Name That Scandal

Congressional Quarterly asked me why the Trump-Russia collusion scandal has no catchy name. Here's what I said (click to enlarge):
I don’t believe there actually needs to be a catchy name for a scandal name to catch on. Exhibits A through Z to prove that point is “Email Server.” If those somnific words can become the go-to name for Hillary's (non)scandal, just about anything could catch on as a scandal name.

But for any scandal name to catch on, there needs to be unanimity. Journalists across all media would need adopt one scandal name, such as Trump-Russia, and that would become the de facto scandal name. With different names currently in play, one scandal name to rule them all will never come to pass. And that would be a shame, as the evidence is clearly pointing to the greatest scandal of our time and it deserves unrelenting attention.


Recent Work


Names I developed but haven't announced yet. I hope you like them.

Along with my recent launches of Mythic and Fond, these credentials and others can be found in the Operative Words online portfolio.


Virgin Voyages
A terrifically fun project developed in partnership with Chandelier Creative. Virgin Voyages will be reinventing what a cruise line can be. Setting sail in 2020.

Starry Internet
A radical new broadband internet service currently piloting in Boston. The Starry Station router is unlike any other. From the founder of Aereo.

    

Plume
Pop a handful of Plume pods into power outlets through your house to create a seamless mesh wifi network. Plume pods' industrial design has been widely acclaimed. I spoke briefly to NPR about the Plume name (my quote begins around 4:25).


Velop
Another home wifi mesh system I named, this one for Linksys. Also critically acclaimed.


Streetlane Homes
Vertically integrated, single family home rentals. Streetlane buys homes, renovates them, rents them, and manages them. Logo designed by the insanely-talented Jeff Carino of CLK Design.

Roofstock
Roofstock lets anyone invest in single-family rental properties. The first company to offer fractional ownership in SFR homes.

Protocol First
Unifies and harmonizes research and medical data from clinical trials.

Wove
The Wove band is the world's-first wearable, flexible display.


Wisewire
Wisewire is a marketplace for sharing, creating, exchanging, and purchasing educational content. Teachers who create cool stuff for their own classes can sell it to other teachers.

Future Forum
My first political naming project, Future Forum is the Democratic caucus addressing the needs of Millennials. Since Congressman Eric Swalwell engaged me for this assignment, we've worked together on many other verbal short-form assignments.


You should #probablyvote
The Millennial get-out-the-vote slogan for 2016.

Chemetry
Chemetry makes production of certain chemicals vastly safer and with a smaller carbon footprint.

Trove
Trove works with companies who want to transform health, the climate and the planet through food.
Founded by former White House chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition, Sam Kass. Here's his Ted Talk about the interplay of childhood nutrition and education.


Bootstrap Small-Batch Whiskey
Made by New Deal Distillery of Portland, OR.

How to Name an Innovation (the movie)


Design legend, Don Norman, honored me with an invitation to speak at UC San Diego Design Lab about naming innovations. My talk specifically focused on innovative product descriptors, the part of a name that establishes what the product’s category is, such as “smartphone” or “universal remote”.

Why is a product descriptor important? If you're inventing a “World’s First” product, the invention’s product descriptor should establish a category all its own. But naming a unique product category is not always easy.

In my presentation, “Naming the New”, I detail a best-practice process to develop an innovation’s product descriptor. Real-world project examples for Quell and Cinder illustrate how it works. The video is an hour long, but you'll probably learn a lot if you get through the whole thing.       

If the topic of novel product descriptors interests you — and how could it not?! — read my other posts on the topic, Describe Different and The Names of MIT Media Lab

Enjoy!


Announcing: FOND


A company name should reflect a single, big idea. By rising above the functional and descriptive, a name that speaks to a higher-order idea can endure and inspire forever.

At one time, the name AnyPerk made sense to its founders, as it describes functionally that they provide a range of perks to employees of their corporate customers. That is technically true: AnyPerk does provide product discounts and other perks.

