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For years, even decades, startup names have gotten weirder. This is not a scientific verdict, but it is how things have seemed to someone who spends many hours reading these things.
Startups have had a long brand name with creative misspellings, animal names. human names, made up words, adverbs and other strange collections of letters. It has gone on so long that it now seems normal. Names like Google, Airbnb and Hulu, which at first sounded strange, are now part of our everyday vocabulary.
In recent quarters, however, something peculiar has been going on: Founders of startups are choosing more conventional names.
“When we get to the edge of strangeness… they are saying, ‘It’s too strange. I feel uncomfortable, “said Athol Foden, president of Brighter Naming, a naming consultancy. While the wacky startup monikers have not left, the founders are becoming more comfortable with less unusual sound options.
Foden’s observations are reflected in our annual Crunchbase News survey on startup naming trends. We’re seeing a proliferation of startups choosing simple words to describe their businesses, including companies like Hitch, an app for long-distance car travel; Duffel, a new travel booking company named after the popular travel bag; and Coder, a software development platform.
But luckily for fans of offbeat names, the trend is just toward fewer oddities, not none. Those who want to sponsor start-up startups can buy tampons from Aunt Flow, get parenting advice from an app called Mush, or get insurance from a startup called Marshmallow.
Here, we take a closer look at some of the most popular company naming practices and how they are trending.
For a long time, it seemed like a large number of startups were selecting names heavily by disabling the spell checker.
The most desirable dictionary words were already in use as domains or were too expensive to acquire. So the founders decided to drop the vowels, substituting an “y” for an “i” or adding an additional consonant to make it work. The strategy worked well for many well-known companies, including Lyft, Tumblr, Digg, Flickr, Grindr, and Scribd.
These days, creative spelling mistakes are still quite common among early-stage founders. Our survey of names uncovered a large number (see partial list) who recently raised funds, including Houwser, a newly created real estate broker; Swytch, developer of a kit to convert bicycles into electric bicycles; and Wurk, a provider of human resources and compliance software for the cannabis industry.
However, creative misspellings are becoming less popular, Foden said. Early stage founders feel put off by the prospect of having to spell their names to people unfamiliar with the brand (which for seminal stage companies includes just about everyone).
One of the funniest naming styles is the word game. In our reading of companies that raised seed funds in the last year, we came across several startups that employ some kind of play words.
We put together a list of seven of the smaller names here. In addition to Aunt Flow, the list includes WeeCare, a network of child care providers, and Serial Box, a producer of digital content. Crunchbase News also created its own fictitious start-up, the unmanned chicken delivery company Internet of Wings, in a series of explanations about the funding of the start-up.
Perhaps one day business names will go back to the industrial age, when corporate titans had extremely boring and obvious names.
Real companies with pun names that have matured to come out were harder to identify. One pair that has gone public is Groupon and MedMen, a cannabis company that went public in Canada and is valued at around CA $ 2 billion.
For whatever reason, it seems like pun names are more popular in the brick and mortar world than they are in the tech company sphere. Restaurants that specialize in Vietnamese Pho noodle soup have dozens of word game names memorized in lists like this one. The same goes for pet stores.
Personally, I’d like to see more Internet companies rolling out names based on puns. Foden would, too, and has even offered a suggestion for someone who wants to start a business applying artificial intelligence to artificial insemination: Ai.ai.
Made up words that sound real.
There are more than 170,000 non-obsolete words in the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Startups, however, are convinced that we need more.
Therefore, one of the most enduringly popular business naming practices is to find something that sounds like a real word, even if it isn’t.
We put together a list of examples of this style of naming among newly funded startups.
It includes Trustology, which is building a platform to protect crypto assets; Invocable, a developer of voice design tools for Alexa apps; and Locomation, which focuses on autonomous truck technology.
Foden said appointment consultants like to see the trend of making up made-up names on the rise, because it’s the kind of thing companies pay a consultant to find out. Another advantage is that it is easier to beat the search results for a made up word.
Normal sounding names
Lastly, let’s take a look at the rogue startups choosing familiar dictionary words for their names.
We put together a list of a few here. In addition to the aforementioned Duffel, Hitch, and Coder, there is Decent, a healthcare startup; Chief, a group of women’s networks; Diary, a note organization tool; and many more.
Startups are less concerned than they used to be with snagging a dot-com domain that contains only their name. Commonly, they will add a prefix to their domain (joinchief.com, usejournal.com), choose an alternate domain (Hitch.net), or both.
In general, Foden said, today’s startups place less emphasis on ensuring a dot-com suffix or an exact domain name match. Google’s main alphabet, in particular, made the alt domain idea more palatable. It helped to see Alphabet.com, one of the richest corporations in the world, in favor of abc.xyz.
Where does it all go?
They say that history repeats itself. If so, maybe one day business names will go back to the industrial age, when corporate titans had extremely boring and obvious names like Standard Oil, US Steel, and General Electric.
For now, however, we live in an age where the most valuable companies have names like Google and Facebook. And to us, they sound perfectly normal.
Methodology: For the denomination dataset, we mainly looked at companies in English-speaking countries that got seed funding after 2018. To expand the potential list of names, we also included some companies funded in 2017. We also tried to limit the lists, In where possible, to companies founded in the last three years, although there were occasional exceptions.