16 Tips for Picking the Perfect Startup Name
The foundation of your name will be the root word, so the best way to start your brainstorm is to generate as many of them as possible. Below are several ways to develop great roots. As you create new ones, keep them organized in thematic groups on your spreadsheet.
1. Develop literal concepts. The first set of roots should be fairly literal and represent a core aspect of your business. This may include the product category (travel, music, fashion) as well as the product function (discovery, sharing, tracking).
Example: A family app generates words like ancestry (genealogy, lineage, roots), relatives (mother, parents), storytelling (narrative, news), home (nest, hut) and sharing (bond, tie).
2. Develop figurative concepts. To move beyond the obvious, extend your list of roots to names, objects, phrases, moments and feelings that are loosely related to your core business. Be as experimental and obscure as possible: focus on one detail, then write down everything that comes to mind. In general, I find figurative concepts to be more original and interesting than their literal counterparts, and their domains to be more readily available or cheaper to purchase.
Names associated with family: fam, bunch, collection, kin
Objects commonly found in families: photo frame, fireplace, family records
Phrases typical associated with family: call me, i love you, goodnight
Feelings that family elicits: happiness, joy, trust, safety
Moments spent with family: dinner, living room, weekend
3. Look up synonyms. You can easily multiply your output by adding a list of synonyms to the roots you already developed.
Example: Family has many synonyms, including ancestors, blood, clan, descendants, folk, kin, lineage and tribe.
Tools: Thesaurus.com helps you find direct synonyms, while Visual Thesaurus casts a wider net of associations (but is a paid service).
4. List examples and types. Another way to bring a concept to life is through examples and types that describe it. Keep in mind that these names should be understood by your target demographic, so they quickly trigger the associated idea.
Example: There are several different types of family trees, including redwood, maple, spruce, chestnut and birch.
5. Find visual inspiration. Pictures are worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to expressing ideas. To generate more names for your startups, do a keyword search on a visual search site and browse its images for inspiration. Pinterest is probably the best tool for this, given its robust database of high-quality images, but you can also use e-commerce sites like Etsy or a simple image search on one of the major search engines.
Example: Pinterest, Etsy product search, Google image search
6. Use foreign words. Foreign words that are commonly used in English or have a strong semblance to their English counterpart can be a great way to generate a concept. For English-speakers, words from romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese) as well as some German, Japanese and Hawaiian words may be helpful.
Example: The word ‘tree’ translates to arbol (Spanish), albero (Italian), arbre (French) and arvore (Portuguese). The startup Casahop uses the word ‘casa’ (Spanish/Italian/Portuguese for house) in a clever way.
Creating Word Permutations
Now that you have a robust list of words that are associated with your company, you should create permutations of the root to build a name that is catchy and original. Below is a list of strategies to help you do this.
1. Create compound words. Place one word in front of the other and join them together. Try combinations of two nouns as well as a noun and a verb, and make sure they have rhythm. Compound names are one of the most common ways that startups name their companies.
Startups: Birchbox, SendGrid, Skillshare, Milewise, Timehop, Betaworks, Sailthru, Fitbit, CardMunch, GetAround, Facebook, Geeklist, Foursquare, LaunchRock
2. Make a portmanteau. Combine two words by joining shared letters or sounds. A portmanteau requires a lot more creativity and finesse than a simple compound word, but when it’s well-crafted, it rolls off the tongue beautifully.
Startups: Pinterest (pin + interest), Mixel (mix + pixel), Codecademy (code + academy), Rentenna (rent + antenna)
Tools: WerdMerge generates portmanteaus based on one root, provided it’s at least 5 characters long. DaGraeve’s Invent-a-Word also generates portmanteaus.
3. Add prefixes and suffixes. Another very common tactic in creating names is to add prefixes and suffixes to your root. These appendages often come from Latin and Greek, or they are common extensions of English words (like the notoriously overused -ly). There are quite a few to choose from, so instead of overwhelming yourself with a big list, pick 10-20 that make sense and trying combining them with different roots. You can also use certain two-letter suffixes as a domain extension (see #6 below).
Startups: onSwipe, inDinero, Alltuition, Mycityway, Nestio, Goodsie, Spotify, Shopify, Posterous, bitly, Huntsy, Rootsy
Common Prefixes: my-, our-, the-, all-, in-, on-, un-
Common Suffixes: -ly, -sy, -er, -it, -ie, -io, -am, -ia, -ora, -ero, -ist, -ism, -ium, -ble, -ify, -ous, -ing
Resources: DailyBlogTips has an extensive list of 200 Prefixes and Suffixes for Domain Names.
Tools: MixNomer allows you create new words by inputting multiple prefixes, suffixes and roots into the system. Wordoid, NameVine and Lean Domain Search generate new words by appending their own prefixes and suffixes to your root, though I’ve found many of these results are not very good.
4. Misspell the word. This permutation can be achieved by removing vowels or changing letters in a regular word. Though it looks different, the new word benefits from the fact that it sounds the same as the original. Be careful with misspelled words, though, as they may feel too “web 2.0” and cause problems with your startup’s discoverability.
Startups: Tumblr (tumbler), Consmr (consumer), Flud (flood), Etsy (etc.), Yext (next), Gyft (gift), Lyst (list), Fotopedia (photopedia), Scribd (scribed), Zynga (Zinga), Digg (dig), Google (googol), Xoom (zoom), Reddit (read it)
Common Misspellings: er>r, i>y, le>l, z>x, ck>k, c>q, ph>f
5. Add numbers. Add numbers to your word to make it more interesting. The best names feature a number that has a meaningful relationship with the root word.
Startups: 1000memories (many memories), 10gen (rhymes), Lot18 (short), 37signals (37 radio telescope signals to detect ET intelligence)
6. Use clever domain extensions. While .com is still the gold standard on the web, a clever use of other domain extensions can still lead to a great name. The extension can be a continuation of the word (though eventually you’ll want to buy the corresponding .com), or a suffix that enhances it (see #3 above). You can also use subdomains in your name (ahem, del.icio.us), though this will make things a lot more complicated for users.
Startups: Art.sy, Visual.ly, Reclip.it, News.me, About.me, Last.fm, Shelby.tv, Chart.io, Trigger.i, Betali.st, Brit.co, Angel.co, del.icio.us (don’t try this last one at home!)
7. Use get- or -app. While not the most elegant solution, adding the prefix get- or suffix -app to your name opens up a lot of options for good names. You’ve probably already used this trick when a username is taken on one of the big social networking sites. Nevertheless, I would only use get- or -app in limited cases (e.g. your product appeals to a tech audience), as it cheapens your image.
8. Write the word backwards. This is definitely a stretch, but ananyms — words spelled backwards — are useful if you’re running out of ideas.
Startups: Xobni (inbox)
Other Companies: Harpo (Oprah), Aneres (Serena)
9. Make something up. If you’re running out of options, you can also create a word from scratch (and combine it with any of the strategies above). To make sure this made-up name sounds real and interesting, use a lot of vowels as they add rhythm to the name are often easier to spell.
Startups: Yipit, Yobongo
10. Browse premium domains. There’s one last option for the lazy and well-funded: browsing premium domains. Sites like NameLayer, Namecore and Sedo have collections of expensive sites that they’re willing to part with for the right price, so they’re worth visiting if you’re completely out of ideas.
Sound like a lot? It is, but it’s also much more efficient to follow these steps than to haphazardly come up with names. Keep in mind that your naming sessions should be spread out over a few weeks, as this will keep your mind fresh and creative juices flowing.