On naming startups and products

In 2002, I had just earned my Master’s degree and was ready to start a company. At the time, I was building WidgetWeb. Recently, as I flipped through the product’s business plan, I was reminded that I was considering naming the company Synergy Village.

The name I eventually chose was Aerial Giant. I still love it. 

Clearly, I was looking for a name that would convey rich imagery. For me, the idea that a name should arouse “rich imagery” was largely influenced by Rogue Amoeba - a company with great engineering chops, a name that just feels awesome, and a kick-ass mascot.

But I wanted my name to also imply the culture and principles of the company. Thus, I started my name search using “Egalitarian” - a word that suggests equality and transparency.

I soon found myself at the Internet Anagram Server. (Check out its Hall of Fame.) Using the advanced finder, you can specify the number of words your anagram must contain. Choose two, and you’ll quickly see my choice pop out.

With Aerial Giant, I got what I wanted: a name that evokes rich imagery and implies a principled culture. That’s a heavy burden for a name to bear, but almost a decade later I’m still pleased with the results.

Dumpster Diving for Domains

I was (and still am) working on a product, a peer feedback application, and needed a domain name. Initially the project had a code name: Transcendent. I liked the implication that use would result in surpassing the ordinary. But as I started searching the web, I quickly found it almost impossible to turn “transcendent” into a reasonable domain name.

(I know that building a product before getting reasonable customer feedback, much less buying a domain for it, is like kicking Lean Startup in the knees. But in my defense, I’m having fun.)

As I have before, I turned to others for inspiration. I think Trello is a great product, and I like its name. So, following their example, I decided to forego a more functional name and focused on one that literally sounded nice. I also hoped that a less descriptive name would offer more versatility as the product evolves.

For this search, I turned to the dumpsters – that is, expired domains. I used ExpiredDomains.net because of its search options.

I couldn’t help myself. I spent hours looking at these old domains. My favorite search was restricted to dot-com domains, sorted by the registration year. It felt like a glimpse into the past, with each ’96 and ’97 domain representing someone’s broken dreams.

I found a few interesting ones: witchwar (I waited too long and am still upset I didn’t buy this), divedock, and poortree. Then I stumbled on merrio.com - a diamond hidden deep in the dumpster.

Merrio is perfect. It’s easy to say, pleasing to the ear, and only six letters long. It has no negative connotations, and a search for “merrio” on the internet turns up little to no baggage. And it will provide the product the room it needs to evolve and grow. I’m just ecstatic at what this dumpster dive produced.

Names Are Important

What we call a thing matters. But it’s even more important to build something great. There are many compelling examples of great products that have overcome “odd” names. Still, I suggest choosing names that are meaningful to you without overanalyzing the meaning for others. Select a set of guidelines for the function you want the name to serve. Perhaps most importantly, give the selection process a deadline. Force yourself to choose swiftly, so you can focus on building great things.

Have a company or product name you love and a short story to go with it? If so, I’d love to hear it.