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What's in a name? 6 founders' tips to help you get your startup name right Written by Lucy Jasper on 31. January 2013

For many entrepreneurs, launching a startup is a process complete with big ideas, a lot of stress and the “wearing of many hats”. Under this much pressure, it is worth gauging what you can do to outsource and lighten the load, to (ultimately) keep your sanity.

At this point, we’d like to thank our technology God – aka the internet – for giving us the gift of crowdsourcing. In an effort to streamline the process of successfully crowdsourcing the name of your business, we have outlined our top rules with the help of Jimdo founder Fridtjof Detzner, überlin bloggers James and Zoe, and 6Wunderkinder founder and CEO Christian Reber.

Let it guide you to greatness… or at the very least, a successfully crowdsourced name.


#1 Think about where you’re functioning

Understandably, everyone is on the Internet. But is your entire idea based online? If you are going to be operating solely on the interwebs then you might want to make this part of your criteria – setting boundaries to available URLs is a good starting point.

Fridtjof Detzner, one of three founders at Jimdo, explains: “It was important to choose a name to represent our brand worldwide, so we wanted to be able to purchase the name with as many local domain extensions as possible. We searched Google, and nothing came up in the results, which meant we wouldn’t be confused with other brands, products or places.”

Restrictions such as these are helpful to let you find a truly unique name. This allows you to create an identity for your brand that stands alone, minus the confusing or competitive noise.

#2 Parlez-vous… sprechen Sie…. do you speak?

The language/region of your readership should be a consideration throughout the entire process. Perhaps we are being Captain Obvious here, but if you need your name to give its audience a sense of the product and your market is Italy – you need to be pretty sure that your name is understood by an Italian community.

Almost by accident, popular Berlin-based blog überlin defined its German-ness with the clever use of an umlaut. James Glazebrook goes onto explain: “All we knew when we started überlin was that it would be about Berlin, so we just conflated the German word “über” (meaning “about”) with the name of the city.” Never expecting to reach a readership beyond family and friends, they were “happy to find a name that suggested German-ness, while actually (almost) meaning something to natives.”

#3 Let’s talk about longevity

When going through the process of naming your business, choosing a fad name is not going to do you any favours. In developing the name for leading website builder Jimdo, Detzner and his team “knew that we already had a great product, so the main thing was, it had to be a name that would grow with us and [be] something we would be proud of for a long time.”

Throughout the naming process, the growth and maturity of your company should always be at the forefront of your thinking. Over time, having to rename because you’ve gone out of “naming-fashion” could prove a lot more tedious and detrimental to your brand than having a complete design overhaul.

#4 Do you have a good story? Obvious versus abstract

One of the most effective ways of conveying the “you” behind the name is through a clever bit of storytelling. “It was important that our name represented our story and gave our audience insight to who we are”, says Christian Reber, founder and CEO of 6Wunderkinder. “Our story begins with our company name and then expands to our product, Wunderlist. It was vital that our community automatically associates Wunder with 6Wunderkinder.”

“We wanted people to immediately have an understanding of the brand and the people behind it. When we founded 6Wunderkinder, we were six young friends but we really wanted to create something extraordinary.”

That said, your name needn’t be miles long with adjectives galore. But some simple imagery, like 6Wunderkinder successfully achieved with a number married to a word, could be the most tidy, elegant and comprehensive approach to naming.

When fleshing out the themes for what would soon be Jimdo, Fridtjof recalls, “We wanted our brand to be a “new word’: a word that didn’t already have any meaning attributed to it… We were able to create the meaning of Jimdo – now it’s a word that doesn’t just represent our website-building software, but our attitude as a company, our employees, and our vision.”

Defining whether your name should explain your product or remain abstract is a serious consideration. Do you want a name like Google where it (initially) meant nothing and grew to possess an identity of its own or one that is more representative of your company’s history, like 6Wunderkinder?

#5 Ask for a second opinion

If you are crowdsourcing your name, remember to crowdsource multiple opinions. Sifting through your options is always best done with some insight from friends, family, colleagues… even neighbours. You know that saying “two heads are better than one”? Well, this is when that applies – but remember to think big. At 6Wunderkinder, six seemed to be their magic number: “our entire team was involved in the process. We all brainstormed the name together and all instantly had a positive connection with Wunderkinder. But we wanted to make it more relevant to us and our story so we added a six at the beginning to represent the start of 6Wunderkinder – six cofounders.”

In the case of überlin, it was James and Zoe who were the brains behind the name, and despite its simplicity “it was the result of a drawn-out and exasperating brainstorming”. They recognise that “maybe having someone else’s input or feedback would have short-circuited the process, but it’s always been important to us that we’re 100 per cent in control of the blog and its direction”.


#6 We want to talk about feelings – not kidding

Whilst in the process of writing your creative brief for a new name, one of the things you need to think about are “feelings”. James and Zoe were keen for überlin to “portray Berlin in a positive, but tongue-in-cheek light”. They wanted the name to communicate to users that they’re visiting a “fun and humorous resource for expats visiting, moving to, or living in the city. To paraphrase one fan, imagine if Toytown Germany wasn’t full of absolute bastards. We’re not sure if the name überlin communicates all of this by itself, but we hope it becomes synonymous with a certain point-of-view on this wonderful city.”

The mood, the vibe, the emotions – these are all important parts of your to-be-determined name. It’s not an overshare, it’s just a really good place to start.

Image credit: Flickr user Marco Bellucci
Image credit: Flickr user jurvetso

For related posts, check out

The 6 Golden Rules of Crowdsourcing for blog marketing
The who’s who of crowdfunding in Germany
99designs acquires Berlin-based European clone 12designer