How Much Time to Spend Naming a Product, Business or Website

Wingle

In the last few years, I’ve had the chance to assist in the naming of a few businesses and websites.  Unfortunately in terms of the businesses, one no longer exists, one is dormant and the other is yet to be adopted by the company after more than a year – so the track record isn’t the best!  Although I’d contend that in all cases there was absolutely no problem with the name.

If you were to go by the 37signals approach to naming, you would spend as little time as possible on the name and just get the product out.  The only thing is, 37signals seem to come up with awesome names for all of their products.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach though – spending valuable time on coming up with the right name for a product or service at the start of a project is just a waste.  Your energy is better spent working on the product, concentrating on the benefits and talking with potential users.  Once the true benefits of the product are clear (they may be different to those at the inception of the project), and the marketing direction set, coming up with a name should be a lot easier.

In terms of basic criteria, I feel the following are most important.

  1. Indicative of the features or benefits (eg. Dropbox, Rackspace, Kakaku.com, Mailchimp, Netflix)
  2. Uniqueness (eg. Skype, Lenovo, Boxee, Spotify, Zynga)
  3. Memorability (eg. Basecamp, Google, Apple)
  4. Pronounceability (eg. Sony, Honda, BP, IBM)
  5. Domain name availability (eg. delicio.us, bit.ly)

I’m right in 37 signals camp when it comes to how much importance to place on Domain names.  If the .com domain has gone, don’t sweat it – just be creative and use an extra word in the domain or use a different top level domain.  If you are feeling pretty uncreative, a .co would probably be a pretty good choice.

In terms of the process for coming up with the name, there are plenty of other posts on teh internets that cover that.  Brain storming, thesauruses (thesauri?) and on line name generators are all good techniques.  If you’re after something that sounds unidentifiably Latin without being Latin, I find the English to Maltese on-line translator at Google Translate particularly good.  Another alternative is to ask Kayac for 110 ideas for JPY11,000.  (It looks like they change their mind on names too – the service is called genkidama and the domain is ‘sparkball.kayac.com’!)

The reason this is on my mind at present is because we have a service that is on the cusp of launching for which we have chosen the name ‘Paperfrog’.  We think it’s memorable, indicative of the features (it’s about print management) and it’s surprisingly unique.  Where it falls down somewhat is for a Japanese speaker ‘Paperfrog’ (ペーパーフロッグ) is quite difficult to pronounce and also to hear.  As with almost any combination of two English words, the .com domain is gone.  This isn’t particularly worrying – we have the .jp domain and if we want a more ‘global’ sounding top level domain, we just have to be a little creative.

Ultimately the product will be aimed at an audience wider than just Japan so I don’t think the pronounceability aspect is a make or break issue.  I’m sure the success or failure of the product will be related to whether it delivers real benefits to customers rather than the name.