But they are really more than that. The company had long-embraced a single, big idea to define their brand: “The employee happiness company.”

As a name, AnyPerk says nothing about this noble reason for being. Moreover, as the company expanded beyond perks per se to also offering rewards and other benefits, AnyPerk was limiting.

It had to change. 

I was honored with the invitation to create a new name for the company.

For six weeks, the senior team at AnyPerk and I weighed the relative merits of 140 names that cleared preliminary global trademark screening.

And today, AnyPerk, “the employee happiness company,” announced their new name: Fond.
 



As a single, big idea, the name Fond will remain always relevant to the company and their customers. It will endure even as the company evolves. It’s easy to like.


I couldn’t be happier for them.

For their internal launch event, Fond asked me about the name. Here's what I said:

video


Fond's blog has a post detailing their rebranding. Their VP of Marketing, Michael Stapleton, offered these kind words:

"We're thrilled with Fond! Anthony did a wonderful job uncovering this name that was remarkably untaken. It so clearly reinforces our mission of 'helping companies build places where employees love to work,' but isn't an obvious, too-on-the-nose choice. It also leaves room for the brand flexibility we need as we grow."
Congratulations to my wonderful clients at Fond on their successful launch!


Announcing: MYTHIC

As a name, Isocline Semiconductor did not do the company justice.

Their engineers figured out how to enable GPU abilities in flash memory, putting computational power and storage in the same place. It's truly innovative technology and will revolutionize AI. Imagine if Siri or Alexa did not have to rely on cloud-based servers to understand your voice commands. How about instant universal language translation built into your phone. These are the kinds of mind-blowing features their technology will usher in.

Bringing massively powerful artificial intelligence down to the device level represents the promise of my client's technology.

Isocline asked me to rename them, so I did.

Announcing: MYTHIC.


Read more about the launch of Mythic and $8.8mm of new investments in VentureBeat.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to give Mythic a name as powerful as their promise.

Welcome, New York Times Readers!

I was lucky enough to be included in an article in The New York Times Magazine about professional namers. As a kid, I read William Safire’s “On Language” column every Sunday in The Times magazine section. For me, this is as humbling as it is huge.

For those of you new to Operative Words (which is the name of my naming agency and my blog), here is where I give away expertise. I do this because I want everyone to be a great namer or great judge of names. And I do that because I'd rather be surrounded by wonderful words and not ugly ones. I think most people feel that way.

These are some posts to get you started:

Instinct as enemy: How to sell-in the new and unfamiliar
An equal and opposite reaction: How to manage emotions and subjectivity in a naming program
Creative names the easy way
Where are the most creative names?
Describe different
Red Flags and Red Herrings: How to check brand names in foreign languages
Decisions, decisions: How to research brand names

Here, you’ll find case histories (I call them “name stories”), and creative naming tools. I embed how-to tips in my name stories, so expect some overlap.

My Twitter feed is updated far more regularly than this blog, so be sure to .

Please join my email list for updates. I’ve sent out, like, three updates in five years, so it might be a while before you hear from me. Be patient.

This is my contact for a project or pull quote.

I owe all of my clients so much gratitude. In particular, I want to thank the founders of Jaunt VR, Jens Christensen, Arthur van Hoff and Tom Annau for letting me talk with The Times about naming their company. I also want to profusely thank branding agency Character, particularly Ollie Ralph and Ben Pham, who invited me to collaborate on the Jaunt project. If you’re creating a breakthrough product, Character will serve you well for brand strategy and identity.

Thank you to fellow namer, Margaret Wolfson, founder of River+Wolf for recommending me to the author of The Times article. And I’d like to thank him, biographer Neal Gabler, for listening to me ramble on for four hours about my obsession with naming.

I’d also like to thank the Academy. 

– Anth

Fifty Futures


It’s my job to imagine different tomorrows.

