Coined Names: Gud, Badd, & Ugh-ly

Coined names have become increasingly common, especially in the startup space, and while creativity is something we celebrate, sometimes even WE think they’ve been taken just a letter too far. So how do you know if your coined name is great... or a goof?

First, a definition: a coined name is a newly created word, used as a name. Popular examples include Xerox, Hulu, and Oreo. A coined name is distinct from a combined name, such as Facebook or Dropbox, in that it is clearly a new word, as opposed to a word formed from two known word chunks.

It’s a subjective measure, but here’s how we explain what makes a coined name “good,” in our professional opinion:

  • It feels familiar - like it could be a real word that maybe you’ve just never seen before.

  • It is easy to pronounce (at least, for most people you ask).

  • It has a reason. This is obviously something we believe is important for ANY name, but it’s especially common to see coined names that appear to be plucked from thin air. A name should be rooted in strategy. If someone were to ask why your company or product is named what it is, you want to have a story - or at minimum, an answer that doesn’t embarrass you.

  • It will stand the test of time. Again, this is a measure we use for all kinds of names, but coined names - given their novelty - are most susceptible to naming trends which may feel tired in a few years. Dropped vowels or “-ly” endings, anyone?

And what makes a coined name “bad”?

  • It’s obviously coined. (see above)

  • It’s trying too hard. Maybe it seems like it COULD be a real word, but it’s just a little too cute for comfort as a name.

  • It’s been coined purely for practical reasons: to get a clean domain name, or in an attempt to create something that is protectable by trademark. (This doesn’t work, by the way… as “consumer confusion” is the measure of trademarkability, simply changing the spelling does NOT solve the problem, if there is one.)

We can’t really comment on what makes a coined name “ugly.” We're always happy to share our opinions, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all...

Topics: guidance, naming