What We Can Learn About Baby Naming from “Quirky Startup” Names Like Mibblio, Kaggle, and Xtify

The Wall Street Journal published an article called “What’s Behind Those Quirky Startup Names?” on July 18.The article claimed that internet entrepreneurs were making up nonsensical names like Mibbio, Kaggle or Xtify to avoid paying up to $2 million for “concise, no-nonsense” URLS, like Twitter and Facebook. Let’s look at the stories behind some recent startup names.

The name for an interactive musical children’s book app was created by combining the “M” (for music) with biblio (the Latin word meaning book). That produced Miblio, which might be pronounced My-blee-oh, so an extra “b” was added to get Mibblio.

Does Mibblio sound like a digital sing-along storybook business—whatever that is? Not really. It sounds like alphabet soup or a generic drug name.

The name for “a service that connects big companies with big-data scientists” was created by writing an algorithm that produced pronounceable combinations of letters, with three syllables or less, that were still available as URLs. The result was Kaggle, which unfortunately is often pronounced KAY-gle (like Kegel—the exercise used by women to strengthen their pelvic floors to prevent urinary “accidents”).

Is Kaggle in any way suggestive of a matchmaking service for big-data scientists and tech companies? I don’t think so! It sounds a nonsensical, randomly made-up word—which is exactly what it is.

According to the Journal article, since the success of Spotify, 102 startups with the suffix “ify” have been launched in the last five years. The article will probably glamorize completely nonsensical, computer-generated names. But it’s inefficient and counterproductive to pick names for babies or startups that are nonsensical or ridiculous; it’s so much smarter and more effective to pick appropriate names that are likely to benefit the child or the business. A few examples:

When Facebook started up, it was on online “book” that provided photos and information about classmates in Harvard and other Ivy League schools. That makes sense! And, Twitter is a service that enables people to send short tweets (messages with 140 or less characters). That make sense, too. Point is: I understand the connection between the names Facebook and Twitter and what those companies do. But I didn’t understand the connection between the names Mibblia, Kaggle, Flickr, Tumblr, Zaarly, Spotify, Xtify, Stackify–and what those companies do (before I Googled them to find out what they do).

A “flick” (the root word in Flickr) is a movie, not a snapshot; but Flickr started as a website for storing and sharing photos. Tumbling is what gymnasts do and the name Tumbler has no inherent connection with writing blogs that I can figure out. Before Spotify became famous you wouldn’t have been able to guess it wasn’t a product to remove spots from your laundry or face; instead, it’s a service to make music available on your mobile phone, tablet or computer. Nor would you be able to guess that Xtify sends out notifications to customers of hospitality, travel or airline companies; or that Stackify provides developers safe and secure access to their applications, servers, and databases. And how could you possibly guess that Zaarly enables people to buy goods and services from local businesses?

Now that we’ve discussed some internet names that are suggestive or descriptive of what the company does and some that have little or no logical connection with what the company does, let’s move on to baby names.

Start with this idea: In the same way that college students intuitively can figure out that Facebook (in the words of Wikipedia) “stems from the colloquial name for the book given to students at the start of the academic year by some university administrations in the United States to help students get to know each other,” most people can figure out that Diana is the name of an attractive and/or athletic girl or woman, whether you picture the beautiful Princess Diana, a statue of the Roman goddess of the hunt, WNBA superstar Diana Taurasi or long-distance swimmer and journalist Diana Nyad. But what is Moon Unit? Is it a transportation vehicle designed for getting around on the moon? According to Wikipedia, it’s a girl (now a beautiful woman with long flowing hair) who has been a singer, stand-up comic, magazine writer and actress. But like Kaggle and Xtify, you have to Google Moon Unit to figure out what it is.

Same goes for William. If you read or hear the name you can guess it’s a boy or man, whether you picture Prince William (who along with his wife Kate is expecting and wouldn’t think of naming their baby either Moon Unit or Dweezil) or William the Conqueror or William Shakespeare.

Luckily anyone can use the name Diana or William (or Harry or Elizabeth) and it doesn’t cost $2 million or a penny to register the name. Of course, you won’t be able to get a URL with any of these names, so your son or daughter will have to create a URL that makes sense for his or her business or law firm or medical practice or blogsite, whatever it might be 30 or 40 years from now.

The best boys’ and girls’ names and the best brand names make a positive impression for the children or the businesses or products they stand for. People who will do anything to get noticed (and are equally happy with positive or negative attention) are creating needless obstacles for their children and their businesses. It’s fair to point out that Spotify and Moon Unit Zappa have succeeded despite their nonsensical names. But the objective of picking a baby name or a company name is to pick one that will help the child or company succeed, not hinder it.

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