How not to name your company

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos riffs on one craze that the Internet bubble unfortunately could not kill.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
3 min read
This week I'm at the ThinkEquity Partners Growth Conference in San Francisco with a number of start-ups and established giants that are touting their companies.

What's truly remarkable is the collection of god-awful names on display. That's one craze the Internet era could not kill. A bad name just puts the wrong foot forward. Conversely, a good name can help launch a company. Gary Culliss, former CEO of DirectHit, a former growing search company, almost fell off his chair when he first heard about Google. And YouTube certainly benefited from a catchy name.

In any event, for you start-up execs, here's a handy guideline for how not to name your company:

1. Avoid redundancies. This was a lesson lost on Internet Gold-Golden Lines of Petach Tiva, Israel. And did we mention gold? I was actually looking forward to this presentation. I figured the CEO might dress up like Festus from the old "Gunsmoke" show and start shouting about claim jumping. But it is an Internet access provider.

Don't sound like you may have a criminal or shady past. This one's for you, DepoMed.

2. Don't sound like you may have a criminal or shady past. This one's for you, DepoMed. It sounds like you're going to sell vitamins out of the trunk of your car, not like you're a developer of advanced medical technology for gastric conditions. Similarly, Repros Pharmaceutical is only a few letters away from Repo Pharmaceuticals.

On a similar note, a very dry name can take on a slightly shady twinge--like you're hiding something. Take Central European Media Enterprises, for instance. It operates TV stations in the Ukraine, but it sounds like an import-export company. Then there is Portfolio Recovery Assets. It buys bad credit-card debt and chases down the debtors; in a sense, the name is trying to gloss over some ugly realities.

"One-third of our cash collection comes through the legal channel, but we prefer not to sue," Portfolio CEO Steven Fredericson calmly intoned. "We literally try to talk the money out of our customers."

3. Don't be lurid. Hello, XenoPort, NuVasive, and WiderThan. If you can spare the money, hire a focus group of 13-year-old boys to give you their reactions to all name suggestions. I also liked Pentaho Networks, which is what the dishwashers from El Salvador used to call me during my high school job.

4. Triple words are out. Yes, that's you, VendareNetblue. It didn't help PriceWaterhouseCooper. Even the Germans try to limit the combining of words to two.

5. Don't sound desperate or obvious. Good Technology. KnowFat. Though, sometimes it works. Hurray Holding: Enthusiasm makes up for a lot.

So what's good?

1. When in doubt, go medieval. If you can fit your company name into this sentence: "What (your name here) is but a boy. I will smote him in one blow," then you have chosen well. Ceragon Networks is a great example.

Weapons also work. Crossbow Technologies. This technique was successful for my old college roommate. He had a company named LightHammer. He picked the name because it both evoked "The Lord of the Rings" and "Hammer of the Gods" (the Led Zeppelin biography). He sold it to SAP.

2. Things that sound like a Spanish restaurant. Spansion. Taleo. Digitas.

3. If it sounds like someone that William Shatner would wrestle, you're all set. Santarus. Sirtris. DayStar. Questcor Pharmaceuticals.

Besides, that will make selecting a celebrity for trade show appearances easier.