commentary Somehow it seems to me that the naming game is just getting a bit too ridiculous.
Having lived for a number of years in Japan, I have to admit I've developed a great love for the process of product naming. Like the unfortunate phonetic translation that enabled a motor scooter to be called "Flush" instead of "Flash". Or the far-too-physiological chocolate-filled pastry tubes that someone decided should be called "Collon".
These days, however, especially in the IT sector, something seems to have taken all the fun out of product naming.
Speaking to directors of IT startup companies, I've noticed a great many of these budding organisations have interesting names -- well, OK, not interesting. Unusual, maybe. And the stories behind these names are remarkably similar -- it generally goes something like this:
"Hmmm, Phraaap, that's an intriguing name. What does it mean?"
"Nothing! [smiling proudly]"
"But wouldn't it be easier for people to know what your organisation did if the name had some meaning?"
"Oh, maybe companies did that way back when, but nowadays there are basically three rules to coming up with a name."
"What are they?"
"It has to be short, meaningless, and dot-commable."
"I guess short is good ... especially if it's meaningless."
"It has to be meaningless. Not only does it make it a better bet that no one's used the name before, but it also leaves the door open in case our company decides to go into some other business down the track."
"That should be a great comfort to your customers."
"And the dot-commable part is roughly the same thing -- you need something that you can be sure you'll be able to get the domain for."
"But three 'a's?"
"Well, with one 'a' it's the name of a sequence development program."
"And two's no good."
"Why, you think it sounds too much like the development program?"
"No, actually I was thinking of a large burst of hot wind."
Intel has been playing the game longer than most, with the made-up names it has used for its various families of chips: Pentium, Celeron, and Centrino. And then there was the era of internal caps in names ("Is that one word, capital P, capital S?") -- all that only to find ourselves in the age of the short and meaningless.
How can one cope? This is true: there is a product that you can buy on the Web called NameRazor. Normally, I'd hate to give anything like this any publicity whatsoever, but here's what it says on the site: "NameRazor is the ultimate naming software utility. Using a database of hundreds of 'namelets', it will quickly create thousands of potential name ideas in minutes!"
Namelets! I've got namelets -- they're called Scrabble tiles.
How did we get here? I guess in the end it's always easiest to blame the lawyers. For one thing, people are getting just a little too cranky about their copyrighted names. (Just ask poor Mike Rowe who put "soft" after his name and tried to run a Web site with that as the URL.)
There's no doubt about it: you've got to be careful these days. Especially with the recent introduction of the Spam Act. I have a feeling those business card exchanges are going to become quite interesting.
"What's your e-mail address? It's not on your card."
"Can't give it out anymore."
"Your mobile number?"
"Nope. SMS marketing."
"But your name ... it's not on the card either."
"Um, just call me Phraaap."
This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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