What’s In A Name?

by · June 10, 20139 comments

Two friends of mine are expecting a baby any day now. They know it’s a girl and, as their last name is Barr, I’ve begged them to name her Tiki. Regardless, I’ll probably call the baby Tiki. Because I can. 

In all seriousness, though, picking the right name is an important task for a parent. This is what the child will be known as, what people will call her and will serve as the basis for potential teasing as a child. If I had a dime for every jackass who walked up to me in school and said, “Jason Falls down!” I could take you to dinner.

Naming is also an important step for your brand, business or product. It should easily communicate who you are and what you do, or at least arouse curiosity from prospective customers so they want to learn more about your story — whether it’s complete bullshit or not.

What's your name?American Airlines is a simple, easy-to-understand business name. Adobe Photoshop is a similarly named product.

Aetna is not, but has a classical tone to it that might make one ask, “What does that mean?” Galaxy Tab is a similarly named product. You don’t know what it is, but it certainly intrigues you.

Heather Whaling’s Geben Communication is named such because geben means “to give” in German, which is a neat underline for her agency’s service to non-profits and giving spirit. That’s a cool story to tell and opens doors for her firm.

In 2009, as my friend Rob May’s startup was gaining traction, he realized he needed to re-name his product. While “Lifestream Backup” made a lot of sense to people in the social media space, investors and those not as social-friendly thought he sold outdoor equipment. After some thoughtful consideration, Backupify was born. That name conjures up both the explanation and some playful curiosity.

As the social technology space gets more crowded, software platforms have emerged with great names: HubSpot, Spredfast, TweetDeck. And some with very intriguing ones: Expion, Hoop.la. There are also ones that make me scratch my head: Sysomos, Syncapse, Uber, Crimson Hexagon.

Even more confusing are the product names and feature sets. I came across one recently that had a great name, but upon further review, was totally underserving the feature set. HubSpot’s new “Social Inbox” is aptly named, but since other social monitoring and social management companies have been selling a “social inbox” for a couple of years, we’re conditioned to think this is a place where you see all your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other network messages in one place.

HubSpot’s “Social Inbox” is far more sophisticated, though. It actually delivers on the promise of tying in CRM and marketing automation with a social inbox to create an incredibly powerful communications hub for your social engagement. If I were naming it, I would scoff at “Social Inbox” and call it something like Social Control Center or Central Nervous System or something far more inspiring.

(If HubSpot wants me to actually name it, it’ll cost more than a subscription to my blog. Heh.)

Keep this in mind when you’re at the point of naming your product, feature or even company: The name should either be incredibly clear in describing what you are or inspire curiosity in your target audience to ask.

The fallout of a bad name could be as minimal as some initial confusion on the part of your target audience, or as impactful as having them walk way thinking your product is one thing when it’s much, much more.

So, do you know the story behind your company or product name? Is it interesting? Compelling? We’d love to hear it. Please share with us in the comments! Who knows? If your company or product has a great story, we may be compelled to write about it here on SME.

The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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  • http://rhogroupee.com/ Rosemary ONeill

    The naming thing is going to become even more tricky as we transition to more voice command too…you need to make sure that Siri can understand your brand name as well. Thanks for the Hoop.la mention. We want to evoke excitement and energy (jury is still out on the Siri thing…)

    • @thefronk

      Excellent point, Rosemary.

  • Neicole Crepeau

    I absolutely agree that the name is important. But having recently been through the experience, I can tell you that finding a good name that is available and works in all the contexts for your product–it’s a challenge! I’ll be send you our story, Jason! It might help others.

  • Dara Khajavi

    A name can make or break the success of a product. I completely agree with your post. A great name can really strengthen a brand’s image.

    • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

      I’d disagree. Sure it has some value over the image of the company, but if you make an amazing product or service and have a crappy name, I’d still probably use it.

  • http://www.obsessedwithconformity.com Jim Mitchem

    I’ve been naming companies and products for a while. The first thing you do is know the audience. The second thing you do is get inside of their heads to find out what’s important. Not unlike every other type of business communication. (Also, keep it simple.) I’ve also helped name our two daughters, which is a completely different way of thinking altogether.

  • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

    Hey Jason,

    I’m a bit late on this as I’ve been traveling a bit lately, but thought I should jump in.
    I’ll admit that Sysomos does seem like a bit of a strange name, but there actually is a great story (or at least meaning) behind it.
    As you may or may not know, one of our founders is Greek. Sysomos in Greek means “everything together”. So, when you think about what it is we do; bring social media conversations from around the web and around the world into one central place for you to look at, analyze, etc, it makes a ton of sense.

    You just have to know what it means (and how to pronounce it correctly) to understand. That said though, I do love explaining that to people when they ask where the name came from. It’s a compelling piece of information (much like Heather’s Geben, who I’m also happy to say that we work with).

    Sheldon, community manager for Marketwired

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