Scott Hanselman

Fanciful names and acronyms often create LIFE

July 20, '11 Comments [24] Posted in Musings
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I was speaking with some folks at an unnamed technology company today about product names, and in a follow up email someone referenced a document that said:

Spell out the full name and use the acronym sparingly, so customers are able to clearly identify what it means. Fanciful names and acronyms often create confusion.

I jumped up on my desk and began ranting, if you can imagine. Here's some of the results of my rant. No blood was spilled. Well, a little.

Sugar Umbraco Node JS
Cucumber Raphael Glimpse
Wijmo Mochikit MooTools
Prototype Entity Framework Magic Unicorn Edition  Amplify JS
Kinect Skype NuGet 
Ninject Android Lync

What would you add, Dear Reader? What "fanciful product names" give you life?

Give me your suggestions, and I'll add them if they are LIFE!!!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:03:14 AM UTC
umm, Google?
A misspelling of the word "Googol".
Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:03:55 AM UTC
I don't think fanciful names are necessarily a bad thing. They can certainly add life and interest to a product. If its even vaguely related to what the product is trying to achieve, then a fanciful name can actually help you remember it! Its part of the advertising: the name doesn't need to be good, it just needs to be memorable.

But I do agree that acronyms are bad. How many projects have I worked on that are called EDM? or DM? or xyz Data Management. They're just boring, and don't tell you a lot about what's going, or distinguish the product in any way. If you've got a boring name, then either spell it out or find a better one, but reduce it to an obscure acronym. That's just lazy.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:12:57 AM UTC
A good short meaningful name is extremely difficult to come up with. This is why naming classes/variables/etc can be so hard. With companies/products its even more difficult because no one else can have already used it.
ctrlShiftBryan
Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:23:29 AM UTC
Pronounceable acronyms FTW. If you can't say it then you can't tell your friends about it.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:05:54 AM UTC
Don't forget about .NET and Java
Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:34:50 AM UTC
Fanciful names? Like 'Kleenex'?

Yeah, they should have just called it "Cheesecloth UGG." That would have eliminated any possible confusion and been much more successful branding.
Tom
Thursday, July 21, 2011 3:54:53 AM UTC
SQL! And so often pronounced "sequel". I rarely go a week without saying "sequel server".
Thursday, July 21, 2011 4:39:30 AM UTC
Bing and DROID are a couple. And as I went to comment realized that gravatar is another one. :)
Thursday, July 21, 2011 5:46:36 AM UTC
Yano - yet another .NET obfuscator. A commonly used Japan surname.
Is it memorable?
Thursday, July 21, 2011 9:22:39 AM UTC
Well, it depends. If you are building a product for the public then fanciful names are okay. If you are building software internally with-in an enterprise it makes sense to use full names with a namespace derived from the business and functional areas e.g. "Acme.Finance.Ledger" if you worked for Acme and were building a ledger system or some component that integrated with the ledger system.
Callum
Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:30:05 PM UTC
The problem with acronyms is that they're not unique. Is SMB server message block, small/meduim business, or something else? Is DDR double data rate or Dance Dance Revolution. (And there's something else that goes by DDR, but I'm not sure what it is.)
I can usually figure out what the acronym is for, but it can lead to some surreal moments.
Mike Swaim
Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:42:43 PM UTC
PHP, with it's recursive acronym must be considered.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 1:13:39 PM UTC
How about jQuery? jQuery is a much better name than what they could have called it; JavaScript Advanced Selector Engine Nirvana (JASEN) or DOM Access and Manipulation Nirvana (DAMN).
Thursday, July 21, 2011 1:19:28 PM UTC
@Andrew: Well it used to be 'Personal Home Page'.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:07:10 PM UTC
I agree with jQuery, it should be up there. But, as far as acronyms go, if they are bad, then Microsoft better start coming up with shorter product names! IE, EF, WP7, WCF, WPF, and T4 (why not follow the pattern and rename it to WTF (Windows Templating Foundation)? ;))

Anyway, the biggest problem with finding a good product name, in general, is finding one that is available. I'm currently trying to come up with a name for a project, but everything I can think of has been taken when I do a domain name search. And, the most upsetting part, 90% of those are just people who bought up the web address, but never used it for anything. Maybe a company can afford to buy those off of somebody, but for my personal projects, the name really depends on what is available, fanciful or not.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:32:10 PM UTC
I always liked Zune. Sad to hear the rumors of its demise, reinforced by lack of MSFT execs pronouncing it anymore.
Also, just read a highly relevant post:Why Scalable Companies Should Use Fanciful or Arbitrary Brand Names.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 4:17:55 PM UTC
Microsoft Lync, never heard of that before now - seems a little bit crazy to name a technology product Lync when you have a technology called LINQ... :)
Thursday, July 21, 2011 6:50:09 PM UTC
underscore - the js library.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 10:54:45 PM UTC
I think fanciful/generic names are essential for business names. Otherwise if you business pivots, or adds new products, then the original name will no longer reflect who you are. For products within businesses more specific names are ok, but I don't like Microsoft's long winded product names. Windows & Office are good names. But when they start with the 'Microsoft Blah Small Business 2008 for Windows Server CTP 3', it's too much.
Craig
Sunday, July 24, 2011 2:07:05 AM UTC
I've always wondered why MSFT creates products with cool codenames like Indigo and Avalon and then changes them to boring, non-pronounceable acronyms like WPF and WCF.
Or even rolls back a good change like WinFX, which was so much better than .NET

I haven't got any good answers so far.
Monday, July 25, 2011 6:46:43 AM UTC
You and me both, Diego.
Monday, August 08, 2011 1:54:24 AM UTC
What about Knockout JS? =o)
It definitely gives my life.
Andre Uchoa
Monday, August 08, 2011 1:57:44 AM UTC
Ops... gives ME life.
Andre Uchoa
Friday, August 12, 2011 4:33:01 AM UTC
A little late to the party, but several companies and products come to mind: Eclipse, Hibernating Rhinos, Castle, R#, Telerik (I know you know those guys! (c:), Headspring, Skype, RoundhousE, Ruby, Rails, Groovy, Oracle, Sun, Postgres, Apache, Hadoop, Lucene, Guava... That's all that comes to mind offhand, but I'm sure with a few more minutes I could double the list at least.
Dathan
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.