Naming sucks.

April 09 0 Comments Category: Uncategorized

When my cofounder and I talk about our prototype, we have ways of dodging any mention of our name-in-progress: “the product”, “whatever we’ll call it”, “the site.” But sometimes the avoidance brings on annoyance and we give in to a naming jag where we try to free-associate meanings, to jumble new words with favorite letters, to suffixify words we like, to comb through mythology, other languages, science concepts. We’ve even tried sites that generate names for you.

We’ve spent probably hundreds of hours over the last few months hunting for a name. Some of the more draining sessions get me as close as I come to feeling like maybe the idea and execution itself are doomed if we can’t even think of something to call it. Denying it a name seems like denying its existence. See, I’m saying “it” — I won’t even be able to pick a gender until I’ve found a name.

It turns out we’re not alone. Lots of people have problems with names. Many of them pay their way out of the problem. Sometimes it’s free, or cheap, sometimes giant-corporation expensive.

“A typical naming process costs about $75,000,” says Ron Kapella of Enterprise IG. “Now, that might sound like a lot of money. But naming is very difficult and challenging. There are rules to follow. Rules of linguistics. Rules of trademark. Rules of international corporate nomenclature … It’s not just a process of pizza and beer around the table.”
The Name Game, Salon, 1999

Maybe the problem is the pizza and beer — maybe replacing it with vodka and bagels will do the trick?

The quote above is from someone who bought into the name game — way back in 1999. Even now, though, you can see what a huge pain naming is from the plethora of posts offering advice. There’s way more where those came from and I’ve read enough that it’s all a blur. There’s plenty of conflicting and confusing advice, but also good nuggets I hadn’t considered.

Once we have a potential candidate–and the bar is depressingly low these days–here’s the two-step pipeline we follow when we’re considering a name: check if the domain has registered a DNS and if key social sites have been taken.

We use dig from the command prompt to find out if and how the domain has been set up in DNS, the Domain Name System. If you use whois, that finds the registrar of the domain (like GoDaddy or and asks them if and how the domain has been set up in DNS. Using dig bypasses the registrar so in case they’re sniffing for interest in a domain (to jack up the price), they won’t see us poking around.

But if you’d rather not use the command line, you can either just type in the url in your browser address bar or use something like namechecklist to tell you about the domain’s availability as a website and for social media. namechk shows even more social sites.

Don’t get me started on the disgusting number of names that are being squatted or parked, waiting for a payday. Obviously lucrative names like and

Because of them, Web2.0 companies have started leaning towards pronounceable nonsense words or words with cutesy suffixes. And thanks to the .com top-level domain being so saturated, it’s considered fine to skip having a .com altogether and using other top-level domains.

At the end of the day, it really seems to come down to, can I say this name out loud to an investor without muttering sheepishly, spelling it out, or worrying about my pun being misunderstood/overlooked. It comes down to a gut check — and a product that works.

“I love our name,” Jeff Mallett, president and CEO of Yahoo, recently told an industry newsletter. “It’s fun, irreverent and consumer-focused. And it wasn’t conjured up by Landor, or some huge naming agency.”

It’s this sort of chutzpah that makes the namers at Landor see red. “The Internet is filled with arrogance,” says Amy Becker coldly. “You might have a provocative, fun name. But do you have the basis for a lasting brand? We still don’t know how compelling a brand Yahoo will be 10 years from now. I sense a real missed opportunity.”

The Name Game, Salon, 1999

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