Recent startup Nyoombl describes itself as “a hybrid of Skype and YouTube.” It’s developing a technology that will allow interviews, debates, and other public conversations to be viewed online.
So how is “Nyoombl” pronounced? NEE-oom-bull? Nigh-OOM-bull? Enn-yoo-mobile?
No, no, and no.
From the company’s one-page website:
Nyoombl (pronounced NIMBLE)…
Now, misspelled or “creatively” spelled names are a time-honored tradition in branding. From Trix cereal to the Flickr photo-sharing service, from CitiBank to Google, companies have successfully tinkered with orthography to make their names distinctive and memorable.
But as The Name Inspector pointed out in a blog post last week, there are right and wrong ways to misspell. And nothing about Nyoombl-pronounced-NIMBLE gets it right. In no language I know of does the sequence of letters in “Nyoombl” come out sounding like “nimble.” It’s like writing D-O-G and saying the word is pronounced C-A-T. It isn’t illegal, but it isn’t a good idea.
Now take a look at the Nyoombl logo.
Raise your hand if you interpreted that image as “NY”—short for New York, say—plus “mobile,” abbreviated. The creepy-looking eyes in the middle? Big Brother, perhaps, or a spooky raccoon—certainly not part of the spelling.
Wrong again! Those “eyes” are actually Os.
And by the way: Nyoombl has nothing to do with New York (or mobile). The company is based in Palo Alto, California.
Here’s my hypothesis: The founder, Oladayo Olagunju, wanted to call the company “Nymbl” (even though that name suggests nothing about the actual service or its benefit), but couldn’t persuade the owner of nymbl.com to relinquish the domain. No luck with nymble.com or nymbler.com, either. At this point, I’d have said, “You know what? Let’s go back to the naming brief and explore a different direction.” But not Mr. Olagunju. He plopped two Os—representing his own initials?—into the middle of the name and insisted they didn’t affect the pronunciation.* Good luck with that, sir.
As TechCrunch observes, Nyoombl has attracted some talented and experienced advisors, including Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy, venture capitalist Lara Druyan, and entrepreneur Adam Rifkin. I recommend adding one more advisor to the roster: a naming consultant who will give the company a new name it can be proud of—and doesn’t need to be explained, over and over, to disbelieving, tongue-tied audiences.
UPDATE: A response from Nyoombl.
UPDATE, March 2014: Nyoombl is still in business with the same perplexing name.
* Mr. Olagunju was born in Nigeria; he graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2005 and earned an MBA from Stanford two years later. According to an Arkansas alumni publication, he likes to be called Double O.
What's great about this is that the OO can be interpreted as either silent O's or silent I's (eyeballs!).
Posted by: Amy Reynaldo | March 09, 2011 at 07:27 AM
I think it's pronounced "T.J. Eckleburg."
Posted by: Jessica | March 09, 2011 at 08:13 AM
"Raise your hand if you interpreted that image as “NY”—short for New York, say—plus “mobile,” abbreviated."
I certainly did. The subway background on thier website does nothing to dissuade the notion.
Posted by: Java | March 09, 2011 at 10:49 AM
Looks like its just a temporary name for a secret company anyway, based on the bareness of the web site. My guess is once they reveal what they are, they will have a new name anyway.
Posted by: jb | March 09, 2011 at 10:59 AM
A lot of these tech neologisms drive me nuts. I am still puzzled as to why MySQL is pronounced "my-ESS-quel" as opposed to "MY-squill." Or why Chitika is "CHIT-ika" as opposed to "chi-TIK-a." Is illogical pronunciation a branding tool or something?
Posted by: Ben Trawick-Smith | March 09, 2011 at 12:12 PM
@Jessica: Great Gatsby's ghost, I think you've got it!
@jb: You may be right--let's hope so--but the trouble with code names, especially those that go public, is that companies become attached to them even when it's not in their best interest. Aaron Hall of Catchword Branding recently wrote a good post about code names: http://bit.ly/dWCf1j
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 09, 2011 at 12:43 PM
My first impression from just reading the name is that it was something for kids.
Posted by: panavia999 | March 11, 2011 at 04:52 PM