How to name a startup

Since I started working in the Silicon Valley, I’ve been exposed to a huge number of companies which would not normally show up on my radar. One thing I’ve noticed is the naming conventions seemingly followed by everyone. Startup name choices seem to be strategies to get unique domain names, so I guess it’s not surprising that people are following them, but I did expect a few longer/nonsensical/obscure names rather than the similarity I’ve seen.


You can start with the kind of boring variation of using numbers in the domain. There’s 23andMe (genetics), 30Boxes (calendars), 37Signals (webapps), 280 North (PowerPoint clone), and 1000 tags (tag clouds). Kind of memorable, but meh. Too many of these and it will just end up being too confusing – perhaps for a dictionary website? (Apparently available too! My free tip for the day).

Double letters

Of course the original contender in this section is Digg. However I first properly noticed the naming trend on the Freakonomics blog. Steven Levitt was pimping his friends’ (Ian Ayres and Dean Karlan) new site StickK. I’d already read about Mixx on TechCrunch at that point and I knew a new pattern had been born. Since then I’ve also seen Jott, Kwiqq, Pligg and the triple-lettered Spottt.

This is an approach I used when I was 15, and my online nickname stopped being available everywhere I went (I managed to get a 6 letter common word for my Yahoo email account in 1997. That lasted only 6 months before spam destroyed it, even back then). So I started with a double letter. Then that got taken so I tried a triple. That got taken, so I tried a double at the start and end. Boom, gone. My final effort was to mix numbers and double letters – something we’ll no doubt soon see from startups.

Names ending with “o”. Bonus points: ending with “bo”.

I remember discussing Meebo (the online IM solution) with a work colleague who used to work for Migo and laughing out loud at the names (we both currently work for Trovix, which I’ll get to below). Thinking about it we realised we knew Bebo, Akimbo, Ameego, Vimeo, and Quigo amongst others. So I did a quick scan of TechCrunch and found the following honourable mentions: Amigo, Billeo, Eskobo, Pikeo, Quaero, Zipingo, Zlango, Zudeo, Retrevo, Teqlo, and Zoozio.

“-ix” is the new “-ama”.

Like “futurama” and its ensuing effect on naming things with “ama” at the end, putting an “ix” on the end of names is the new way to sound like we’re in the future. I work for a startup called Trovix, so we fit this particular mould (however we are five years old and our naming comes from the French word trouver, meaning “to find”). I’ve recently been interested in what Topix have been doing for providing local news feeds. MeeMix should technically come under the double letter listing given its meaning, but for even distribution I’ll include it here. Other notable mentions are Bix, Blogtronix, Kosmix, Asterpix and Nirvanix.

Nonsensical “b” words

These ones just leave me scratching my head. I saw the billboard driving into San Francisco one day. The site’s not bad, and I suppose the address is somewhat memorable, if grating. Others include Blyk, Boomj, Buxfer and Buzka.

Verb without the e (or similar variation)

Here we’ve hit the motherlode. I had thought Flickr (2004) kicked this off, but it is likely that they were influenced by the Razr mobile phone from Motorola which was released in 2003. Flickr has to be one of my all-time favourite Web 2.0 apps (and just seem to be getting better), followed closely by Google Maps and Gmail. However the naming convention they spawned is inexcusable. I’m not even going to discuss the sites, just rattle them off so the sheer bulk doesn’t lose its effect.
Ampd, Blogrovr, Bookr, Blufr, Browsr (not to be confused with browzar), Bullshitr, Buzzd, Cluztr, Coastr, Tumblr, dopplr, FiltrBox, Flagr, Frappr, Graspr, Gtalkr, Grazr, Isolatr, Livecastr, Mixd, Wundrbr, Pluggd, Portrayl, Preloadr, Prerollr, Priceprotectr, protomobl, Raptr, Readr, Zoomr, Resizr, Retrievr, Scanr, Scribd, Shifd, Simkl, Skreemr, Socializr, Soonr, Stockpickr, Talkr, Trezr, Twixtr and Wrickr.

Everyone loves Tuvalu

While Tuvalu slowly gets engulfed by waters (thanks global warming!) we can at least thank them for their domain name – .tv. I’ll also include .fm, since Micronesia is close enough. If you have a video-related product, you’d better snap up a .tv domain! The first domain to bring this trend to my attention was The fantastic also snagged a great domain to start the music related domain trend. Speaking of, I have to say – they got this site right. The viral nature of it, the UI, the licensing, everything. The experience is fantastic, particularly the social nature of it. I tried looking up some old bands that I enjoyed and it instantly connected me with some other die-hard fans. Music-lovers’ nirvana. Honourable mentions in this category:,,,,,,,,,,,,, and (okay, so .im is Isle of Man, but it follows the same idea as the others).

Let’s split a word (or words) with random dots

What I find incredibly frustrating with this category is trying to remember where the dots go. I’m always scared as to where I’ll end up if I get this wrong. The most famous is of course, and another early entry was Through TechCrunch I keep reading about more and more that follow this. Some are kind of interesting, like, while others such as are relatively pointless. Honourable mentions include,,, and

“q” instead of “c” is the new black

On some primitive level this one really bugs me. I guess it’s because it’s hard to automatically read a “q” as a “c” sound. It just looks like something is wrong and makes your brain stop and think for a minute. No matter, it’s an alternative, and the domain names are available, so here we go. Disqus is the one that’s all over the blogs at the moment, although I had previously come across Seeqpod. I was surprised to find the following startups out there as well: eqo, Fiql, Fliqz, Plasq, Qik and Talqer.

Bonus category: “z” instead of “s”

I think I’ve noticed this type of naming pattern because reading the name just jars something in my brain. It doesn’t help that I associate sites that do this with Or maybe I unconsciously associate the “z” with amateurism, which is why I was surprised to find out that a competitor to Trovix is And maybe sites like Payloadz and Utterz have been influenced by Orbitz. Who can say for sure? All I know is that they still read like names your kid brother might come up with… sorry guys.

The original – <name>ster

Napster came out in 1999 and set a standard for naming that has only been beaten by dropping vowels. Friendster came in 2002, while Jobster showed up in 2004. Since then we’ve also managed to have Feedster, Browster, Dogster, Eurekster, Famster, Flixster, glogster, Jookster, Kluster, Loopster, Snubster and Talkster all show up as well.

My future predictions

So it’s all well and good to identify existing trends, but I’m sure you’re all asking, “but what’s next Tim?”. Well, I’ll tell you. Two categories:

1 – “al” words


2 – Ripping off other names

For the first category, we see distal and drupal as the up and comers, both making decent amounts of noise in the blogosphere. In the second category, it’s been quite quiet, but I was surprised to see Prospero taking on the well-known Prosper (a great idea, and a well-executed site by the way), but at least they were in different industries.

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