As a professional namer, I strive to explore every perspective on my clients’ new brands. Each one is articulated as a name, representing a potential brand future. After spending weeks creating names and then filtering them through trademark screening, I present a shortlist to my client. Many possibilities, all potential, but which one will become reality?

Like Schrodinger’s cat, who, while boxed up is dead and alive at the same time, these names are futures coexisting under the cloaked secrecy of a client presentation. Once the curtain is lifted and the final, approved name is launched worldwide, those possible futures, the ones that might have been, evaporate (my clients get to own one name I have developed, and the rest go back into my quiver). All that remains of the runners-up is a memory, lingering among the select group in attendance at the original presentation, and they are all sworn to secrecy.

But this once, my client and I have agreed to share with you a few of the futures which a list of names represents. Although the final chosen name for this assignment is a particular favorite in my portfolio, the runners-up reveal a lot about how a namer thinks, and how the process of naming works.

The Project

In the spring of 2012, I was approached to name a start-up. My client was creating a line of ready-to-drink cocktails, made with select, natural ingredients, organic when possible. The drinks would be lightly carbonated, delicious and, being made simply, would be low in calories. These cocktails, starting with a margarita, would give competitors like Skinny Girl a run for their money.

My client didn’t have much capital to invest initially, so I agreed to be compensated, in part, with a thin sliver of their revenue for a few years. If they didn’t succeed, at least I could experience the sheer fun of naming a new line of cocktails.

The recipes were created by three women who called their stealth, startup venture Moms on the Rocks, a witty name befitting their bubbly personalities. With a placeholder that good, I knew this client would be a great partner in naming.

Names are a mirror. They reflect products and the people who create them. After all, it’s the founders who ultimately set the direction for naming, narrow the shortlist of potential candidates and anoint the finalist. You can learn a lot about the founders of a company just by looking at their placeholder name. 

Fun, confident, outgoing, opinionated, unvarnished. In my briefing with the founders, these emerged as the traits that best described them and the personality of their new brand. Each of these qualities was a starting point, and from there, I searched for related words, branching out in ever widening circles. Exploring outward in every direction from these core ideas traces a sphere in words. These words form a world, and every point on and inside that world is a possible future.

For this project, I explored several concepts, included fresh, natural, green, fruit, squeeze, mixing, farm, agriculture, organic, and pure. I also looked at idioms and phrasal verbs to see what might pop up. 

After two weeks of exploration, I cherry-picked the best names and screened them for trademark availability. How? That’s a topic for another post. 

So what are the futures, the names, that might have been for this line of cocktails? Here are a handful:

Happy Place –Where does a great drink take you? For some, it’s here. The name Happy Place would tell the clients’ story about their Marin County home, the orchards where fresh limes are picked, and the Mexican fields where the blue agave grows. If this were the name, the brand would be about places that make people happy. The client could sponsor a YouTube channel where people tell their stories about places that are dear to them and make them smile. 

True Nature – The cocktail’s natural ingredients were fertile territory for name exploration. This one would emphasize the cocktail’s use of real fruit juices. True Nature would be an honest brand, a straight shooter. But it’s not terribly fun, while my clients and their brand certainly are. It's a good name, but for a different product.

Green Party – Natural doesn’t have to be serious. With a name like Green Party, this brand could be about having a great time naturally. Sure, the name skews political, but what if it were paired with a picture of dancing limes? With the right imagery, this would move the name away from Ralph Nader and towards skinny dipping and icy glasses of margaritas. Party on!

Picnic – You can feel the sunshine in this name. It’s warm, fresh and innocent. There’s a light buoyancy. The name is all about being social, with friends and family. A margarita called Picnic would be full of fresh fruit. The label might sport red gingham. It would be simple and honest. It would be good and clean and fun. Picnic illustrates how a surprising name can also be a real and common English word and not some crazy coinage. 

