I found myself marking many passages in "The Untragic Death of Henry Gladfelter," an essay by Robert Cohen in the August issue of The Believer. The best bits aren't online; you'll have to find the issue in a library or buy it here for $8.
Cohen, a novelist, is writing about how fictional characters are named, but much of what he says is relevant to those of us who name nonfictional entities. For example:
We are reliant upon naming things as tourists are reliant upon landmarks, as religious people are reliant upon prayers: to crystalize desire, to lend form to the formless, to project onto the bewildering, sensational existence of things a sound and shape we can apprehend. At the same time we resent the very arbitrariness of our own projections, the flimsiness of our own constructions. Only God Himself (not much of a name, just a bit of generic shorthand) do we exempt from this process: He gets to go by that uptight, bewildering moniker "I am that I am," which is just another way of remaining nameless and closed off, a glib, tautological circle. (I am talking about the Hebrew god, of course, not the Muslim god, for whom there are ninety-nine names, all of them flattering.)
If I had been Cohen's editor, I might have questioned the repetition of "bewildering" in that passage, but still: fascinating.
Later on, there's this:
The truth is that any good name in fiction, as in life, strikes us as inevitable, inextricable: we don't even question it. A good name, like a good sentence, negates its own alternatives. Another, perhaps slightly more annoying way of putting it is that any name that fails to be a good name immediately becomes a bad one, in that it opens us to choice and reminds us of the precariousness and arbitrariness of its own construction. In this and I suppose in every other sense too what we are talking about here is not names but language itself, the mot juste and all that.
Absolutely true about corporate and product names, too. As "BackRub," a search-engine algorithm--no matter how brilliantly constructed--was doomed to forgettability. As "Google," the same search engine boldly took on the mantle of greatness. Note to all those other companies out there that think they can borrow Google's luster by aping its name, and especially its long-u vowel sound: People are smart. They can tell the difference between the real thing and the third-generation copy.