Choosing a name for your open source project?

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Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 3:40AM

This is a journal of my personal experience in choosing a name for our soon to be released open source web application project.

How hard was it to choose a good name? Very

I put a full day of labor (perhaps 2) into coming up with a brand name for my web application.  I read dozens of sites including resources related to generating name ideas, thinking about business strategy, plus time spent reviewing competitors' names.   I tried a few hundred names in google and godaddy during this time constantly needing to revise and re-think my strategy due to how much has already been thought of.  It's very challenging.

I considered many of the best names I've seen in commercial and free open source competition in the CMS world such as Wordpress, Joomla, Mura, Farcry, Mediawiki, Typo3, Umbraco, DotNetNuke, Ektron, ExpressionEngine  and many others listed here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_content_management_systems

Almost none of the popular ones are using obvious keywords like "cms" or "open source" or "framework", etc.  They are generally more abstract.  They all will put the obvious stuff in their motto or occasionally at the end of their name.

 

So what are good criteria for making a name?

Consider most brand names you can think of in other areas, they are usually composed of:

  1. One real word (Adobe, Apple, Windows etc)
    Incredibly hard to stand out from the related topics unless you grow to massive scale.
  2. Two real words (Bigcommerce, Wordpress, ColdFusion, Microsoft)
    Fairly easy to come up with, but it will be difficult to find words that impart the meaning you want.
  3. "made up" words (Coca Cola, Xerox, Exxon, Texaco, Nintendo, Linux, Sony)
    Probably most of the biggest brands are in this category.
  4. Misspellings (google is based on googol, wordpress's parent company is automattic)
    which are similar to made up words in the end
  5. Acronyms (ESPN, AT&T, PHP)
    A surprising number of large companies use acronyms despite this being potentially the least creative option.
  6. Unusual combinations of numbers and letters (Typo3, 37 signals, 3m, Xbox, iphone, etc)
    There is no doubt these names may be successful products, but it seems like they were chosen only for how literal or how easy they were to come up with.

 

Not all names are equal

Made up words are attractive because they are similar to choosing a classic font in a design.  A font that doesn't try to say something allows you to say more with the text that is set in that font.  For example, Helvetica, Futura, Garamond say far less then Courier or Lobster.  It is generally bad design to be using fonts in an illustrative way, so it might be said that naming your company or product in a literal way is also somewhat flawed, but it probably wouldn't prevent success when the branding has finally reached critical mass.  A name is a just a small portion of the overall branding & marketing, but most people would agree that if you can hear, see and remember the name more easily, it must be better.

When I choose my company name, Far Beyond Code, I didn't develop my thoughts about the name as deeply as I did this time.  I was far more literal and direct, and perhaps too long.   This time around, I decided that a shorter name like a made up word is more important.

A name like a letter plus a word is something I considered as well as acronyms for the project.  I found several of these, but the problem is they all seem more technical and that's not a good thing when some of your users are not technical.  Talking about things like open source, speed, the language used, content management system or other obvious things as single letters seem like easy ideas to use, but end up being inferior when you look back on all those stronger brand names that you are competing with.

 

Narrowing my choices

Towards the end of my process, I started working much harder on #3: "made up" words and instead of choosing them for meaning only, I choose the syllables for how they combine and read.

It sure wasn't hard to find names that were taken.  I thought I had some great ones, but domain brokers are sitting on a ton of those which is super frustrating, since they'll likely never be used by anyone with some of the absurd prices I saw in the thousands of dollars.

I found an excellent link that shows the word roots in English, which also shows what their meaning generally is when used in a complete word:
http://www.learnthat.org/pages/view/roots.html

This helped me think about the individual syllables of words more without getting caught up in ideas too much.

 

Discovery

After a while of using that resource and combining some of my previous word lists and thoughts, I found one.   One that is only 7 letters long with an available .com.   It has only been used as someone's screen name and they aren't very active.  It doesn't really "say" anything obvious, but some of it has meaning.   It doesn't force my product line to be a certain thing.  It should be friendly across cultural barriers since it isn't recognized as language.  It's not difficult for someone to spell having only heard it on the phone.  It has the hallmarks of a good name.


So from now on, my main application will be known as:

Jetendo

Ok, so not very different from another well known name, Nintendo, but it at least "kind of" says something to English speakers. 
BTW: There is an interesting description of what Nintendo may mean to a Japanese person here actually: http://kotaku.com/5649625/nintendo-might-not-mean-what-you-think

 

What does Jetendo mean to me?

Jet engines are known to be fast and I pride myself in making noticeably faster applications.   Jets are still breaking amazing hypersonic speed records.  The unmanned Nasa x-43 achieved Mach 9.65 which is almost 6600mph. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_X-43


Also the word root "endo", when used at the beginning of a word can mean "within".  An example would be the endocrine system.    While it is probably meaningless at the end of the word, my made up word could possibly be read as "fast within" and I do think performance is one of my best features.  But "fast within", could also be talking about how you can get your job done faster, and other things that are generally positive about a piece of software.

The J could also refer to Java, which is the language that CFML is compiled to.  You can also integrate pure Java with it.   So later when I find I have more written in Java, it will increase that meaning.  Many projects related to Java contain a J in them or say "for Java".

 

Short names make your related products and services shorter!

I can now reuse Jetendo for every product I offer and they are still relatively short in length.

I can now say
Jetendo CMS
Jetendo CRM

Or perhaps go slightly abstract on the individual names as well, yet now instead of worrying about conflict, I could disregard those concerns and name the product like how Microsoft or Adobe name products.  Using simpler names that many others have used before, but they are legally valid when combined with your company name.

Jetendo Create (cms)
Jetendo Hub (social community)
Jetendo Safe (secure backup)

though the official names are TBD.

 

Hosting your related products and services

The Apache project is more much then a web server.  It has hundreds of sub-directory and sub-domains for various projects released there under those tools and licenses.  Instead of buying a new domain for each product, you can typically market it on the sub-domain or a sub-directory of your domain, such as velocity.apache.org.

 

Committing to the new name

At first, you feel very unsure about the new name, but it is important to recognize it for the benefits it provides and allow yourself to commit and move on.

Having this name decision out of the way helps me refocus on delivering quality products and services which are associated with that name.

Within hours, I knocked out a temporary logo and put up new web site profiles and built a placeholder web site to help reserve these names and be ready for launch at a later date.

https://github.com/jetendo/jetendo

http://twitter.com/Jetendo/

http://www.youtube.com/Jetendo

 

The main web site for Jetendo is now available:

https://www.jetendo.com/

 

Conclusion

I hope my experience has helped someone else discover their name.  Good luck!


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