I thought I’d exhausted the subject of “new me” soundalike names in last week’s post (“Nu? Me?”). Then I visited MyHabit, Amazon’s daily deal site for “fashion and lifestyle” products, and discovered a clone that had escaped my attention:
NuMe sells hair dryers, curling irons, and other hair products, some with coy names like 3 Sum and 4 Play. The About Us copy leaves no ambiguity about the pronunciation of the company name:
NuMe offers a Nu Style, a Nu Change and a Brand Nu You!
Best not to dwell on the copy, which is unencumbered by the proofreading process. (“Availabel in two colors”; “It’s digital controls make it simple to set the right tempuarture for any hair type.”) I will point out, however, that the company is based in Van Nuys, California. In theory, at least, there are native English speakers—and editors—close at hand.
When your message is “the highest quality products” and the importance of perfect grooming, it’s a good idea to practice what you preach in every aspect of your business.
Last Sunday, a New York Times story about life coaches in their 20s (“Should a Life Coach Have a Life First?”—in the Style section, of course) mentioned a website called Noomii.com, “a centralized online coach directory where coaches pay as little as $19 to advertise their services, in the hope that potential clients find their bios, fees and picture most suitable to their own needs.”
Does a 45-year-old with new professional ambitions really want to visit a site with a name that flouts conventional spelling with such whimsical abandon? Or, to put it more accurately, a site with a name that abandons conventionally conventional spelling to so fully embrace the contrived whimsy of a web startup struggling to find an available domain name?
My own two cents: If anything, “Noomii” is too conventional. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking I’d seen it before.
NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.) was a GM-Toyota auto-assembly plant in Fremont, California. It closed in 2010 and reopened several months later as a Tesla assembly plant. So you might say that Tesla is the new NUMMI.
The ’tis-the-seasoning continues, and continues, and continues. Oh yes, I have evidence. In an attempt to be charitable—and to keep the list at a manageable length—I’ve omitted the many examples I’ve seen from consultants and individual blogs. Next year I may not be so lenient: you’re on notice.
Herewith, a week’s worth of ’tis from my in-box and mailbox.
I’ve written several times this year about the proliferation of startup names that end in -ly: Chirply, Erply, Forkly, Womply, Grammarly, et al. (You can read all of my -ly posts here.) Just last week I just learned of a new entrant in this dubious sweepstakes: Burstly, “the leading app monetization platform.”
Name Trend Ready to Jump the Shark**: The -ley names
We liked Hadley, name of Hemingway's sympathetic first wife. And Huxley, Ridley, and Radley, as in Aldous, Scott and Boo, were all intriguing. But the trend toward tacking an -ley onto the end of a wide range of first syllables and calling it a name --- Brinley, Kinley, Finley, endlessly --- became so pandemic so quickly that we are ready to declare it over already.
These names are spelled with -ley, not –ly, but sonically there’s no distinction. Throw in Lily, Riley/Ryleigh, Hayley, Carly, and Emily—all of which have surged within the last five years, according to Name Voyager—and the trend becomes even more evident.
In 2010 and 2011 the torch was passed to the -ly/-ley crowd. Overnight, it seemed, adverbial-style names sounded fresh, modern, and unique: in a word, nameworthy. Of course, they aren’t unique at all—I’ve tallied almost 50 newish company names that end in -ly—and in a few years they’ll all sound fusty and dated. Right now they just sound like clones.
*If you don’t understand “jump the shark,” read this.
I’d hoped never to revisit the subject of -ly names, which I covered—exhaustively, I thought—in an August post that listed 29 such names, including Chirply, Erply, Zerply, and Estately. But a news item on TechCrunch today makes a follow-up inevitable, if not welcome.
The item: Enterprise applications and services company Infor has paid $100,000 for Local.ly. “.ly” is the country code for Libya.
The same post noted that Facebook last month paid an undisclosed sum for Friend.ly.
Adverb-style names: the trend without end.
More evidence: Twitter friend Anthony recently pointed me to 500 Startups, which provides seed funding for new companies. Anthony wanted me to check out those companies’ names. “Brace yourself,” he warned.
Indeed. The companies themselves may be innovative, but you’d never know it from their names. We’re still seeing droppd vowls (Forrst, GoVoluntr, Redeemr, Spinnakr), diacritical abuse (Cădee, a golf site), multiple Dailys (DailyAisle, DailyGobble, DailyWorth), and -ly names. Lots of -ly names. (And one “-li” name.)
The 500 Startups roster includes:
Central.ly, “connecting local businesses to the web.”
Contactually, “an email interface for your CRM.”
Graphic.ly “provides an immersive social experience and marketplace around digital comics and associated merchandise.”
Lovely “takes the frustration out of your apartment hunt.” (I’ve included this -ly name even though it’s an adjective, not an adverb. To me it suggests a fashion or beauty site—or online dating—rather than “this lovely apartment.”)
Recurly “gracefully handles all the complexities of subscription billing and recurring payments.”
Rewardli “lets self-employed and small business owners leverage the buying power in their social networks so they can get better deals on the products and services they need.”
Texting.ly “enables businesses to easily and inexpensively interact.”
More evidence: Last week I read on TechCrunch about Womply (“Amazing offers loaded to your credit cards”). Womply has a cartoon mascot, Mr. Wombat. I can’t explain the shift from B to P; I’m guessing “Wombly” would have risked sounding like an obstetrics service.
