How to find a name for your new startup

Coming up with a name for your startup can be a traumatizing experience, especially given the current domain shortage. So to help you out, here is a short guide to some the most common naming strategies.


Gibberish Names

Just try to think up of any made-up combination of letters that still remain more or less intelligible. Having a one-year-old nearby might help.

Examples: GowallaZynga

Pros:
  • The domain name will be available.
Cons:
  • You might end up picking something like Wesabe.

NOTE: some people might use the Eskimo defense to justify their bad name choice. As in: “But Waloobaloo does mean something! It’s “geolocalized social network” in Eskimo!”. This is not a valid point unless the target market happens to be the North Pole.


Siamese Twins Names

Pick two unrelated concepts and mash them together.

Examples: LimeWire, ThemeForest

Pros:
  • Easy to come up with, makes you sound like a rock band.
Cons:
  • People will forever ask you what it means.

Pun Name

Include a witty pun inside your name.

Examples: Reddit, Experts-Exchange

Pros:
  • Cute and memorable.
Cons:
  • You better make sure the pun is intentional.

Descriptive Name

You know, that thing your product does? Congratulations, you just found a name.

Example: Visual Website Optimizer

Pros:
  • Good for SEO, plus you never have to explain what you do.
Cons:
  • Might get a little long, and a little boring.

Trendy suffix name

Pick a word that’s vaguely related to what you do, and then at the trendy suffix du jour to it.

Examples: Chargify, Recurly

Pros:
  • You’ll be the hottest startup of 2010.
Cons:
  • You’d better hurry.

Name name

Just use your last name.

Example: Dell

Pros:
  • Good for people who lack imagination.
Cons:
  • Doesn’t work if your name is too common, too long, or too foreign.

Random word name

Pick some random word out of the dictionnary.

Examples: Apple, Amazon

Pros:
  • After you dominate your entire industry and crush all competitors, people might stop saying your name is dumb.
Cons:
  • You might get into a lot of lawsuits with record labels, fruits, or rivers.

Specific word name

Pick a specific word that actually has something to do with your product.

Example: Basecamp

Pros:
  • Easy to remember, easy to spell, means something.
Cons:
  • The domain name won’t be available, so you’ll have to add some hard-to-remember suffix.

Microsoft name

Add “Microsoft” or “Windows” before some common word, and a version number after.

Examples: Windows Phone 7, Windows Live Hotmail

Pros:
  • People might think you’re affiliated with Microsoft.
Cons:
  • See pros.

Perfect name

Sometimes it just happens. The clouds part, a bright light shines down on you, angels start singing, and what they’re singing is the perfect name for your product.

Examples: Mint, Facebook

Pros:
  • It’s perfect.
Cons:
  • Somebody else will probably come up with it instead of you.

There you have it. With this advice, you have no excuse for not coming up with a good name for your next project. As long as you remember that your name should be short, memorable, have an available domain, roll of the tongue, and not mean something offensive in chinese, you’ll be just fine.

About Me

I'm Sacha Greif, a web designer freelancing out of Paris, France. You can check out my portfolio, and of course you should follow me on Twitter.

24 Responses to “How to find a name for your new startup”

  • Johnathan Barrett

    Awesome list, love the Microsoft one.
    Also love this comment form.

    7 Dec 9:55 am
    Reply
  • ordinarydot

    haha. awesome. the microsoft one is pure gold.

    7 Dec 11:17 am
    Reply
  • Sacha

    Glad you guys liked it :)

    7 Dec 11:48 am
    Reply
  • johnhaden

    I love the comments box…. so nice and clean!

    7 Dec 5:47 pm
    Reply
  • johnhaden

    Oh…. and the article was cool too :)

    7 Dec 5:47 pm
    Reply
  • ronschott

    Great list! I also think taking a random word and adding some random number to the end is also gaining in popularity (i.e. 37Signals, 23andMe)!

    7 Dec 6:37 pm
    Reply
    • Sacha

      Good point, but I wonder if those numbers really are random? There must be some story behind that “37″ (maybe the number of Porsches the co-founders wanted to own?).

      7 Dec 7:49 pm
    • Shane Mac

      Hey guys,

      37 actually has a purpose. I quote from an old interview

      “In the mid-1980s a group led in part by Carl Sagan conducted a five year project in search of signs of intelligent life in the universe. Using a radio telescope, they analyzed trillions of signals from outer space and of those trillions, only 37 signals were identified as potential signs of intelligent life in the universe. We felt that that was a fitting name because our goal is to provide our clients with intelligent interface design and as we all know, there are precious few signs of intelligent life out on the web today.”

      http://spotlights.firmlist.com/37signals/

      :)

      7 Dec 8:03 pm
    • Sacha

      Good find! This makes me wonder what qualifies as a “potential sign of intelligent life”. Finding life at all would already be amazing, intelligent or not!

      7 Dec 8:09 pm
  • Tony

    Example: Microsoft
    Cons: See Pros

    lol

    Great list!

    7 Dec 11:11 pm
    Reply
  • Maria Malidaki

    Amazing list, I won’t be original when I’ll say the Microsoft one made me roll on the floor laughing :D Wonderful design for the blog as well! Favored at Twitter :)

    7 Dec 11:55 pm
    Reply
    • Sacha

      Thanks! But I have to admit the Microsoft is an easy target…

      8 Dec 7:49 am
  • Wes

    Thanks for this list! Great tips.

    8 Dec 3:19 am
    Reply
  • Daily WordPress News Roundup For December 7th 2010

    [...] How to find a name for your new startup Attack of Design [...]

    8 Dec 5:08 pm
    Reply
  • Rushan

    Coming up with a good name is the hardest part ; )

    9 Dec 8:38 am
    Reply
  • fjshield

    i didnt know there was a domain shortage wow thanks for the great post!

    12 Dec 6:47 pm
    Reply
  • raffaello

    it makes me wonder about what will happen when all words are taken, just like in gmail with common family-names…

    16 Dec 9:43 pm
    Reply
  • Jeroen

    What about the URL names? such as
    http://www.builditwith.me
    http://www.delicio.us — I think they changed it a while ago though

    great list, made me grim quite a bit

    20 Dec 3:10 pm
    Reply
  • fscn

    Funny and true! Thanks for this :]

    22 Dec 5:13 pm
    Reply
  • moyses costa

    Muito bom!!!

    23 Feb 12:13 pm
    Reply
  • Leroy

    Hehehe … this is nice … I thought up two good names that I wanted (for two different projects)… but in the time I took to decide, both the .com domains were taken up … just imagine that … the worst day of my life …
    N this form is awesome :)

    26 Feb 5:05 am
    Reply
  • Anonymous

    What do you guys think of 1nder?

    3 Feb 9:05 am
    Reply
  • Hrishi Mittal

    You forgot “take a proper English word, get rid of all the syllables” -> Twttr.

    Pros: Domain will probably be available. People will remember you as the startup with the weird spelling without vowels, but at least they will remember you!

    Cons: Your product is probably lame.

    3 Feb 9:26 am
    Reply
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    2 Feb 11:29 pm
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