For many of my naming clients, the definition of “an available name” has expanded beyond trademark and domain to include a wide range of social media—not just Twitter and Facebook but also, in some cases, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, and other platforms. Checking each service was a chore until I discovered Namecheckr, which instantly screens for name availability across 18 platforms, including a few I’d never heard of (Papaly, IFTTT, Dribbble). If your first choice isn’t available everywhere you’d like it to be, try adding a word (go, shop, mobile, or whatever’s appropriate).
Consistency across all platforms should be your goal. When it isn’t achievable—if, say, you can claim ExcitingNewCo everywhere except on Facebook—I recommend modifying the brand name. Just don’t change the name for every platform. If all your modifications keep showing up as taken, it’s time to rethink your naming strategy and develop some claimable alternatives.
Namecheckr also screens for domain availability in four extensions: .com, .net, .org, and .io. That’s helpful, but it isn’t the end of the story. Many “taken” domains are in fact up for sale on the aftermarket; you’ll need to do a little extra digging into WhoIs,or query a domain broker, to learn who owns the domain and how much they’re asking. (Remember to negotiate!)There are also many options beyond the four primary domain extensions, including .co and .biz—often a good fit for smaller businesses—as well as country codes (.is, .ee, .la, .re, etc.) and newer extensions such as .moe, .pizza, .surf, and .tax. Here’s a complete list.
Namecheckr is not a substitute for comprehensive legal screening, which should be done by an experienced and savvy trademark lawyer before you embark on website development or any other brand activity. Twitter handles are free and domains are cheap, but a trademark lawsuit can be very, very expensive.
Don’t read “How to Name a Baby” to learn how to name a baby. Read it for insights into historical baby-naming trends and to confirm your hunches (e.g., “the popular girl name Reagan is for Republicans”). Also: charts!
Given names are “one of the last social acceptable frontiers of class war.”Also: nominative determination, implicit egotism, and how the Internet has made baby naming more difficult. Part 1 of a four-part podcast series about names from Australian radio network ABC. The presenter, Tiger Webb, has an interesting name story himself. (Hat tip: Superlinguo.)
The not-so-secret jargon of doctors is full of acronyms: a flea—fucking little esoteric asshole—is an intern, an FLK is a “funny-looking kid,” and an “SFU 50 dose” is the amount of sedative it takes for 50 percent of patients to shut the fuck up.
Ever wonder what value-creating winners do all day? Here’s Business Town to enlighten you. It’s “an ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.”
“The decision is made. The name won’t be changed.” – Tim Mahoney, head of marketing for Chevy, speaking to the Detroit Free Press about the Bolt electric vehicle, whose name is strikingly similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. In fact, a Spanish speaker would pronounce the two names identically. (Hat tip: Jonathon Owen.)
“Clickspittle: an unquestioningly loyal follower who obediently shares every trivial thought of their idol on social media.” Post-modern portmanteaus from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, excerpted in The Independent. (Via @Catchword)
“Most important, it stood for Internet. But it also stood for other valuable i things, like individual, imagination, i as in me, etc. It also did a pretty good job of laying a solid foundation for future product naming.” A knowledgeable Quora answer to the question “What is the history of the i prefix in Apple product names?”(Via @AlanBrew)
“Around the time of the birth of OK, there was a fad for komical Ks instead of Cs on the pages of newspapers … including from 1839: ‘The gentleman to the left of the speaker, in klaret kolored koat with krimson kollar, is Mr. Klay, member of Kongress from Kentucky’.”Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, marks the 176th anniversary of “OK” with a post about the word’s “konspicuous, kurious, komical” … uh, kwalities. (Read my 2010 post about “OK.”)
What do we lose when dictionaries delete words like bluebell, catkin, lark, and mistletoe to make room for blog, broadband, MP3 player, and chatroom? British nature writer Robert Macfarlane—most recently the author of Landmarks—writes in The Guardian about “the importance of preserving and plenishing a diverse language for landscape.” His essay includes some beautiful, obscure words like ammil, “a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs, and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.” Plenishing is pretty wonderful, too. (Via @StanCarey)
Alas, no. And yet this myth persists among people who should know better.
I encountered both misconceptions—trademarkability and searchability—this week in a Brand New blog post about an e-book subscription service (with an introductory free plan) called Blloon. Not Balloon. Not Billion. Blloon.
The company is based in Berlin, but its target market is North America.
