timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

semantic redundancy

Last night, I was driving around in a snowstorm, trying to think of a new name for our desktop product. The name game can drive you nuts. It’s best to think of it as a game you play for fun, like Concentration or Password.

There’s a continuum of obviousness when it comes to naming products. Years ago, when trying to name an EDI engine that translates medical records between different databases, my manager insisted on “InfoServer” as a name. I had to go over his head, taking my name, “Rosetta”, to his boss before they went with it. At worst, names are mere strings of cliches, like “ShareComm Pro”. At best, names merely suggest their intent, like “Google” or “Jabber” or “Tivo”.

A few “convey the intent” names we considered last night include: Hourglass, Keepsake, Legacy, Shoebox, Affinity. These were all taken. Some had registered software trademarks, some were domains with too much mindshare, some were connected to big scary companies like Hallmark. Finding names like this is usually just a matter of trawling through Roget’s Thesaurus, reading the concepts you’re trying to convey.

Other names have nothing to do with their intent, like “Java” or “Apple”. These names need to be friendly and cool, particularly for consumer products. This is why we liked “Akimbo” so much, and why the ReplayTV guy liked it too. Akimbo’s got enough meaning for logo purposes (as in Java), but people don’t have to know what it means to be drawn to it. Names like this are harder to find. You need an ear for it. With Akimbo, I simply woke one morning with my legs angled like a frog, and I thought “Akimbo! Now that’s a good name.” This is usually how it goes.

Once you finally find a name you like, you do a Google search, then a domain search, then a trademark search. It’s amazing how similiar people are when it comes to naming things, which can get discouraging unless you “think different” (like everyone else).

Deliberately setting out to find a name can drive you bonkers. You find yourself in public places, musing to yourself, “Howabout Streetlamp? Or Median? Or Crosswalk?” When all else fails, try some babbling at random. Who knows? You might come up with “Kaazaa.”

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