In early 2007—during “Obvious 1.0”—I was thinking up a lot of product ideas. And, of course, naming was often the hardest part (at least of the conceptualizing). I’m obsessed with naming, so I spent tons of time on it, and I had somewhat of a system. I figured I could codify it in code and at least speed the process along.
For some context, you need to recall that, in 2007, what seemed like a good Internet product name was a bit different than what’s become popular in the last couple years. I would say today it’s more brute force today and back then it was more cleverness. (A sign of the industry maturing.)
Common naming formulas included: The combo (combining two words no one had ever put together before): YouTube, PayPal, Shutterfly. The misspelling: Google, Flickr, Digg. And of course the made-up: eBay, Skype, Odeo.
There are great newer examples of all these formulas today. But when I’m trying to think of a name these days, my first choice is to find a single dictionary word—like Medium. (Not always possible or necessary, but nice. Also: Less formulaic.)
So, back then, my formula for coming up with names was something like:
- Free association. Write down all the words you can think of that relate to or conote something about the product.
- Find synonyms for those words.
- Apply a formula. Mash them together, chop them up, tweak them, misspell them, combine them with other cool-sounding words.
- Check Google and domain registry for usage.
This is naturally a very time-consuming process. So I wrote a rails app to help it along. Now, I didn’t work on this very long, and obviously this is a tricky problem that could get incredibly complex. But early on, my little app had one private, shining moment: It named itself.
When I plugged in the data for this as-yet unnamed naming product into itself and gave the wheel a spin (I really wanted to creata a slot-machine-type animation, but in truth it was just a button), it found the French term for name and applied the add an animal formula (seen in classics like Firefox and Snapfish) and pumped out:
Given it was almost the word mongoose, one of the baddest-ass animal names there is, and nomgoose.com was available, I thought it was the greatest name of all time.
Figuring that was the best it was going to get, I then retired that project.