This is a big week in San Francisco for tech developers. Most of the attention has focused, as always, on the Apple developer conference at Moscone Center. But it was the Tizen Developer Conference, taking place at the Hilton on Union Square, that piqued my curiosity—starting with the Tizen name.
Tizen is an open-source equivalent to Android, the Google operating system used in millions of mobile devices. This week, Samsung Electronics—Asia’s biggest technology company—announced that later this year it will begin selling a smartphone that runs on Tizen.
The Samsung Z will be available in Russia in the third quarter before expanding to other markets, the Suwon, South Korea-based company said in a statement today. The device will have a 4.8-inch screen and will be on show at the Tizen developer conference in San Francisco tomorrow.
What is Tizen, and how did it get its name? Here’s the official answer from the Tizen FAQ:
Tizen is a web-centric, fully open source mobile platform, based on the Linux kernel. Tizen is claimed to be the leading mobile platform that has full support for HTML5 and other web-centric features. The name, Tizen, combines the connectivity of “Tie”, the activity of “Rise”, and the meditative qualities of “Zen”.
Tizen’s initial release was in January 2012.
Tizen is a paradox: a strong name with a weak backstory. The name’s creators claim to have forced three concepts into a single two-syllable word, and it’s an awkward fit. (The strongest names communicate a single concept. Two is pushing it.) The “rise” element is lost in the mashup—the name would need to be “Trizen” for it to surface—and it’s unclear, at least to me, what Zen has to do with it. (True, “Zen” has been enjoying an extended moment in corporate naming. See my Pinterest board, The Zen of Brand Naming, and my 2009 column, published in the Visual Thesaurus, about religious metaphors in business.)
Despite the tortured origin story, I still say Tizen is an effective name. Why? Because it has good sound symbolism: the crisp T, the speedy Z, the satisfying closure of the final N. The vowels faintly echo those of Tizen’s spiritual parent, Linux, which aids memorability by association.
Tizen also benefits from rhyming with kaizen, a Japanese word often translated as “continuous improvement.” (In fact, I originally thought Tizen was borrowed from an Asian language.) Kaizen techniques were introduced to postwar Japan by American management experts charged with rebuilding that country’s industry. The concept was later brought back the U.S. with the Japanese name intact.
In effect, Tizen functions as an empty-vessel name: no matter what the company founders say, the word has no inherent meaning, only a set of sounds with positive connotations. My advice to the company: Drop the tie-rise-zen pretext and treat Tizen as the powerful, fanciful name it is.
I’m taking a few days off, returning next week. Remember, there’s still time to vote in the Lexiophiles Top 100 Language Lovers contest—I’m nominated for my Twitter account (Nancy Friedman) and this blog (Fritinancy). Voting ends June 9. Check out the other nominees, too: I’m in very good company.