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July 17, 2007

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Interesting. I learned today from a commenter that blook is pronounced bluek, like puke.
http://goinglikesixty.wordpress.com/2007/07/17/blogging-is-a-conversation/

I don't think it's phonetically counterintuitive. It doesn't break any rules of English. Roof, hoof, thoof.

Really the only objective criticism I see here of the name is that its unusual.

I'm curious about what you believe inherent meaning of "Skype" is? You may have figured it out, but I'm darned if I can (Wikipedia sheds no light on the subject). So far as I can tell, it fits the description of a "nonsense syllable" to at least the same degree that Thoof does.

Similarly, what is the inherent meaning of "eBay", and how does it relate to an auction website? (Actually, eBay comes from "Echo Bay Mines" - the consulting company run by Ebay's founder before eBay, its got nothing to do with auctions).

How does "Flickr" relate to photographs? I could perhaps see how "flicker" might allude to an old-style projection movie, but there are no movies on Flickr. And while today dropping the "e" may seem like the most natural thing in the world, it was rather counter-intuitive when Flickr did it (and I suspect if it weren't for Flickr's success, the trend would have been somewhat ridiculed).

I think your opinion of the relevance, and aesthetics of the names of those websites is colored by the fact that you have years of familiarity with each of them, and I think Clarke's point is that the same may well be true of Thoof if the concept is a success.

Paul--I don't dislike Thoof because it's unusual; indeed, distinctiveness is one of the hallmarks of a good name. Rather, I think it (a) has an ugly sound and (b) lacks any element of meaning.

When I first heard the name eBay I assumed it came from "cargo bay," which seemed logical for an auction service; the "e-" was already familiar from other e-commerce names. Both semantic elements were familiar and had intrinsic meaning. It wasn't until I read "The Big Store," a history of eBay, that I learned about the Echo Bay origin story--which, as you correctly point out, had meaning only to Pierre Omidyar, the founder.

"Flickr" relates to photography in exactly the way you cite: images "flicker" in a camera's lens. The "e" was deleted simply to obtain a .com domain. And contrary to your claim, the vowel-deletion trend is roundly and soundly ridiculed among name developers and business observers. Anyone who attempts it today is castigated as a wannabe.

As for "Skype," it didn't take "years of familiarity" to see "sky" in there! In this context, "sky" is an apt metaphor for soundwaves and borderless communication. In addition, "kype" was (and is) American schoolyard slang for "to filch; to take without approval." Stealing phonecalls from the air: isn't that the Skype business model in a crude nutshell?

By contrast, Thoof provides no semantic hooks that invite people to pay attention. It's hard to say ("-th-" is one of the most challenging consonant sounds one can encounter; many people will pronounce the word as "soof" or "toof"). It's blatantly imitative of the "-oo-" pioneered by Yahoo and Google. And it sounds, well, stupid.

And if the business is a roaring success, I'll still feel the same way.


It reminds me of one of those sound effect words used in comic books (such as "thwack"). It really does not sound right for a web service and the name is embarrassing to say.

I have to say that your after-the-fact rationalizations of most of these company names stretch credulity. In the case of eBay - we *know* the origin of the name, and it has nothing to do with your theory. I've been to numerous auctions, and I would never think to draw an association with a cargo bay.

In the case of "Skype", your argument that the sky has some particular association with audio communication is particularly implausible. Also, given that the founders of Skype are Danish and Swedish respectively, it is rather unlikely that they had your US schoolyard slang in mind when they named their company.

I think you are confusing internal mnemonics you may have subconsciously developed to remember these ubiquitous company names, with inherent meaning. Again, these words seem to make some kind of sense to you *because* they are familiar, not because of anything inherent. I think this kind of subconscious rationalization of words may have something to do with how we learn language.

As for "th" being hard to say, I find that strange, since people seem quite good at saying the word "the", one of the most common words in the English language.

The link between "thoof" and "truth" is indeed tenuous (and you are correct to point out that it doesn't quite rhyme), but it is certainly no more tenuous than some of the other rationalizations you have attempted to draw in this conversation (I'm still chuckling internally about your explanation for "Skype" ;).

Of course, I won't argue with you if you are simply saying that you don't like the aesthetic sound of it, but please don't claim that there is some universal rational basis for your dislike. I happen to like it, as do other people it seems, although perhaps not one or two commenters on TechCrunch.

Just remember that lots of unfamiliar things seem "stupid" until you grow accustomed to them.

Paul—My understanding of eBay and Skype came not “after the fact” but upon first hearing. You and I may know that “real” eBay name story, but I doubt many eBay users do. However, anyone who speaks English and uses a computer knows what the “e-” prefix signifies. Anyone who speaks English has some association with “bay”—a body of water, a cargo area, a tree. So there is some inherent and positive meaning, intentional or not, as well as a very intuitive and logical pronunciation.

As for Skype, according to at least one account it’s meant to signify “sky peer to peer” (see this post: http://www.thenameinspector.com/skype/). But even if you see only the “sky” phoneme, you already have a strong, positive association with the word. Perhaps you associate the “p” in Skype with “phone.” Again: all good. (My own leap to "kype" was idiosyncratic, I'm sure. But it made me smile affectionately whenever I encountered Skype the brand.)