Armin Vit, the author of the Brand New critique, wrote:
Although I’m not a fan of the Flickr naming convention where vowels are removed gratuitously (while allowing for extra trademark-ability) there is something very charming about Blloon…
I left a comment correcting this statement (the trademark part, although I disagree with the charming part, too). My comment elicited a response from “mrwendel”:
Surely the biggest advantage to creative spelling of common words is searchability. Googling “balloon” versus “blloon” will yield different results.
Well, of course it will. But think about it. Why would anyone Google “blloon” except through typographic error? If you’re familiar with the company and have memorized its quirky spelling, you won’t need a search engine to find it. But if all you remember is “picture of a balloon” and “books,” you won’t find Blloon. You will find Balloon Books (publisher of kids’ books), BookBalloon (a blog), Red Balloon (a bookstore in St. Paul, Minnesota), Big Red Balloon (publisher of kids’ books), and Black Balloon Publishing (“the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable”). Just for starters.
If “Blloon” is meant to be pronounced “balloon”—and the company’s branding consultants say as much*—than the name enters an already cluttered brandscape. There is nothing distinctive about “balloon” in the world of books, e- or otherwise. And the word doesn’t earn search points for dropping a vowel.
That’s not all: In the real world your customers don’t use search the way you may imagine they do. (Neither do you, as a matter of fact.) If you’ve done a good job with PR, marketing, and social-media strategy, then they’re clicking a link to reach your site. Once they visit, their browser memorizes the URL and they’re spared having to retype it. If they’re searching blindly—for, say, free e-books—then your name won’t help unless it’s Amazon, Google, or Project Gutenberg. (By the way, when I searched for “free e-books,” Blloon did not appear anywhere on the first five pages of results.) You’ll need to bolster your searchability through markup and other programming tricks, or through paid advertising.
Meanwhile, here are some of the ways in which a misspelled name can damage your brand:
It makes you look desperate. (You didn’t have the time to explore the full range of appropriate, distinctive names.)
It makes you look cheap. (You didn’t have the budget for the real-word domain.)
It makes you seem unworthy of customers’ trust. (If you can’t spell a common word, in what other ways will you disappoint?)
It makes you appear illiterate. (In the book business in particular, this may be the kiss of death.)
It tells customers that the real spelling was already taken by a more credible competitor. (Or, in this case, by many competitors.)
It makes your brand harder, not easier, to find. (“Which letter did they drop—the A, the L, or the O?”)
I’m not saying that tweaked spellings are never appropriate. Cinergy worked for a Cincinnati energy company: it was a homophone of “synergy” that incorporated the first syllable of “Cincinnati.” Trix has been a successful cereal brand for almost 60 years; it sounds like “Tricks” (the original name of the brand’s rabbit mascot) while being shorter and snappier. (Never discount the X factor.) Successfully tweaked names are intuitive to pronounce and to spell.
Blloon, by contrast, no matter how artful its logo or stylish its web design, just looks like a spelling mistake. You might say it goes over like a lead balloon—for trademark and for searchability.
“Working with a colleague in the Netherlands, we created a name that felt strange, and familiar at the same time. When pitching the name to the client the rationale was simple: ‘It’s a balloon without the “A”’.”
The business and techbloggers who covered the episode found nothing amiss in the story. But to anyone who knows how business names work, it betrays the naïveté of the show’s creators.
The protagonist of “Silicon Valley” is a programmer, Richard, who’s inadvertently developed a file-compression algorithm. For reasons that haven’t yet been explained (and may never be), he named the algorithm—and the start-up he creates around it—“Pied Piper.”
Everyone but Richard hates the name. But that’s not his biggest headache.
Apple introduced its looped-square “control” icon⌘ in 1983, but the symbol’s origins go back to sixth-century Scandinavia. Tom Chatfield traces the historyof the symbol also known as “St. John’s Arms.”
The dripping-heart symbol was created “in a few hours” by a Finnish graphic designer, Leena Snidate, for the security firm Codenomicon. “Heartbleed” was originally Codenomicon’s internal code name; the bug’s official name is CVE-2014-0160. CVE stands for “common vulnerabilities and exposures.” Read more about Heartbleed in TechCrunchand in Fast Company Design.
