Startups put great effort into finding the perfect name. Ideally, it should be short, memorable, descriptive, and easy to pronounce.
Names that meet all the criteria are commonly taken, however, so most founders find a compromise. They settle on a creative misspelling, add a word or just string together sounds they like. In the end, the hope is that a well-named startup will have an easier time attracting customers and capital.
Observing companies founded and funded in the past couple years, it’s apparent that startups are often thinking along the same lines when it comes to choosing a name. They’re making reference to hot technologies like AI, opting for two- or three-word names, or simply making up words.
“We’re surprised at how many names we can make up that sound like they should be in the dictionary, even if they’re not,” says Athol Foden, founder of Brighter Naming, a corporate naming consultancy. He’s also impressed by how many really good names come out of creative combinations of common nouns and verbs.
We crunched through names of more than 1,000 startups founded in the past two years to look for trends. We narrowed the query to startups that have raised $200,000 or more in an effort to focus on names of companies that secured investment.
Here is a rundown on some of the recent trends.
Venture capitalists love artificial intelligence companies lately, and AI is a concise, universally recognized abbreviation. So it’s not surprising to see funded startups cropping up with “AI” in their names. We counted at least 23 funded companies founded in the past two years that have AI in their names.
By far the biggest funding recipient with an AI name is Argo AI, a startup in the ultra-hot autonomous vehicle space that secured a $1 billion investment from Ford in February. Other sizeable rounds went to Aidoc, a provider of AI-powered medical imaging tools for radiologists, and Rulai, which incorporates AI into customer experience software.
You might think it would be natural for a robotics company to call itself one. Looking at companies in the space that raised funding recently, that’s clearly the trend. Crunchbase records show at least ten companies founded and funded in the past two years with “robotics” or “robot” in their names.
But in previous investment cycles, when the industry was less in vogue with venture capitalists, many companies chose names that didn’t reveal their robotics focus. One of the most prominent was Kiva Systems, a developer of robot technology for warehouses that Amazon bought for $775 million five years ago. Others include Harvest Automation and Blue River Technology. Of course, there are also some older companies, such as Roomba-maker iRobot, that chose names reflecting their robotics roots.
Giving companies a human first name isn’t a new thing in startup circles. Perhaps the best-known startup in this category is Oscar, a four-year-old health insurance company that has raised over $700 million. Lynda.com, an online learning provider that sold to LinkedIn two years ago for $1.5 billion, also follows the first name trend. Perhaps Oscar, Lynda, and, more recently, Viv, served as an inspiration to others.
In the past two years, we’ve seen Albert, Lucy, Ollie, Penny, Pearl, Riley, and Yoshi crop up, among others. Extra points go to Aiden, an AI-powered tool for marketers, for scoring a brand that includes both an AI reference and a popular first name.
Food names for tech companies
Apple did pretty well with this strategy. Now others are hoping it’ll work for them. We’re seeing a number of tech startups turning to the grocery shelves for naming ideas in the past couple years. From the dairy aisle, we have Butter.ai, a digital personal assistant, and Cheddar, an online financial news network that closed a $19 million round this week. Representing the produce section, there’s Plum, an online saving tool. And from the bakery, we have Bagel Labs, developer of a smart tape measure, and Donut Media, a startup targeting auto enthusiasts.
Is your dream startup name taken? No worries. Just delete the “i” and replace it with a “y,” change that “c” to a “k,” or try a different vowel. Those are some popular techniques in creative misspelling that startups are using to secure names that sound like common words. Names featuring a “y” in place of “I” include Mylestone and Shyft Technologies. For the “c” and “k” switcheroo, there’s Kustomer and Kard. For other catchy typo names, see our list here.
As Foden told Crunchbase News, founders’ creativity has allowed for a much wider array of catchy startup names than even naming professionals would have thought possible. He’d predicted a few years ago that startups would turn to obscure foreign languages for names; instead. they are still mostly using their native tongues.
Startups have also managed to stretch out the name supply by going with two words, Usually, the first name is the brand and the second indicates sector.
But according to Foden, the two-word naming trend is likely temporary for founders with big ambitions. Once a company passes the $100 billion valuation mark, it’s common to drop the second word. No one calls Cisco Systems anything but Cisco anymore. And as for Apple, most young people probably don’t even remember that it used to be Apple Computer.