It isn’t every day that a kid gets to name their parent, but this week Google announced a major restructuring whereupon Alphabet became the parent company of Google, Calico, Nest, Sidewalk, and Google’s investment companies. After the announcement, Slate el-em-en-oh-peed all over the name in their post affectionately titled “The Worst Name That Google Could Have Called Itself.” I have to respectfully disagree. Here’s why the name works.
Alphabet suggests a complete A-Z breadth of offerings, and unlimited capacity for further creation. You can build anything with an alphabet—letters are the LEGOs of language, the name implies a full creative toolkit and the ability to pursue anything. And though some may claim that GIFs have actually taken over, language is, in reality, the essence of human expression.
Now, Google did just pull a total corporate move, which to many could seem evil. But the simplicity of the word and its friendly tonality help assuage this. Its not a stereotypically corporate name, it isn’t Latinate, it isn’t a coined compound, it’s an unassuming, accessible concept. Not sinister at all! A metaphor more complex than Alphabet that implies the same breadth of possibilities— say, Cosmos or Infinity—could definitely sound evil, but the simplicity of Alphabet feels transparent. It’s a slightly off-beat or unconventional metaphor that is nonetheless intuitive—the perfect recipe for memorability. And the icing on the cake is that the new name puts Alphabet alphabetically ahead of Apple and Amazon…an arguably appreciable advantage.
But of course, Alphabet is a double edged [s]word. The name suggests the building blocks of human expression…but not entirely. It excludes languages based on symbols, pictograms, logograms, and non-alphabetic characters like Chinese. And the simplicity of the name, though not evil, could be seen as juvenile…if you want to work there, you’d better have gotten a 4.0 in Kindergarten!
Some folks have questioned the legality of Alphabet, most frequently citing BMW’s identical trademark and ownership of www.alphabet.com. Here at Catchword we know a lot about trademarks, and think that Google will probably be fine using Alphabet. The quick and dirty is that yes, they are involved in cars to some extent, but the name will never appear on cars, so it’s unlikely that consumers will confuse these two international behemoths.
But that brings up another issue. If they can’t have the exact .com URL, what will they do? Probably working straight through nap-time, they came up with an alternative. They went with www.abc.xyz, one of the new gTLDs aimed at start-ups. This is, honestly, an elegant solution—the six catchiest letters of the alphabet are there in the address, and it won’t take consumers too long for that URL to become second nature because the extension and the address fit together so well. Furthermore, this name is a huge vote of confidence in the new gTLDs and could be a huge boon for the gTLD industry (which Google has a vested interest in.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see the .xyz domain in particular take off as a result.
All in all, I can’t think of a more difficult naming assignment than naming a company to house Google. In the face of an extreme challenge, they made this naming job look as easy as recess.