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Originally published Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Clever startup names giving way to too cute

Born of too much brainstorming or not enough sleep, the names come flying out of nowhere — Crocodoc, Yext, Nowmov. They turn ...

San Jose Mercury News

Born of too much brainstorming or not enough sleep, the names come flying out of nowhere — Crocodoc, Yext, Nowmov.

They turn nouns into adverbs (Answerly) or aspire to become brand-new verbs in true "I-just-googled-her" fashion.

And in the process, they drop vowels like a clumsy waiter (Flickr), spell perfectly good words backward (Xobni) and insert punctuation points where they have no business being (Center'd).

It's the Great Internet Branding Gold Rush. And with tech startups in Silicon Valley and beyond falling over themselves to create cool names with an AdMob's swagger and a Twitter's zip, the wordplay is getting wild. To make matters worse, as the supply of good available names dries up, the envelope is being pushed right over the cliff of clever into the canyon of overly cute.

"We were brainstorming for two weeks, but all the names we came up with were taken," said Mo Al Adham, 25, who co-founded his video-sharing service while tethered to a tight budget. "We were still poor students, looking for a $10 domain name. My business partner used to love 7-Eleven lime slushies, so he said, 'How about EatLime?' If we'd had a hundred grand, we probably could have come up with a much better name."

Steven Addis, a Berkeley, Calif.-based consultant who's been in the branding business for a quarter-century, sees the current crisis as part of a larger historical arc. Ten years ago, "everything was very dot-commish — punchy, short names like Yahoo. But when the bubble burst, a lot of the more frivolous names went out of vogue and suddenly sounded very dated."

Addis said the pendulum swung the other way for a while, as everyone fled dot-comania like the plague. But lately, "the world has gone back to a more dot-com sort of feel, out of necessity because everything normal is taken," Addis said.

Which leads us to the misspelled, nonsensical, copycatting mess we're now knee-deep in. Smule and Skimble, anyone?

Still, people have their own ideas about what makes a great name. Branding guru and author Naseem Javed says "we are at a crossroads right now because naming has become global. And your name must project the right strength, so if you think you can call yourself Boohoo or LalaLand, you're dreaming in Technicolor."

Apparently, the folks over at Fecalface (an art-scene site) and Booyah (an entertainment purveyor) didn't get the memo.

In the end, nothing spells success like success. Caterina Fake — yes, her real name! — knows the thrill of watching one's company name ascend into the rarefied air of common parlance. She co-founded and created the name Flickr, the photo-sharing Web site that was later sold to Yahoo for a rumored $40 million.

"We wanted Flicker, but the guy who had it wouldn't sell," says Fake, 40. "So I suggested to the team, 'Let's remove this "e" thing.' They all said, 'That's too weird,' but I finally ground everyone down. Then, of course, it became THE thing and everyone started removing vowels right and left."

And the rest — from Scribd to Jangl to Jaxtr to Qik — is, well, Hstry.

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