Every year or so, Crunchbase News likes to take a look at what’s hot in startup naming.
The process involves reading names of over 1,000 recently founded and funded startups in English-speaking countries, looking for trends.* We then get a naming expert’s take on the situation.
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Last time we did this, our broad takeaway was that seed-stage companies were moving away from weird-sounding names like Dogpile or Doostang in favor of more conventional monikers. In recent quarters, it looks like that trend has continued to accelerate.
Call it the year of the noun. Funded startups are increasingly choosing brands made up of recognized words or names that describe what they actually do. For example, there’s a company developing internet browsers called The Browser Company, a clothing rental startup named Wardrobe, and a payment software platform called Banked. And the list goes on.
“The crazy, silly, weird spelling name trend seems to have waned a lot,” said Athol Foden, president of Brighter Naming, a naming consultancy. “People are a bit longer with the names, and going back to English words.”
That’s not to say offbeat names have gone away entirely. But they’re more likely to be concoctions of words you already know. Below, we look in more detail at some of the more popular startup naming practices and how they are trending.
Probably the standout trend for the past year is the feel-good word. This could be a noun, adjective, adverb, or verb. The qualification is that it evokes something positive, commonly an admirable trait or desirable state of being.
Part of the reason simple, positive words are cropping up more is that startups are less concerned about getting a dot-com domain with their exact brand name, Foden said. They’ll take an alternative suffix (Cured is Cured.health, for example) or add a word to the domain name (Elate, for instance, is goelate.com).
There’s much be to be said in favor of the simple, evocative name. It’s short, easy to spell, and evokes warm, fuzzy feelings. There is at least one big downside however; these names are typically already being used by other startups. The Crunchbase dataset lists multiple companies called Mighty, for instance, along with several called Magic, Opus, Wise and Proper, which are also names of recently funded startups on our list.
Another popular branding approach is the straightforward description. Companies are picking names that describe exactly what they do.
We’ve put together a list of such companies here. It includes Grow Credit, a service for building credit histories, New Age Meats, a startup cultivating meat from animal cells, and, as mentioned previously, The Browser Company.
In Foden’s view, there’s something to be said for these simpler, clearer names. They tend to be easier to remember than a made-up brand name, and everyone knows how to spell them.
Another reason descriptive names are gaining traction, Foden said, is founding teams are more willing to accept a variant of their preferred name that has an available domain. They’ll add “the” or “a” to the beginning of a name, take out a space between words, or try other steps to find something that works.
Startups also often like to humanize their brand by choosing a name that sounds like a person.
Typically, this takes the form of a one- or two-syllable, reasonably popular first name, often followed by the .ai suffix.
It’s noteworthy that first names as company monikers have become particularly popular with artificial intelligence and chatbot developers. Apparently there is something comforting (albeit kind of frightening) about an AI-enabled best friend with a name that sounds human.
One of the most enduring startup naming strategies is the creative misspelling. By dropping vowels, adding consonants, or taking other steps, companies can get a name that’s both familiar-sounding and unique.
Over the past year, we’ve seen plenty of companies with misspelled word names raise seed funding, and have compiled a list here. The lineup includes Cann, a maker of cannabis-infused tonics, Puzzl, a payroll provider for hourly workers, and Shef, an income-earning platform for local cooks.
There’s a storied tradition of bad spelling among funded startups. Two of the most prominent that come to mind include the gay dating app Grindr and blog platform Tumblr. The Netflix brand, meanwhile, has become so embedded in our brains that we probably no longer notice that it’s actually a mashup of “net” and a misspelling of “flicks.”
Where is all this headed?
Modern humans devote an unprecedented amount of neural capacity to remembering brand names. While our hunter-gatherer ancestors recognized a vast repertoire of roots, berries and animal tracks, present-day people have learned to recite cereal brands, fast-food chains and fashion designers.
With so many trademarks floating around in our brains, it’s no wonder many startups are looking for names that are simpler and easier to remember.
As Foden points out, large-cap companies have the resources to popularize a made-up brand.
“If you’re a large brand, like Verizon, you can teach people to pronounce it,” he said. “It’s harder for smaller startups.”
Still, naming trends tend to be rather cyclical. While simpler monikers are in favor now, we wouldn’t rule out a return to the sillier brands. After all, it’s hard to dismiss the potential of weird names when a Silicon Valley garage-launched startup called Google is now worth more than $1 trillion.
*Methodology: For the naming dataset, we looked primarily at companies in English-speaking countries that raised seed funding in the past year. We also tried to limit the lists to companies founded in the past three years.
Illustration: Dom Guzman