Thoof, by contrast, has *zero* positive associations. It’s just a difficult-to-pronounce nonsense syllable. (Do you really think “the” is easy to say? You must never have listened to speakers of French, Spanish, or German struggling to pronounce it correctly. And the –th- in Thoof is pronounced differently from the –th- in “the.”)

Successful names are memorable, pronounceable, and evocative. They are metaphors that conjure multiple positive associations. They are neither strictly descriptive nor meaninglessly fantastic.

I’m glad you like Thoof. I don’t. I wanted to tell my readers why—based on 20 years of name-development experience—I think its choice was ill advised.

Sorry Nancy, but you seem to dig yourself in deeper with every comment :-)

Your defense of "eBay" is notable, given its partial reliance on people speaking English, we will get back to that. You still haven't offered any justification for an association between cargo, water, or trees and an auction website, but I'm looking forward to it.

Whether or not those who named Skype had the word "sky" in mind when they did-so (and we only have an un-reference forum comment attributed to an unnamed Skype employee to go on here), it still doesn't suggest any particular relationship to what Skype actually is, certainly not to me, and I suspect not to most people.

How can you seriously claim that "Thoof has *zero* positive associations", while conveniently ignoring the association with the word "truth" that was pointed out right at the beginning of this whole discussion?

Don't you think "truth" is a positive connotation? Perhaps you think that its not a close association with the word "Thoof", but I would argue (and have argued) that its at least as close as the association between "sky" and a voice-over-IP company.

As for whether the "Th" syllable is hard to pronounce for non-English speakers, if this discussion was a rhetorical game I would first refer back to the fact that you were quite willing to limit the audience for "eBay" to English speakers while trying to justify that company's name.

But its not really a game, so I would make the stronger argument that there is probably no single name that makes sense or is easily pronounceable in all languages. Do you like any names that contain the letter 'r'? If so, then you are being very unfair to 1.3 billion Chinese speakers that will have real trouble with that letter (if you believe that a good name must be easily pronounceable by native speakers of all major languages).

I suspect the people behind Thoof are quite content that it is easily pronounceable by most English speakers. Asking more is making an unreasonable demand of anyone that is trying to name a company.

I have no objection to you not liking the name "Thoof", I am only puzzled by your stubborn insistence that there is some globally valid logic that validates your personal aesthetic judgment.

As for your 20 years of name-development experience, I have generally found that people start using their years of experience to support their argument only when they have failed to support it with logic.

Also, I think justifying an argument with the number of years of experience you have is dangerous, because it implies that if you should lose the argument, your experience isn't valid. Much better, should you lose a debate, to be able to admit you were wrong without loss. I certainly wouldn't wager my years of experience on a single debate!

Sorry to have come rather late into the discussion, having only just discovered your site.

Wow! What an argument!

I can’t help but agree with Nancy: ‘Thoof’ is a daft name. ‘Th’, ‘oo’ and ‘f’ are arguably the weakest sounds in English, and to combine them in any word, other than one which refers to the sound of a head hitting a pillow, is crazy. I reckon only a third of the readers will pronounce it ‘Thoof’. The rest will either pronounce it ‘doof’ (the foreigners) or, if they can read, the remaining – let’s call them the ‘finkers’ – will pronounce it ‘foof’.

[And that gives me an idea. It would make a great exercise for training youngsters who come home from school saying, “one, two, free”: “…repeat after me; “I am a thool”]

In the back of my mind the only niggle I have is that there was once a vacuum cleaner that went by the name ‘Hoover’. If I’d been alive at the time (and if I’d been American rather than British) that would have been a brand name that I would have said sucked.

John and Paul:
(Where are George and Ringo?) I think the sequence of the first consonant and the vowel (the theta followed by the high front rounded vowel) is unattested in English--or at least in my variety of English. That's one reason the name sounds funny. And Paul, as Nancy said, the "th" in "thoof" would probably not be voiced the way the "th" in "the" is. And if it were, the name would sound even stranger.

enthusiasm.

There's nothing phonotactically forbidden about the combination of phonemes in "thoof". If the word was "vgreeg" that would be different - English words do not start with /vg/ and no English words end in a long vowel/diphthong plus voiced velar stop.

But we have "enthusiasm" and we have "roof" and "hoof". Old English had þóðer "ball" which would have become "thoother" (/TuD@r/ in SAMPA) if it had survived.

(I meant high BACK rounded rounded vowel above, by the way, for those who care about such things).

John, "enthusiasm" is a great example--I was talking about word-initial position and should have been more explicit. My bigger point, though, is that it doesn't have to boil down to a yes/no matter of whether a sound sequence is phonotactically permissible. A rare sequence, like the final consonant combination in the word "sixth", might be considered by some people to be strange and difficult to say. Just because there's a word that ends the way "sixth" does doesn't mean that's a good way to end a company name. These are aesthetic judgments.

Yes, I agree that it's an aesthetic judgment. I'm disagreeing with your comment that it is "phonetically counterintuitive" - that sounds stronger than an aesthetic judgment, it sounds like you're making a claim about English phonology or phonetics.

Oh. I didn't intend "phonologically counterintuitive" to mean 'phonotactically disallowed'. I just meant 'counterintuitive for phonological reasons'--that is, because it's a rare phonological sequence in English, and one that doesn't occur at the beginnings of any English words I had been able to think of. Though since then I actually did think of "Thucydides", and then there's "thucholite" and perhaps a couple other specialized or obsolete words. Still, it's rare. But I'm glad you made the phonotactic point.

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