, Netflix’s short-lived spinoff from 2011, reached back a decade for its name style (yes, I dug Friendster and Napster too, but they created a naming Monster).

The past two weeks we’ve been touring some of the most common name styles for tech companies and products. There are many flavors of tech names. First we looked at simple metaphor, invented spelling, and custom capitalization through the lens of South by Southwest Interactive 2016.

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