From whence the name? It’s a play to make the word “mortgage” less weighty and ponderous. According to [founder Patrick] Browne, the company thought that “S’moretgage could be a nice way to make that word sound a bit less intimidating.” Once you learn how to spell it, it’s not too hard to remember.
A couple of comments:
1. Memo to TechCrunch: It’s just “whence”—the word means “from where,” so “from” is redundant.
2. “Once you learn how to spell it” is a lousy way to launch a name. If you really want to compare indebtedness to an empty-calorie children’s snack, at least make the spelling easy to swallow. “S’mortgage” would work just fine—no need for the E in the middle, which makes the pronunciation look like it rhymes with “floret-rage.”
Neither the Smore website nor the TechCrunch story gives any background on the name, but the campfire icon drives home the association. (The company is based in Palo Alto, and its founders appear from their names to be Israeli.) According to TechCrunch:
The service, which mostly targets non-technical users, says it currently has over 500,000 registered users, who have published over 1 million flyers. Usage and revenue currently growing at about 15 percent to 20 percent per month.
But few commercial portmanteaus rise to those heights. Instead, what we see is a lot of chop-and-jam (or perhaps choja, as the blend trend would have it).
Last year, for example, saw the debut of Burger King’s Satisfries, a combo of “satisfy” and “fries” that satisfied no one. (It doesn’t help that the word sounds almost exactly like “saddest fries.”) Sonic Drive-Intortured phonetics with Spicedictive, a distinctly nonaddictive word. The New York Times devoted many column inches to a bourbon-rye blend called Bourye, which I see as Bour Ye and want to pronounce like “Hear ye, hear ye!”
Also in 2013, Subway introduced the Flatizza (flatbread/pizza), which invites adolescent chortling* about flat tits.
Image via A Walk in the Words, who called Flatizza “a phonetically problematic portmanteau.” Indeed.
And I’m sorry to say that we are far from finished with this tired trend. Today marks the rollout of Framily, from Sprint.
“You don’t have to be family to be Framily.” (“That is not a typo,” advised Lifehacker.)
“Up to 10 friends, family and others,” it says up there. Why not go all in and call it Framiloth?
Maybe “Framily” will catch on as shorthand for Friends and Family. (And maybe, somewhere out there, there’s a burning demand for a 10-line mobile plan.) But I’m doubtful. The Framily name elicits winces and groans, not smiles. An undercooked hybrid, it’s the turducken of telecom.
This Technology tip via brother Michael. Post title via Dorothy Parker.
* Which isn’t to say you can never use This in a name. Compare, for example, This Into That, the name of a small business in Berkeley that transforms old books into clever and useful objects such as clocks and key holders.
Also ill advised: a wordmark that makes it all too easy to read the name as “anus.”
I have anticipated your questions: No, “Onus” is not the name of the CEO/founder. (Her name is Kimberly Lee.) And it’s not “on us,”as in “The first visit’s on us!” I phoned the office: “Onus” rhymes with “bonus,” of which there is none to be found in the name.
Some names are born bad, others achieve badness, and still others have badness thrust upon them. Here are four bad names, each bad in its own tragic, annoying, or inept way.
There is simply no excuse for the spelling of Ketchuppp.
According to TechCrunch, “Ketchuppp wants to help you meet up with the people you actually like spending time with on a regular basis (or did before social media ate your social life) — and do so in person, not digitally.” (Imagine!) Evidently the founders fell in love with the “catch up” idea, never considered any other name directions or asked for professional advice, and kept fiddling with the spelling until finally they found a dot-com domain for $5.99. (Ketchup.com is for sale; Ketchupp.com—at least the double P would have suggested “app”—redirects to Pinocc.io.) Bad strategy, bad name. And to make matters worse, the web copy repeatedly uses “Ketchuppp” as a verb, which risks genericizing the brand name.
(Also, “Not Just Another Social App” is an I-give-up tagline. Tell us what you are, not what you aren’t.)
It could have been worse, I guess. As one TechCrunch commenter points out, “At least it’s not called KKKetchup.”
Scorecard: Unoriginal concept, tortured spelling. But it’s pronounceable. 30/100.
Ketchuppp is an app and a startup, so we can chalk up its bad name to inexperience. But Aesynt? It’s what McKesson Automation is called now that the division’s has been spun off from McKesson Corporation. And the parent company is an almost 200-year-old American institution with sales of about $122 billion (2012).
Take a minute to consider how you’d pronounce “Aesynt.”
Did you rhyme it with “adjacent” or “nascent,” with a long A sound in the first syllable? Did you focus on the /ae/ vowel cluster and try to connect the name with “aerial” or “aesthetic”? Did you see the “syn” as having something to do with “synthesis” or “synergy,” and pronounce it accordingly?
Now that you know how to pronounce Aesynt, try Lytx.
I’ll go first: I read the name as Lyt-X, or “light-ex.” (I assumed it was following the pattern of SpaceX.) Not so fast! Lytx is the new corporate name for 15-year-old San Diego-based DriveCam. The website gives no pronunciation clues, so we turn to Xconomy (another X name!) for the details:
So “Lytx” rhymes with “critics”? That’s a stretch. The /ly/ cluster can be pronounced at least three ways: as lie, lee, and lih. Yes, “lyric” and “lynx” are pronounced with the lih sound, but in coined names, /ly/ at the beginning of a name usually defaults to lie, especially when the addition of /t/ makes it look like a new spelling of light (see Lytro, Lytron, Lytera).
