Business for Geeks 101: Part 3 of N – Naming

Alright, if you've been following along so far, you have started on your product, have spoken with an attorney, gotten some of the paperwork squared away, and might even have a customer or two. Now I'll get into what I consider to be the fun part…

How do I name my product?

Personally, I believe in having a unique and distinctive name that fits the product somehow. Oh, that's all… 😉

For one, I hate acronym names. Normally people come up with a nifty little acronym that spells another word and now we have a backronym. The fundamental problem with this is that the names are impossible to Google and they don't hold much meaning for the user. One offender that particularly irks me is from one of my current customers… an internal project called “AMP” (sorry guys). If you attempt to search for info on it, you will find absolutely nothing without already having detailed information. The only saving grace is that this is an internal project and therefore those looking for information on it are likely to have the code available.

Next, I've found acronyms in general to be a bad idea. Whenever you use acronyms, you are likely to have naming collisions with something else entirely. CMS for Content Management System is great, but what do I call dotProject the Project Management System?

Finally, generic names are another no-no. Names like Windows, Word, Project, or even Flash are so broad and arbitrary they also lose all value unless you get to set the agenda and become the defacto standard. In the meantime, your customers are not going to be able to find you through all the normal usage of the word. In addition, trademarking this term is going to be difficult if not impossible.

Now, what is my strategy for choosing a name? I attempt to tie the attributes or purpose of the project to specific terms and names that fit it.

The first real naming effort I was involved in was at the Library of Congress. We were working on the effort to digitize everything the Library owned for long-term preservation. Yes… it was the ultimate geek question of “How much data is in the Library of Congress?” Many of the most important things were Thomas Edison's original motion pictures. It was a fascinating project with numerous smart people involved from a variety of disciplines but many of the lead people were from the Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division. The name was simple: Edison. It was a definite nod to Edison, but the premise was that we were pioneering the effort to record and catalog things in new and creative ways. The name didn't stick but I thought the reasoning was sound.

A few years later, I was a project manager on a complete replacement for a contract management system for bidding on and tracking government contracts. My boss named it “Bid Tracker II”. Not creative or memorable, but definitely descriptive. Being the subversive that I am, I kicked around a few ideas and finally came up with Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt and the wilderness. The contract management process is regularly called “capture” with various “tracking” steps and processes involved. The internal customers seemed to love it and my boss hated it. To me it made a great deal of sense and was a vision to form around. Unfortunately, the name only lasted until I left the company and then it went back to the orignal.

My point in all of this, is that your product and project names should be distinctive. They should have value and mean something to arbitrary people. Make it part of your organization's story and even part of your elevator pitch. If you can give it a name – even if it's a bit silly or a gimmick – that sticks in people's minds, you've won the first half of the battle. And remember, there is no rule your internal name must be the same as your external name…

Care to guess how I came up with the Domino Bridge?