Squoze – A playful way of suggesting fresh-squeezed. Squoze would be a brand about living life with a twist,  and sometimes being a bit twisted. Familiar objects and experiences would be featured, but they’d be a bit off, in a safe and playful way: 
We hug our limes until the juice comes out. That’s Squoze. 
Be the lime of the party. Bring Squoze. 
Something to that effect.

Laughing Glass – This is not a name that might have been. This is the name. Because it articulates the sheer delight the client sought for their brand foundation, Laughing Glass was adopted as the go-to-market moniker. When a name instantly has the whole room beaming, as this one did for the client, it stands a great chance of success in the meeting and the marketplace. The name inspired the brand philosophy, Laughing My Glass Off and reflects what the client really believes in: Joy.

Snappy packaging by Voicebox Creative

The founders, in high spirits in The San Francisco Chronicle 

Laughing Glass is the reality that we see today on shelves in Whole Foods and elsewhere throughout California. But it didn’t have to be that way. It could have been one of the other names I presented to the client that day. Each one would have emphasized different aspects of their identity, and raised different expectations in their audiences.

I’m very grateful to Laughing Glass for such an exciting collaboration, and for letting me share this peek behind the curtain.

Thanks to my go-to copywriter Daniel Meyerowitz for valuable edits and contributions. 

Jaunt: The Story Behind the Name


“You’re going to need to sit down.” 

That was the understatement of the day.

Taking a seat in my client’s office, cluttered with computers, video equipment and prototypes, I strapped on the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

I was now looking at the same office, but in the monitor of the VR headset the room was neater. My three clients had shifted positions. As I turned my head, I could see them seated around the room; in front, to the side and behind me. They started throwing a Nerf ball to each other and my head turned to follow the ball. 

I could swear that the ball was being tossed around me. But it wasn’t. It was a 3D video recording that so closely mirrored reality, I could only react by gasping and giggling. 

It was a real “Mr. Watson, come here” moment. I was bearing witness to a new and profound invention: Cinematic VR. And I was honored with the task of naming it.

The Briefing

The opportunity came to me through Character, an outstanding branding and design agency whose work I admired. We had worked sequentially on the same projects but hadn’t yet collaborated. Character designed packaging for products I named, like the Plantronics Rig gaming headset, and they designed the identity for Zact Mobile, which I also named.

Character’s work designing the Android identity system for Andy Rubin, the mobile computing pioneer, had led to other interesting projects, such as this mind-blowing VR startup.

Character and I rendezvoused at Redpoint Ventures where our clients were “entrepreneurs in residence.” This unassuming office building belied the fact that within it, the future of entertainment was being invented. 

Three clients briefed us: Jens Christensen, Arthur van Hoff and Tom Annau. Their words flew around the room: immersivetransportingtranscendentvirtual presencemimics reality, a whole new mediumscience fiction, Jedi training ball. When Jedi training ball is used to reference a new technology, it’s going to be a big deal.


Left to right: Tom, Arthur, Jens
Meet the clients.
After the briefing, they whisked us to the office next door for the demo. It was weird, this nondescript, plain-vanilla space was strewn with crazy, never-before-seen inventions-in-progress. There was the 3D-printed sphere covered with lenses, the dev kits of the Oculus Rift, and assorted networking, videography and optics widgets strewn about.


Meet the camera.
To establish a baseline experience in virtual reality, I was handed an Oculus Rift headset loaded with an off-the-shelf demo called Tuscany. I put it on and saw a computer rendering of a well-manicured Tuscan estate. I rotated my head to look around. Using a trackball, I wandered the property. Wearing special VR gloves, I could grab or throw objects. It was pretty cool.


Tuscany: Cool. But not cool enough.
Despite being cutting-edge, the Tuscany demo was quickly eclipsed by the technology my clients’ were creating, which was nothing short of astounding. Their high-definition video feed in the headset was completely convincing. I really felt like I was watching something happening live all around me. In the Tuscany demo, I was aways aware it was CG. 


