Naming things is hard, especially if the name needs to be unique. Over the years I’ve worked for sites named Urlesque (rhymes with burlesque, it’s about memes), Slacktory (it’s a factory for slacking) and Valleywag (which came scarily close to being called “Boomshank”). I always loved the evocative site names of the Gizmodo network. Sploid connotes splatter, tabloids and explosions; Deadspin promises ESPN with an unexpected angle; Kotaku puts the slightest spin on the Japanese term for obsessive nerdy interest. More famous names like Instagram, Medium and Upworthy also compactly convey multiple meanings. The same approach is popular for fictional character names: Darth Vader, Voldemort and Ebenezer Scrooge read immediately as bad guys.
Photo by Vicky Loras
Developing a clever (but not too-clever) name requires both inspiration and grunt work, both of which benefit from a giant database of words. The right name might be a common word with multiple meanings, or a rhyming pun, or a word melded with an unexpected suffix. Here are my favourite tools for crafting original names, so you’ll never get stuck just adding -ist to a noun.
This powerful dictionary tool lets you search by partial word or topic, and specify parts of speech, but the real value is in combining these search options. This is especially helpful for building word lists around shared letters or syllables.
Let’s say I’m naming a dating app for gym goers. A search for “*:exercise” gives me “workout”, “drill”, “fitness”. If I like “fitness” I can search “*f*:dating” and get “flirt”, “fling” or “infatuation”. Now I have my first potential names: Flitness and Infituation. Or if I’m going in more of a Grindr direction, I can stop at Drill and call it a day.
This site does much more than its name reveals. Use it to find homophones, similar-sounding words, phrases, and famous lyrics or poetry. You can sort results by syllable, popularity, or “rhyme rating”.
For my gym dating app, I can search for phrases that include “fitness” like “fitness training” or “physical fitness”, then search for single-syllable rhymes like “fitness twaining” or “physical fitkiss”. It isn’t a pretty process, but every good name is built on the backs of a thousand bad names.
People need names too, especially fake ones. This best-in-class baby name guide gives name meanings like any other, but it also shows name popularity over time, celebrities and song lyrics with a given name, and common sibling names. An advanced search lets you specify popularity, ethnicity, religious names and non-standard spellings. So my Millennial-targeted gym dating app gets sample users Brandon and Brooke.
Character names don’t always sound like real names. They need a certain flavour, but that flavour is often hard to describe. This site offers hundreds of name types such as dwarves, genies and superheroes, as well as names from fictional worlds as disparate as the Lovecraft Mythos and Pokemon. Even if you craft your own name, browsing a few examples will help you get a feel for whether you need something throaty, melodic or monosyllabic. My app’s unlicensed Hunger Games promotion gets character names like Trifle Seaflake and Ethelia Heavenscape.
Obviously any naming session will involve a few Wikipedia k-holes, but because the site is so highly organised, any lengthy entry will include some perfect brainstorming tools. Scroll way down to the “See Also” and “Category” sections to keep your research on track. The entry for “physical fitness” suggests “personal trainer” — which I can turn into “personal twainer”, if I want to spend every pitch meeting explaining my “twain” pun.
If you’re naming something other than a website, there’s no reason to limit your options to names with an unused .com domain. Instead of settling for .net or adding a hyphen, attach any simple name to an unusual and memorable domain extension. The makers of the podcast Reply All knew they couldn’t get the obvious .com, so they registered domains like replyall.limo and replyall.diamonds and redirected them to their less obvious URL. For no discernible reason, the podcast Hello From the Magic Tavern uses puppies.supplies.
Hit “search all” on Instant Domain Search to reveal the vast array of available domain extensions like .dog, .pink or .rocks. For my gym hookup app Drill, I can register Drill.dating or Drill.singles.
Drill’s a bit forward, I know, but it’s catchier than Physical Fitkiss.