Joanna Glasner February 27, 2023
Founders selecting a company name would prefer one that has it all: Cool, catchy, original, evocative and legally unencumbered.
But at the end of the day, a single attribute often determines success or failure, said Michael Carr, co-founder and self-described chief naming officer of Austin-based brand consultancy NameStormers.
“There is only one thing that matters when it comes to a name: Can people remember it?” he said.
While not everyone may agree on this point, it is inarguably a widespread mindset. Among startups in surveyed countries that raised sizable seed funding rounds in the past year, Crunchbase data shows that simple names composed of recognizable words have gotten super popular.
Increasingly, founders appear to be prioritizing recognizability over uniqueness. True, we do still see names composed of made-up words, like Boopos or Stonks. However, they’re conspicuously less prevalent these days than names consisting of common nouns and verbs like Tumble or Power.
New naming preferences are largely a reflection of established success stories, observed David Placek, founder of Lexicon Branding, the naming consultancy behind startup monikers like Impossible Foods, Turo and Lucid Motors.
“In our experience, the only trend in naming is imitation,” he said, as newer startups seek, either consciously or not, to capture the magic of an existing transformative brand.
So what are the predominant trends in this more staid startup naming era? Based on a Crunchbase survey of hundreds of recently funded startups, we’ve highlighted four hip naming strategies.
A single dictionary word (especially for fintechs)
Who needs a singularly unique brand? Certainly not fintech startups, which seem to be copious adopters of short, punchy dictionary words as names.
Among startups seed-funded in the past year, for instance, you can track your crypto transactions with Context, issue credit cards with Power, plan your estate with Wealth, and manage your investments with Fierce. You can even run business accounting with Decimal or build automated investment strategies with Composer — the list goes on.
Imitation may go a long way toward explaining what’s going on here. Placek postulates that the success of Stripe, Block (formerly Square) and Plaid in the fintech space may have influenced newer companies in the sector to pick simple word names.
Upstarts in other industries are also favoring common word names. Examples include Aware, a mobile app for health data, Roam, a cloud headquarters for scattered remote businesses, and Earth, a developer of an environmentally friendly alternative to burial and cremation.
Notably, the vast majority of these simple names were shared by a number of other companies, often including other recently funded startups.
It used to be that biotech companies had names reminiscent of some kind of prescription drug. Typically, even the first word in their names sounded like a life science company and not a tech startup.
This looks to be the case from a perusal of recently public biotechs, which includes names like Cadrenal Therapeutics, Mineralys Therapeutics and Lipella Pharmaceuticals. But trends appear to be changing.
When looking at recently seed-funded biotech companies, their names (or at least the first word in their names) could easily be tech startup monikers as well. Examples include Replay, Nested Therapeutics, Surf Bio, Nest Genomics and Systemic Bio.
Here, imitation may also play a role, given the breakout success of Moderna, a company whose name, per Placek, could work in myriad sectors beyond biotech.
For some startups, the creative misspelling serves to create a name that’s both familiar and unique. Swap out a z for an s or y for an i, and suddenly you’ve got a brand that’s pronounced like a familiar word, but has a spelling all its own.
This approach has been a perennial featured trend in prior startup naming stories. The latest survey shows it remains quite popular, as evidenced by startups like Gynger, Wispr, Rezonate, transferz and Qobra.
One more twist on this theme is to sub a number for a group of letters. This is the case, for example, with Rumin8, developer of a feed supplement that reduces methane emissions in livestock.
Carr sees both pros and cons to the creative misspelling approach to naming.
“If the primary initial exposure is visual or in print, then a misspelling can draw the eye,” he said. The problem is there are always some people who will just hear the name and won’t know to look for the unusual spelling.
Some random word followed by AI
Given how much money investors are pouring into AI startups, it makes sense that a company would choose to come across as one. Thus, it’s not surprising that many newish startups continue to tack “AI” to the end of their names.
Among the latest crop of seed-funded companies, a common approach was to pick a common dictionary word and then add “AI.” Our list includes cybersecurity provider Protect AI, data infrastructure technology company Spice AI, search app Rewind AI, and business lending exchange Lama AI, to name a few.
Among naming experts interviewed, opinions on this approach were mixed.
“That to me is a very short sighted strategy,” said Carr, regarding companies adding AI to their names. He compares it to the dot-com bubble, when companies routinely put .com in their names, only to remove the suffix later on.
With AI, one particular risk factor, per Carr, is that the technology isn’t always perceived as a force for good. This presents the danger that it will carry negative connotations for a company that brands itself with AI.
Placek, meanwhile, is more accepting of this approach. It has the benefit of signaling what a startup does. And, if the company decides it doesn’t want AI at the end of the name, there is the option of dropping it.
The survey looked at startups founded in the past three years that have raised $500,000 or more in seed or pre-seed funding in roughly the past year. The survey focused primarily, but not exclusively, on English-speaking countries and on names based on English words or words that are similar in English and other languages.