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There’s a great article called “How they named companies” at the Day2Day Activities blog. How do you like this for irony?

Volvo- From the Latin word “volvo,” which means “I roll.” It was originally a name for a ball bearing being developed by SKF.

I’ll never look at a Volvo without thinking about this irony again. (Latin scholars: if “volvo” doesn’t mean “I roll,” please don’t blame me–I’m just quoting the blog. Actually, I did verify this definition in an online Latin dictionary, but it’s been a long time since I studied Latin. Plus, bloggers aren’t necessarily journalists as you can read for yourself in this very interesting discussion at the Piaras Kelly PR blog.)

I’d like to provide some guidelines about naming a company or product because I meet with many companies who are in this process. Generally, the primary concern of most people seems to be whether a domain name is available. However, there are other considerations to keep in mind.

  • Begin with letters early in the alphabet. Here’s the scenario: you bought a booth at a massive trade show like Comdex. The list of exhibitors in the show guide is alphabetized. Would you rather be listed in the front of the guide or at back of the guide? Another scenario: A reviewer analyzes a dozen or so products. She lists them in alphabetical order in the review. Would you prefer that your product be at the beginning or end of the list?
  • Avoid names starting with X and Z. This is somewhat repetitious but it’s a pet peeve of mine. The worse letters to start your company or product name with are X and Z. First, they are both late in the alphabet. Second, they’re confusing to spell and to pronounce. “Please Zerox this form.” “Let check out the Zilinx booth to see the latest in programmable logic stuff.”
  • Embody verb potential. A great name has the potential to turn into a verb. Examples: Xerox (fortunately, they overcame the X), Google, Digg, and StuffIt. (Scoble too?***) Words with verb potential are short–no more than three syllables and “active sounding.” They need to work in phrases such as, “Why don’t we just ____ it?” Or, “I’ll just ____ it.” (One of my big disappointments in life is that “Kawasaki” has too many syllables to become a verb.)
  • Sound different. Quick: What do the following companies do? Claris. Clarin. Claria. Clarium. Clarins. Clarinex. It’s hard to remember whether they sell makeup, unplug your nose, or got killed by Apple. Great names sound different. They also spell different, for that matter.
  • Embody logic. The absolute best example of naming things in a logical manner is the approach by the clever folks at Pokémon. You don’t have to be a kid to figure out what Geodude and Lickitung look like. Can the same be said of names like Tenaris, Abaxis, and Ceradyne? Sounding different + spelling different + embodying logic = a memorable name. Here’s a good test: If you told your company or product name to ten strangers, would at least half of them guess what business you’re in?
  • Avoid the trendy. Mea culpa: we made a big mistake when we started what is now Garage Technology Ventures. We called it “” Yup, with a lower case “G.” It was a brief lapse into modesty and eBay envy. We had a great slogan too: “We put the capital in you, not in our name.” (Later, we considered an even better slogan: “We take the FU out of funding.”) The “.com” was a mistake too because “dotcom” became synonymous with “no business model.” If you think there’s a cool trend in naming going on, my advice is that you avoid it.

It doesn’t matter whether you check the domain first, then apply these recommendations or vice versa. But please do both because saddling a great company or great product with a crappy name is a real crime.

Written at: Atherton, California

*** I threw this in since he’s always saying that I don’t include enough outbound links in my blog. How’s that for sucking up? :-)

Addendum 1: You have to read this Salon piece referred to me by Kevin Marks. It’s hilarious.

Addendum 2: Avoid the commonplace and generic. This was pointed out by Shaula Evans. If you name your product or company something commonplace and generic, people will never find it in Google,, VersionTracker, etc. Her example is if you name your company “Water” and your product “Word.” At least one should be distinctive.