The good, the bad, and the unpronounceable: the year in brand nomenclature.
1. Silly Semantics: Baby internet businesses continued to choose baby-talk names--a blend of Dr. Seuss, robotic beeping, and random babble. There were nonsensical names like Thoof, created via computer algorithm and selected only because the .com domain was available. (Also the soundalike Doof, "an online playground." Oof!) Logic-defying names like Xobni ("inbox" spelled backward) and Kwout. Copycat names like Meemo, Meebo, and Bebo. And oodles of names with the long-u sound that made Google and Yahoo famous: Doostang, Hoooka (three o's!), Yuku, Hulu, LoonaPix, YooGuu, Helperoo, Grabaloo, Snooth. (I'll have more to say about Snooth in the new year.) Everyone wanted to be the next Google and Yahoo; everyone thought the secret was that "oo" sound. That's magical thinking (and bad branding) at its most naïve.
2. Thinking Globally: It started with Del.icio.us, the social bookmarking site that incorporated the United States country domain into its name rather than simply tacking on ".com." Gradually, other companies found creative ways to integrate country domains--usually from small countries that can use the domain-registration income--into their names. Some of the cleverer creations: Outside.in (a U.S. company using the India country domain), G.ho.st (U.S. company, São Tome domain), Wis.dm (U.S. company--I think--with a Domenica domain), and Eye.fi (U.S company, Finland domain). The trend goes beyond U.S. borders: Mormor.nu--a Danish needlecraft company using the domain extension of the Polynesian nation of Niue--translates to "Grandma.now."
3. By the Numbers: Yes, we're still seeing numerical clichés like 360 to mean "all around" and 411 to mean "information." But some businesses found original and meaningful ways to turn numerology into branding stories. I've written about 23andMe, the genetic profiling company named for the the 23 pairs of chromosomes in human DNA. Not new but very influential is the business-software company 37 Signals: the name comes from the number of radio waves we've received from outer space that scientists think indicate intelligent life. (Obscure, yes; but very cool indeed to the target geeky audience.) 8020 Publishing's name, which I wrote about here, comes from the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the effort. The 1865 Company, a retailer targeting upscale African-Americans, takes its name from the year the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery. Numbers also showed up in restaurant names: Hawthorne Lane in San Francisco became Two, supposedly because "it's the second restaurant at 22 Hawthorne Street with two chefs." They should have stuck with Hawthorne Lane. And I read recently about Parcel 104, a pricey restaurant in Santa Clara named for "the original lot number on which it sits": a bad excuse for a name explained in bad prose--the restaurant doesn't sit on a number. (Parcel 104's About page also misspells "pear orchard" as "pear orchid." I've never eaten there, but I already have indigestion.)
4. You, Me, They: Personal possessives have been around in internet names since MyYahoo and My eBay. What's new is the more expansive use of pronouns in nomenclature. The second person showed up frequently: RockYou (a photo-sharing site), WikiYou ("the unauthorized biography of every person on earth"), ViddYou (a video-blogging network), PeekYou (a people-search engine). Vostu, a Spanish-language social network, combines the second-person-singular pronouns vos and tu. And Dell's new Vostro computers for small businesses appropriated the Italian word meaning "yours." Wesabe, the personal finance site, can be read as "we savvy" and as a twist on "wasabi," the Japanese horseradish. There were third-person-pronoun names, too, like They're Beautiful (free "virtual bouquets") and She's Geeky, a conference for women in technology.
5. Brought to You by the Letter K: Back in April, Laura Wattenberg wrote in the Baby Name Wizard blog that "if any letter defines modern American name style, K is it." Corporate America--or at least that portion of corporate American in its Internet infancy--was on the same wavelength. Names beginning with "K" seemed fresh, fun, and youthful: Kindo , Kontera, Kiwork, Kindersay, Kublax, Kerpoof, and--most notably--Amazon's new wireless reading device, Kindle. Even silent "K" had its say in names like Knuru and Google's knew (whoops!) Knol.
6. Sorta-kinda: "I'm not a Jew, just Jew-ish," the British humorist-physician-theater director Jonathan Miller once said. Likewise, many company names were name-ish this year. Examples: the book-review site Revish, the help-ticket-tracking site Ticketish (which uses the Saint Helena domain, .sh, and thus also qualifies in Trend Category #2), the content-management service Texty and its sister site Yieldy, and the online collaboration tool Stixy. (I know the suffix -y has many meanings, but in these examples it seems to be a synonym for ish. For more on ish as a contemporary cultural signifier, see these Urban Dictionary entries.)
7. Fruit of the Year: Plums were ripe for the picking in 2007. American Express introduced its Plum Card. Valassis Communications announced that its online coupon portal, RedPlum, would go live on Jan. 3. And Plum magazine--"the first-ever pregnancy magazine for women over 35"--celebrated its first year of publication. The magazine's tagline, "Something especially prized," conveyed the most desirable meaning of "plum." Of course, if any of these ventures fails, there will be no end to the prune jokes. Runner-up fruit of the year: lime, as in the Gap's new shoe site Piperlime as well as Gaiam's "healthy living" site Lime.
8. Gross Me Out: Marketers of consumer products seemed to think that naughty potty humor was what shoppers craved. Which is how we got MomSpit no-rinse cleanser, Alligator Poo candy, Mother Effer's Va-J-J Jelly, and a host of similarly named items. Recommendation for 2008: Wash your mouths out with Squid Soap!
That's two trends short of the traditional end-of-year Top Ten. Want to round out the list? Leave a comment; I'm compile the best suggestions in a post later this week.
Bonus link: Lots of new web names at Go2Web2.0.