"Why did you name it that?"
(This post has been modified slightly from its original posting on the DE-DE blog.)
If you were a digital agency in the early 2000s, your company name probably ended in “-ient” or “-iant.” If you were a law firm or ad agency in the 1950s, you named it after the founders. Today you can usually recognize a startup by it’s prefixes and suffixes. They end in “-ly,” “.me,” or “-ilio.” They often start with “we” or drop the “e” in “-er.”
The point is that too many startups settle for functional names rather than pushing for a meaningful one. A functional name usually explains what a product does, but a conceptual name tells a story explaining why it exists. Since people don’t recall facts and features as easily as they remember stories, the name you choose is another piece of building a human-centered product.
We decided that if we wanted to build products that blend humanity and technology, we needed to name our products based on the question, “why does it exist?” and not just “what should we call it?”
The name is the idea.
We each remember a slightly different version of how we decided to name our first product “Thunderclap”. But we all remember the moment that one of us said “so it’s kinda like a thunderclap,” not realizing that he had just come up with a startup name.
That’s not to say arriving at “Thunderclap” was easy. Along the way, we left functional names like “TeamCa.st,” “GroupCa.st,” and “WeShout”. Looking back, we really could have called it anything. But when the name is the idea, it puts a human front to a tech product. We focused on the idea that when people combine their voices to make a loud noise at the same time to draw attention it’s like, well, a thunderclap.
The name is the story.
Not all names are metaphors for ideas. Some names are slightly vague, and invite us to ask “so, how did you come up with that name?”. The founders of Warby Parker named their company after two characters from Jack Kerouac’s personal journals. Not quite an obvious metaphor, but the name Warby Parker alludes to literature, evokes a specific time period, and connects their product to their story.
Another example” Watsi is medical crowdfunding site that helps people raise money for surgeries they can’t afford. So why “Watsi”? It’s named after a town in Costa Rica where the founder saw a mother on a bus asking for donations to pay for her son’s surgery.
The fact is, creating a name for a company is tough, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. You’re tasked with shaping a cornerstone of your company’s image. The brainstorming keeps you up at night, sometimes stresses you out, and can take a great deal of patience. But when you find something that sticks, you’ll know it.
Just remember to ask “why?” before asking “what?” and you’ll be sure to find the perfect name.