It’s not often that I have a chance to write about the intersection of naming and swimming, two of my primary interests. But in the last seven days I’ve seen two swim-related names that caught my eye, for better and for worse.
I remember reading about Swimply—“a marketplace that connects owners of underutilized swimming pools with people seeking to gather, swim and escape locally”—not long after the company launched in June 2018. “That’s a really bad name,” I thought back then. “But hey—the founder is only 20 years old. Of course he’ll change it!” Right? Wrong.
It’s still Swimply—a portmanteau* of swim and simply—and it’s still bad.
I could write a separate post about other problems with Swimply’s business model—don’t get me started on “the Airbnb of X”—but for now I’ll just point you to the March 13, 2020, episode of “Shark Tank” in which the founder claimed a valuation of $239 million but was still “working out the issue of liability insurance.” The Sharks said the idea was “nuts” and “crazy,” and unanimously turned down his bid for a $300,000 investment. (Because there is no such thing as bad PR, and because startup fever is alive and well, in May 2021 the company raised $10 million in a Series A investment round.)
Why is Swimply a bad name? Look at it: WIMP is right there in the middle. Listen to it: Maybe you’ll hear “swim,” but what’s up with the “plea” at the end? (Or the wimpy sound?) If you squint past those obstacles, “swim simply” suggests swim lessons, not swimming pools.
And finally, the name isn’t extendable. The company is already pursuing other types of recreation “sharing”—private tennis courts, backyard basketball courts, home gyms, and so on—that “Swimply” doesn’t cover. Swimply has created a new sub-brand, Joyspace, for this market. It’s a better, more elastic name, although the copywriting has a long way to go to convey “democratizing luxury.” Just repeating “awesome” won’t cut it.
After that depressing dunk, how about a good portmanteau? Jari Salomaa, whom I know as a fellow member of the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club in San Francisco, is back in his native Finland and planning some adventurous open-water swims there. Every weekend in July, he’ll be swimming a different 3-to-10km course. He calls it Helswimki, which is completely delightful. Why? Because it replaces the SINK in the middle of HELSINKI, Finland’s capital, with SWIM. And it’s fun to say, too! Helswimki gets my Nicely Named award of the week.
I’m taking some time off myself to do some swimming—not in Finland, alas, but in the warming waters of San Francisco Bay. In the meantime, leave a comment and let me know your favorite portmanteau or most-detested shitmanteau/portmantNO.
* Trademark lawyer Jessica Stone Levy coined “shitmanteau” for this sort of awkwordplay. Helen Zaltzman, the host of The Allusionist podcast, calls it a “portmantNO.” (Christopher Johnson coined “awkwordplay.”)