And here’s naming news from another corner of the animal kingdom: The Scientific American blog Running Ponies reports on six new species of “child-eating Dracula ants” with “cool ninja names”: Shadow, Labyrinth, and Mirror. The scientific name for this ant subfamily is Amblyoponinae; the genus name, Mystrium, was chosen to evoke “the uncertainty surrounding their general biology, ecology and behaviour.” (Via Our Bold Hero.)
“In the globalized, consumption-fired 21st century, branding is the air we breathe,” writes Frank Viviano in the Spring 2014 issue of California, the Cal Alumni Association magazine. “The Plato and Newton of that volatile universe is David Aaker, a congenial professor emeritus of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, born and raised in the placid calm of Fargo, North Dakota.” Aaker is vice chairman of the global brand consultancy Prophet, the author of the influential business book Brand Relevance, and the creator of the Aaker Model, which, writes Viviano, “asserts that a brand is a vital form of corporate equity, a measurable asset whose value is as important to a business as its capital infrastructure and staff.”
The headline says “On the Internet, All the Good Company Names Are Taken,” but the story (in the Globe and Mail) is really about a different problem. “For all its focus on innovation and disruption, the tech startup world can be downright risk-averse when it comes to naming conventions,” notes tech reporter Omar El Akkad.
Arduinois “an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.” (Source: Arduino.cc.) The company was founded in 2005 in Ivrea, a town of about 25,000 in northern Italy; its products are popular in the worldwide maker community. The company is Arduino; its microcontroller board is “an Arduino.”
Arduino is a low-cost microcontroller board that lets even a novice do really amazing things. You can connect an Arduino to all kinds of sensors, lights, motors, and other devices and use easy-to-learn software to program how your creation will behave. You can build an interactive display or a mobile robot and then share your design with the world by posting it on the Net.
The first few times I encountered the Arduino name I associated it with “arduous,” which is not only conceptually inaccurate but historically and etymologically false. Arduino is not related to Latin arduus (high, steep). Rather, this very 21st-century company and its primary product are named for an 11th-century monarch who ruled for just two years.
Here’s how IEEE Spectrum tells the story:
The picturesque town of Ivrea, which straddles the blue-green Dora Baltea River in northern Italy, is famous for its underdog kings. In 1002, King Arduin became the ruler of the country, only to be dethroned by King Henry II, of Germany, two years later. Today, the Bar di Re Arduino, a pub on a cobblestoned street in town, honors his memory, and that’s where an unlikely new king was born.
The bar is the watering hole of Massimo Banzi, the Italian cofounder of the electronics project that he named Arduino in honor of the place.
The personal name “Arduino” is derived from the Germanic name, Harduwin or Hardwin, composed from hardu “strong, hardy” and wini “friend.” (Source.) It has cognates in French (Ardennes, site of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II) and English (the Forest of Ardenin Warwickshire, the setting of Shakespeare’s As You Like It).
Arduino uses the .cc domain extension, the country code for the tiny Cocos Islands, a territory of Australia. It’s the preferred domain of many Creative Commons (open source) projects—another example of when a non-dot-com domain is the more appropriate choice.
As for Ivrea, its name comes from the Latin “Eporedia.” Arduino isn’t the first technology company to have made its home there: the business-machine company Olivettiwas founded there (as a typewriter manufacturer) in 1908. Known for advanced industrial design, Olivetti was also a technology pioneer: the company’s Programma 101, released in 1965, is considered the first commercial desktop personal computer. Olivetti was sold to Telecom Italia in 2003 and rebranded as Olivetti Tecnost.
Ivrea is also known for a peculiar carnival celebration, the Battle of the Oranges, with roots in the 12th and 13th centuries. Fest 300, hotelier Chip Conley’s world-festivals website, describes it thus:
It’s a familiar story: commoners rise up against an oppressive ruler. At the Carnevale di Ivrea, however, the battle isn’t waged with guns and swords—oranges are the weapon of choice. Every year, the tiny northern city of Ivrea in the Turin province stockpiles 500,000 kilograms of fresh oranges for Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges), a re-creation of a historic fight between townsfolk and a ruling tyrant. Teams wage a full-on fruit war, and not even a red-capped declaration of sovereignty can protect you from getting juiced.
The carnival is connected to the Christian calendar; this year it took place between March 2 and 4, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. But its rituals have pagan overtones:
The festival concludes with a sword-wielding Violetta watching over a scarlo, a pole with juniper and heather bushes. If the scarlo burns fast and bright, the future looks good; a slow burn is a bad omen for the coming year.