Last week also brought news, via email, of Grammarly, which calls itself “the world’s best grammar checker,” an audacious assertion that remains to be proved. I ran a short passage from one of my recent blog posts through Grammarly; it dinged me on “passive voice use” and “writing style” without telling me why. If anyone’s tried the service and has good (or bad) things to say about it, please let me know.
And still more: Book.ly calls itself “the better way to buy textbooks.” Posterly has something to do with posters, events, and venues, but the writing is so vague and amateurish I couldn’t tell for sure. (“Browse posters, listen and see where it’s going on” does not tell me anything I need to know. “It”?)
Finally—or so one hopes—there’s Yummly (“Every recipe in the world”). The enterprise is well funded, the site is attractively designed, and the brand is cleverly extended (the blog is called “Nibbles & Bits”), but the name is, um, repeating on me.
If you’re keeping score, we’re up to 43 -ly names.
UPDATE #2, Nov. 11: Oh look, another -ly startup: Giftly.
The last laugh belongs to Jotly (“Rate Everything”), a fake and very funny enterprise from Firespotter Labs. Jotly’s home page declares “Everything about your life is exciting. To everyone.” The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal notes that the Jotly video “manages to send up nearly every startup cliché in just two minutes.” See for yourself:
Early Monday morning Netflix announced a new service, Qwikster, that will do what the original Netflix did: deliver movies to mailboxes. The entity known as Netflix will limit itself to streaming movies and other content (notably games) to customers’ computers and TV sets.
I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.
His explanation of the new name? Terse, to put it generously:
We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.
The outcry was immediate and abundant. Mashable speculated whether Qwikster was “the worst product launch since New Coke.” Last time I checked, there were more than 17,000 comments on Hastings’s post. One of the more temperate ones came from Benjamin Hutchins:
The name itself, to me, shows a lack of thought. You say it was to represent the quickness of the service, but to me that was a bad attempt at trying to find an available.com domain when there are so few good ones left. I bet there were lengthy discussions over a good name, probably taking weeks, and yet to me, it truly sounds like a half-witted idea cocked up from someone in front of an investor and needed to keep things rolling.
Here’s my own disclaimer: I have never been a Netflix customer/member. I rarely watch movies at home. So I’m an impartial observer here—except where the name and branding strategy are concerned.
My take on the name: so bad it’s laughable. The branding strategy: mystifying.
Crazy, right? Like a fox.
Hang on for my explanation. First, though, a little background.
The little adverbial suffix is really getting around in startup-land. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about 27 company names that end in –ly or dot-ly (the Libyan country code). Here are three more I recently discovered.
Versly calls itself “a better way to work together” inside Microsoft Office. The San Francisco startup (started by a team “comprised of [no! no! no!] serial entrepreneurs and rockstar talent,” just like all Bay Area startups) was recently acquired by Cisco but appears to be keeping its unexplained name.
Forkly is a new iPhone app that “shows you where to go and what’s tasty there.”
Erply sounds like a symptom of gastric distress—perhaps what you’d say after being too successful with Forkly—but it isn’t: it’s a new credit-card-payment system for the iPad. Before the recent launch of that application, Erply, which sometimes likes to spell its name in ALL CAPS, provided business-management services to small companies. Erply was founded in Estonia in 2009, but “ERP” isn’t Estonian: its an acronym for enterprise resource planning.
Then there’s a red herring: Zerply, “a professional network built around people who love what they do.”
One of the founders, Christofer Karltorp, is Swedish; another, Taaniel Jakobs, is Estonian. (Does “urply” sound particularly euphonious in Estonian? Anyone?) Adverbs were not on their minds, according to the About page:
The name Zerply, which is derived from serious play, came to C and T in the wee hours of the night in Tallinn in the summer of -09.
Got that? They somehow elided “serious play”—charmingly accented, no doubt—into “Zerply.” Which does not sound like either “serious” or “play” to a native speaker of English. No, it just sounds like anotherdumbportmanteau. Go figurely.
Almost lost amid the tiny type and migraine-inducing layouts of last Sunday’s T, the New York Times’s occasional style magazine, was this tidbit:
In Los Angeles, everyone’s a hybrid. Caterer-dancer. Shop girl-singer. Bartender-drama student. Take Justin Kern: model, screenwriter and now fashion designer. Kern and his partner, Stephanie Danan, film producer and fashion designer, have founded Co, a collection of luxurious mega-basics: slip dresses, silk tanks and skirts, L.B.D.’s*, skinny leather pants and the kind of big old fancy furs that Margot Tenenbaum would adore.
Say it ain’t so! Not “Co” again? In case you’ve forgotten, in the last 11 months we’ve seen Co:-with-a-colon, a “brand innovation studio” in New York; Co.-with-a-period, the design agency of Fast Company magazine; and another Co.-with-a-period, an upscale pizza restaurant in New York City.
And let’s not forget the Coda electric car and O.co, which is both the minimal new domain of Overstock.com and the new name of the Oakland Coliseum.
Now we have Co-with-no-punctuation-at-all, whose URL is co-collections.com. (Why not go co-razy and buy Co.co? That would make your website really hard to find.) It’s a collaboration (geddit?) between the two founders, who explain on their About page:
The name Co is derived from their partnership, which spans the worlds of fashion and film.
Hate to break it to you, sweeties, but Co is so 2010. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Not your T-shirt, of course, but still. A knockoff is a knockoff, you know what I’m sayin’?
P.S. While we’re on the subject of redundancy, would someone please tell T magazine and all magazine editors everywhere that “in Los Angeles, everyone’s a hybrid” is a dumb cliché and inaccurate to boot? Thank you.