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Product naming

Yaron over at Project Aardvark is fishing around for product names, which is always a fun venture. I’ve long been divided on this one —right now being sick to death of MultiWord, MidCapitalized, JamTogetherItis— and find most of today’s fashion nomenclature to be what the Spanish call ‘el terrible’.

For Mac programmers there’s only one real hard-and-fast rule for your product: never ever ever put an ‘i’ at the front of its name. Fod god’s sake, it’s been done to death. I had my parents ask me a few weeks ago, on seeing an advertisement for Telstra’s new i-mode, if this was “an Apple thing”. Nope, sorry, we have parking meters called iPark too, haven’t you noticed?

Don’t drop an ‘X’ at the end, either, please, god, I’m watching you. For Windows programmers the “give it the name of your target OS release” trend isn’t as prevalent as it once was, which is comforting, but I guess this has been superseded by appending random combinations of letters, go figure.

Look around you into the world of ‘real’ products: Extra doesn’t give you any clues that it’s sugar-free, nor that it’s gum. Cap’n Crunch isn’t the name of a cereal, it’s the name of a fun character created specifically to hawk cereal. Nesquik doesn’t tell you anything about milkshakes. Vegemite doesn’t give you a damn clue that it’s some kind of yeast extract… though if you’re familiar with Promite or Marmite you might be getting the hint.

Names don’t build brands. Brands build names.

If you have a decent product, your product will do well even if it has an unfortunate name. Try to steer clear of offensive names, obviously —L’il Hitler Chemical Showers won’t make you any friends— but Project Aardvark could probably keep its amusing codename as a release name and I don’t doubt that the Spolsky Hype Machine® would make it wildly successful.

Trying to secure a ‘meaningful’ or ‘descriptive’ name will get you nowhere. They aren’t just boring, they’re already taken. You don’t have to look too far to see the Phoenix → Firebird → Firefox debacle, and Phoenix was a good name! So unless you have the kind of financial muscle that allowed Apple to take GarageBand and iWork from their previous trademark holders, you just better settle on something different.