I learned about this month's New Name through Knowledge @ Wharton, a monthly e-newsletter from the University of Pennsylvania's business school.
What it is: Knuru is a new natural-language search engine for business information; Knowledge @ Wharton is its first major partner. "Natural language" simply means that instead of typing keywords into the search field, you type sentences: "What's happening with subprime mortgages?" or "Is Alan Greenspan still alive?" The service is free; results are presented in contextualized summaries from reputable business sources. From knuru.com's About page: "Unlike traditional search engines, knuru [sic] is not concerned with endless indexing of web pages and a never-ending convoluting of page rankings, paid rankings or any other artificial juxtapositioning [sic] of search results based on who pays most. Nor will we serve misleading paid-for search result rankings, which is common with other search technologies."
Where it comes from: Knuru's parent company is London-based Xexco, which founder Dennis Oudejans told me is pronounced "Exco." He added that he acquired "Xexco" when he acquired the company, and he's changing it to Knuru, and we're all thankful for that. (I believe Xexco is Klingon for "What were they thinking?")
What they're saying: Not much--yet. Knuru is still in beta. Microsoft Office users can access it (via a downloadable application) via the Research button; according to 44 voters in a Microsoft Office forum, Knuru earned five out of a possible five stars.
What it means: Dennis Oudejans told me in an email that the company had invited "five or six" naming agencies to bid on the naming project and eventually involved two--an unusual but not unprecedented decision. "One agency had an analytical/scientific approach, whereas the other seemed more unstructured and creative," Oudejans said. The analytical/scientific agency helped the company define its core values: agility, authority, and accuracy. Then the company tossed out all the names developed by the two agencies in favor of its own coinage, a blend of knowledge and guru. "Knuru" has meaning in at least one South Indian language, Tamil, although I was unable to discern from context what that meaning is. Pavala Knuru means "Coral Hill," a landmark near Arunachaleshwar Temple in Tiruvannamalai District, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I also discovered a saying in the Tetun language of East Timor: “bikan ho knuru mak baku malu” (as fork and spoon that always touch each other).
What I like: Knuru is short and unusual, and the partnership with Knowledge @ Wharton helps reinforce the "kn = knowledge" connection. The company was smart to register the name with at least three domain extensions domain: .com, .net, and .org. (Many startups fail to take this inexpensive precautionary step and leave themselves open to domain encroachment.)
What I'd worry about: Right off the bat I stumbled over Knuru's pronunciation. English has many words with silent k--know, knife, knock, knuckle. But the dropped k isn't intuitive, because at one time in the language's history (at least until the fourteenth century), the k was sounded in all those words, as it is in the German from which they came. English has also adopted a number of Yiddish words--knish, knaidlach, k'nocker--in which, as in German, the k is hard. (K'nocker is unrelated to the British slang term knackered, in which the k is silent.) And then there's Knut (German) or Knute (Scandinavian), names pronounced with a hard k that are just familiar enough to English speakers to invite confusion. (The English form makes the pronunciation explicit: Canute, which means "white haired.")
All of which explains why I want to pronounce knuru like k'nuru. I'd have no such problem with a silent-g coinage: even though the gn- and kn- stems are equivalent--they both mean "know"--I'm not tempted to pronounce the g. Knuru confuses because it looks too foreign to send the message "follow the common English-pronunciation rules."
Here's a separate problem: I'm not convinced that beginning this name with a silent letter tells the right story for this company, which should be positioning itself as an outspoken--not reticent--knowledge source.
But the biggest problem with Knuru is that, despite its odd look, it's a descriptive rather than a metaphorical name: it tells "who we are" (a knowledge guru) rather than "how your life will be better." Compare, for example, the name of another new natural-language search engine, Powerset--a term borrowed from the language of mathematics and invigorated by an expanded new context (and a great logo). No ambiguous pronunciation or forced word-blend; just the promise of power and being set to do what you want. Very effective. (Thanks to Laurie Clemans for the Powerset update.)
The decision: On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "eh" and 5 being "yesss!", I'd give Knuru 3.1. This is a naming decision guided too much by strict etymology (remember: etymology doesn't matter; associations do), domain availability, and programmers' rules ("knowledge plus guru equals knuru") and not enough by common sense ("Will everyone be able to pronounce this word and figure out what it means?") and metaphor. Unfortunately, it's the sort of solution that emerges all too frequently when companies--especially technology companies--name themselves.
But: Knuru may be able to overcome the liabilities of its name with a strong branding message ("We're the knowledge gurus") and some pronunciation guides ("Knuru ... as in know-how"). As they themselves proclaim to their users, context is everything.