This is a story about a Very Online phenomenon with a Very Universal liability: a name that needed to be changed, pronto. The old name, DALL·E—styled with that little dot instead of a hyphen—is now craiyon, with a lower-case c.
Here’s the story.
In the beginning there was OpenAI, a company incorporated in December 2015 by Elon Musk—maybe you’ve heard of him—and five co-founders. OpenAI is a San Francisco-based artificial-intelligence lab with some serious goals, but it may be best known for an image generator dubbed DALL·E. I wrote about DALL·E in my January 2021 linkfest; the name, I explained, is a blend of “WALL-E”—a Pixar-coined acronym for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class”—and Dali, as in the surrealist artist. As of this writing, OpenAI’s DALL·E is not available to the public. Nor does OpenAI own any trademarks for DALL·E. (This last point will turn out to be a key factor in the story.)
You might say that repurposing WALL-E as DALL·E represented its own sort of load lift, to put it generously. Pixar, however, didn’t appear to mind. Then things got complicated.
In the summer of 2021, a New York-based company called Hugging Face (named for the emoji) released an open-source AI tool it called DALL·E mini. Unlike OpenAI’s DALL·E, the mini version—developed by a French-born, Texas-based engineer, Boris Dayma, as his entry in a coding contest—was very public. And it became hugely popular on Twitter, Reddit, and other online spaces, because it’s free and easy to use and the results can be strange, silly, or even, as NPR reported on July 5, 2022, “strangely beautiful, like ‘synthwave buddha,’ or ‘a chicken nugget smoking a cigarette in the rain.’” (Others, like “Teletubbies in nursing home,” are “truly terrifying,” reporter Kai McNamee added.)
I just had a million dollar idea and dall-e made it a reality pic.twitter.com/BuaxeeeTar— Cambalache (@CielosCambala) July 1”9, 2022
But there was the little problem of the name, which had not been licensed to HuggingFace by OpenAI. HuggingFace had just … lifted it.
On June 7, 2022, Boris Dayma’s lawyer filed an application to register DALL·E MINI with the US Patent and Trademark Office. The filing may have been the last straw for OpenAI—I’m speculating here—because by June 21 some media outlets were reporting that DALL·E mini had been renamed craiyon. Wired reported on June 27 that OpenAI had requested the change “to avoid confusion with the original DALL-E project.” (To avoid confusion, I’m going to start capitalizing the C in Craiyon.) The news has taken a while to seep out, though, and I’m still seeing DALL·E mini in the press, as in an amusing piece by Bruce Handy, published July 15 in the New York Times Book Review, about putting “DALL-E Mini’s skill as a book cover designer” to the test.
The persistence of its cute original name (hello, Dolly!) is one of the company’s problems. It’s not a unique problem: Palm Pilot and Blackwater are two other brand names that persisted for years after they were changed or forced into retirement.
DALL·E mini and Craiyon wordmarks via Know Your Meme, which has many links to popular and weird DALL·E mini creations.
There are other problems, including possible confusion with similar names. A quick search reveals that there’s a software company called Crayon Group, founded in 1993 in Oslo, with more than 3,000 employees in about 40 countries, whose mission is to “help clients select the best solutions for their business needs and budget to thrive and innovate with software, cloud, data, and AI.” (Emphasis added.) Logitech, the computer-peripheral manufacturer, also holds a trademark for an “input device” called Crayon.
Remember: Kree8tve spelling alone does not make a name distinctive. If the sound of a name creates confusion in a given category of goods or services, the name is unlikely to become a registered trademark.
And speaking of trademark, I haven’t found a filing for Craiyon in the USPTO database. Coming soon? Maybe.
Or maybe the company is already working on a different, better name. That would be my recommendation, because Craiyon is only a so-so name. Yes, a crayon is a drawing implement. But this technology does more than draw; it transforms. Sticking “AI” inside the word doesn’t communicate the sense of fun, magic, and weirdness.
What’s that you say—you needed to tweak the spelling to get a cheap domain? Well, no. A cheap domain isn’t the point; a strong brand is the point. Yes, to it, you stuck AI in the middle. Unfortunately, it’s apparent only in the full-color wordmark. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to spell the name every single time you mention it. “It’s CRAYON, but with an I in the middle. No, after the A, not after the Y.” And so on.
Look, I don’t mean to rain on this company’s parade. They done something clever and temporarily brightened many people’s lives, and who isn’t glad to see that? But both DALL·E and “craiyon” are oopsie names typical of Engineers Who Think They Can Do Everything (a large and noisy species). It’s a shame that they missed an opportunity for true creativity—the sort of creativity their product displays—by teaming up with a professional name developer and making their new name as magical as their technology.