Startups, stop choosing names that aren’t actual words

There are better names out there—you may just have to think a bit harder.
There are better names out there—you may just have to think a bit harder.
Image: Reuteres/Thomas Peter
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The latest startup boom has led to the creation of at least 161 companies that end in “ly,” “lee,” and “li,” which is, naming consultants tell us, 160 too many. There’s feedly, bitly, contactually, cloudly, along with a bunch of other company-LYS, all of which you can find on this Pinterest board, and all but the first ever “ly” name are “just lazy,” Nancy Friedman, a naming consultant, told The Atlantic Wire. The same goes for all the “ify,” “square,” “box,” any made up words, words spelled with extra letters, and the all caps, no vowels start-up names out there. They’re bad names and there’s no excuse for it.

In an attempt to rationalize some of the terrible naming trends that have popped up of late, The Wall Street Journal‘s Lindsay Gellman, puts forth the following theory: Companies pick their names to get good URLs, which is harder and harder as all the good ones get claimed. “The only practical solution, some entrepreneurs say, is to invent words, like Mibblio, Kaggle, Shodogg and Zaarly, to avoid paying as much as $2 million for a concise, no-nonsense dot-com URL,” she writes.

“This is a very old argument by now,” counters Friedman. With names like those it seems like these  companies have picked weird names to be weird. “I think sometimes people just want to have something goofy because that’s what startup companies are supposed to do,” added Laurel A. Sutton, a naming consultant at Catchword Brand Name Development. ”They want to show that they’re creative and different and they’re breaking away from the pack—they are all these things that regular big businesses aren’t.” The flip-side of that, though, are names that don’t convey what the company is all about. Do you know what Mibblio, Kaggle, or Shodogg do?

Plus, there are better ways to get around the .com shortage than making up names that make no sense. For starters, the web address does not have to match the company name. A lot of companies put “go” in front of the company name for the official business website. Or, Whisper, an anonymous thought sharing app (like Post Secret), has the URL, a clever usage of the St. Helena domain. “These country codes are a very rich source of creative options,” noted Friedman. And they aren’t that expensive, either.

Using a different country code, however, doesn’t necessarily make a start-up name creative. All those “ly” company names, for example, were motivated by Libya’s country domain, .ly. So, a company like Bitly, then, gets the pretty URL: Unfortunately, that only justifies a tiny portion of “ly” names and an even smaller group of start-up names in general. Not all “ly”s take advantage of the Libyan country code. See here and here, for example. “There’s just kind of this move out there: ‘Let’s make it an adverb and that will sound active,'” said Friedman. But, it doesn’t really make sense. “Maybe the first one was good, but it’s very lazy at this point.”

The same goes for a lot of the other naming trends that have popped up of late, like “ify,” popularized by Spotify. (A name that came about by accident, by the way!) But just because Spotify happened to turn into a big business, that doesn’t make it a good decision for the 100 other companies that tacked it onto the end of the brand-name. “As soon as it becomes a trend you get lost in the noise,” said Sutton. These companies just start to look like copy-cats, and why would any consumer want something that already exists.

In the age of mobile, companies also have to consider: How much does the URL matter? In naming, Sutton argues getting a legal trademark is much more important than the domain. Anyway, most web addresses for app based start-ups lead to a site with a link to the iPhone and Android app stores. Most users don’t type in and visit that web address every single day. They just download an app and tap an icon, or click a link on Google. There’s no need to pick a name like Kaggle just because is available for $7.99.

Then again, some start-ups don’t care to put much thought into a name for more practical reasons. “They’re planning on getting bought in a year, their name essentially doesn’t matter,” noted Sutton.

This originally appeared at The Atlantic Wire. More from our sister site:

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