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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.

By Christopher Johnson

[Editor Note: This is the first post of a series of Seattle guest bloggers that are entrepreneurs or experienced professionals with startups. If you want to write about your experience that can be useful to other entrepreneurs send us an email.]




    If you’re starting a company, you need to name it, and you probably can’t afford to hire a big naming firm. Here’s some free naming advice from The Name Inspector. If you want more advice, you can always hire an independent consultant!


    Naming is about coming up with lots of ideas and seeing which one sticks. The larger and more diverse the collection of names you come up with, the more likely you are to find something good. Involve people with different perspectives and try different styles of name.


    A name should be distinctive. This may seem obvious, but it’s so important that it’s worth saying anyway. Distinctive means not too similar to any of your competitors’ names, available as a .com domain, and not associated with many Google results (at least not until you launch and the web goes crazy with hype for you).


    Usually the best names are not too literally descriptive of a company. You’ll have other marketing materials to tell people exactly what you do. Your name is an opportunity to introduce extra concepts and feelings to people’s idea of your company. It’s the beginning of your brand.


    Some of the best tech names are metaphorical. A good metaphor makes a complicated technology or service seem simple by representing it as something that people understand from their everyday experience. Take the name PageFlakes, for an Ajax homepage service. It represents the little movable Ajax boxes that you can put on your homepage as flakes, which people know are small and lightweight and cling to things.


    Start by assembling a list of words. Most good names are built out of good words. So what are good words? Well, that’s one of the tricky parts. But they’re words that trigger relevant and positive associations, that sound good, and that are easy to combine with other words, word parts, and even nonsense syllables.


    Why should they be easy to combine? Because unless you’re willing to shell out big bucks for a .com domain name, real single word names are basically out of the question. You’ll need to come up with another type of name. Take a look at The Name Inspector’s 10 name types post, and try to come up with names from each category (except initials and acronyms: not recommended). Some types of name are made out of word parts. To create those kinds of names, find the good words on your word list that can be whittled down without becoming completely unrecognizable (the way the word accurate can be shortened to accu and still be recognized).


    Please avoid names that end with a consonant followed by r (Flickr, Soonr, Zooomr, Flagr, Gabbr, Grazr, etc. ), and names that end with -ster (Napster, Friendster, Browster, Feedster, Dogster, Catster, Jobster, Eurekster, Jookster, etc.).


    Selecting the best name is as hard as coming up with a list of names. Having in mind a clear set of criteria really helps. Some will relate specifically to your company. Is it distinct from competitors’ names? Does it evoke relevant ideas? Does it just feel right for the kind of company you’re starting?


    Some criteria are more general. Good names tend to be relatively short, easy to remember, easy to pronounce when you read them, easy to spell when you hear them, easy to understand, and often have vivid sensory associations or interesting cultural resonance.


    Good luck with your startup, and good luck with your naming!



Christopher Johnson is the founder of Phrasetrain and writes the blog The Name Inspector.

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