Scorecard: Tortured spelling, counterintuitive pronunciation, generic concept. Looks cool, though. The CEO’s last name is Nixon, which may explain the X. 30/100.
What pains me about “Blah” is that I’m a big fan of Fly London—I recently discovered the brand and now am the happy owner of several pairs of FL shoes—and I want it to do no wrong. I’m willing to indulge Fly London’s penchant for slightly wacky style names (Yif? Yush? Yoni? Faff?) because so many of the shoes are so fabulous. To be honest, I wouldn’t include the Blah in that category, but I also wouldn’t stigmatize it with a bad name. Blah goes beyond wacky, beyond whimsical; it’s just mean and dispiriting.
Scorecard: Pass the Prozac and lock up the kitchen knives. 0/100.
Do some corporate or product names make you shudder and cringe? Are there names you find so annoying that you can’t bear even to utter them aloud?
I want to know about the names you hate, and why. Is it the sound of the word, its spelling, a personal association? Can a good product or stellar customer service overcome your aversion to a name?
For comparison, consider the related phenomenon of word aversion, the well-documented tendency of some people to detest certain words. (“Moist” is frequently cited.) Read Mark Liberman’s posts on Language Log (start here and follow the links) to learn more about word aversion.
Now leave a comment and tell us about the names that make you cringe.*
UPDATE: And, if you can, tell us why these names bother you.
* Commercial names only, please—companies and products. Let’s leave baby names out of the discussion.
Zen names notwithstanding, it looks like Y is the new Z. Last week I wrote about names that substitute Y for I, and I just recently I discovered a new double-Y name, Swayy. It’s a startup that “brings you the best content to easily share with your audience and followers, based on their interests and engagement.” Is the name meant to be pronounced with a plaintive ayy? Or is it just another case of “We rejiggered the spelling to get a cheap domain”?
Speaking of Sway(y), here’s your rhumba interlude.
There’s an asterisk after “We produce the engaging content your brand deserves”; the clarifying footnote reads “Deserves, in a good way.” Yes, “deserve” can flip its meaning—“Shame on you; you had it coming” or “You’re a winner!”—as I noted in my June column for the Visual Thesaurus, “The Ads We Deserve.”
I love a name with a good story and a clever double meaning, which is why I’m so pleased by Rich Brilliant Willing, “America’s premier contemporary lighting and furniture design manufacturer.” The company was founded in 2007 by three RISD graduates whose surnames are—pay attention now—Richardson, Brill, and Williams.
Another name that pleased me: she++, “a Stanford-based community for innovative women in technology.” The name is a pun on the programming language C++. I love the logo, too.
Read more about “plus” in branding in my April column for the Visual Thesaurus, “Shall We Plus?”
Finally, here’s your bad name of the week: Twibfy, a dopey and nearly unpronounceable name for a company that calls itself “an inspirational platform.” (Translation: Pinterest wannabe.) You won’t find the name story on the Twibfy website, but on Twitter a company spokesperson said it’s an acronym (!) for “The World Is Beautiful From us to You.” (Random capitalization and awkward syntax sic). When you search for “Twibfy,” Google asks whether you mean “Twiggy.” That spells twouble. (Hat tip: Catchword.)
The accents in these names are acute. It’s the reasoning behind them that’s obtuse.
The little leaf over the E in Tarté Asian Yogurt is represented as an acute accent elsewhere (“The smooth and creamy texture of Tarté is what differentiates our yogurt from those that are thick and chalky with off putting sour tastes”). The founders — Southern Californians with Southeast Asian backgrounds — wanted to communicate the influence of “nearly 200 years of French trade and colonization” on Southeast Asian cuisine.
But slapping on an accented letter—and then ignoring its pronunciation—isn’t the solution. If you spell the name Tarté, you have to pronounce it “tar-TAY”: that’s what an acute accent does. And yet Tarté Asian Yogurt isn’t pronounced “tart-TAY,” it’s pronounced “tart.”
To further accentuate the negative, the website calls Tarté Asian Yogurt “deliciously tart,” which makes the name merely descriptive: a bad thing in trademark law.
The Lé Edge exfoliating tool scrapes off the surface layer of skin, “revealing the newer younger cells and more radiant skin.” And that’s all it does. It doesn’t depilate or moisturize. (It will, however, remove your spray-on tan. And it’ll set you back $34.95 plus shipping and handling.)
I searched in vain for a compelling reason to buy Lé Edge. And I can’t find anything good to say about the name, which is the worst kind of faux-French. “Le” is a French definite article (“the”), but it doesn’t have an accent, and it’s pronounced with a schwa vowel sound—“luh,” very roughly—not “lay,” as Lé Edge’s accented spelling dictates. Sure enough, the product name is pronounced “Luh Edge,” as if the accent weren’t there.
And sometimes it isn’t there, because the website is lazy about consistency.
Also cringeworthy: the cutesy-poo, ungrammatical extension of “Le” (no accent) in text headings: “Le Handle,” “Le Benefits.”
Finally, the wordmark is so poorly executed that’s it’s easy to read the name as “Leedge.”
Gratuitous umlauts in brand names are usually dumb, but gratuitous acute accents are worse: Even monolingual English speakers are likely to have encountered a few acute-accented French words such as sauté and cliché. (Hello, McCafé!) We know what the accent is supposed to do to a word’s pronunciation; undermine our expectations and you undermine our confidence in your brand.