Ask your doctor if Jaunt is right for you.
The Strategic Framework

Being there. That was the promise of this new technology. Concerts, sports, family reunions, Presidential press briefings, sightseeing. All these things could someday be experienced remotely yet immersively. I’ll admit running a little hyperbolic, but I’m telling you: Cinematic VR will change everything. This technology represents a paradigm shift in entertainment and communications as significant as the radio or television. 

I reviewed the notes from the meeting and synthesized them into name objectives. Name objectives should be MECE: Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. It’s tempting to etch every detail about a product or company into objectives, but it’s better to leave details out that might distract or take creative down an unproductive or short-sighted path.

Here are the name objectives for the cinematic VR project:  
The new name should support or connote a brand that:
  • delivers unprecedented experiences presented in an entirely new medium
  • provides immersive, virtual experiences that are completely realistic
  • is capable of representing an entirely new category of experience
  • transports people to another place 
  • is not limited to a visual experience
The new name will refer to an experience, hardware, software, a website and app, among other things. 
The new name should have the ability to be appended as a modifier, as in ESPN 3D, The Avengers Blue-ray or Pacific Rim IMAX. 
The name should be relatively short and easy to spell. 
The trademark and domain should be available or acquirable.
  • The domain might include a modification of the name, or be something other than .com (though not .net or .org).
The Names My Destination

Upon approval of the objectives I started naming, plundering the worlds of immersion, travel, space, entertainment and verbs. I scoured science fiction – teleportation in particular – and found The Glossary of Science Fiction Ideas, Technology and Inventions, an alphabetic inventory of over 2400 glorious gadgets, gizmos and doodads. It is the go-to resource for studying futuristic, albeit fictional, advances in science. 

It was there, filed under J, that I found the entry for Jaunte Stage – a little space to teleport. Alfred Bester’s 1953 novel, The Stars my Destination, introduces jaunte to mean teleport. A Jaunte Stage is a platform for teleportation. 

Jaunting, in the novel, was not named after the word jaunt, but after a character, Charles Fort Jaunte, who discovered the ability to self-transport by mind power alone. Jaunting was not a technology, but a psionic capability.
Any man was capable of jaunting provided he developed two faculties, visualization and concentration. He had to visualize, completely and precisely, the spot to which he desired to teleport himself; and he had to concentrate the latent energy of his mind into a single thrust to get him there. 
–Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
Decades later, Stephen King wrote a short story about teleportation called The Jaunt. He got the name from the same place I did. Quoth The Jaunt:
“Of course you know that the Jaunt is teleportation, no more or less,” he said. “Sometimes in college chemistry class and physics they call it the Carune Process, but it’s really teleportation, and it was Carune himself — if you can believe the stories — who named it ‘The Jaunt.’ He was a science-fiction reader, and there’s a story by a man named Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination it’s called, and this fellow Bester made up the word ‘jaunte’ for teleportation in it. Except in his book you could Jaunt just by thinking about it, and we can’t really do that.” 
– Stephen King, The Jaunt
Bester did not make up the word jaunt, only its use as teleport. We don’t really know where the word jaunt first came from. It might have originated in Old French. We do know that it was originally pejorative and meant “a tiresome journey” (1590s) or “to tire a horse out by riding back and forth on it” (1560s). The current, positive meaning of jaunt to mean “a short pleasure trip” came about in the 1670s. 

Oddly, the word jaunty does not come from jaunt, but from French gentil (meaning gentle, genteel). Despite jaunty meaning “having a lively, cheerful and self-confident manner,” and jaunt meaning a “lively, cheerful excursion,” their resemblance is just a coincidence. 

I created 1200 other names for the assignment and over 200 were screened for preliminary global trademark availability by my long-time trademark partner, Steve Price of Tessera. I worked closely with Character refining the list and over 100 names were presented in two rounds of work. 

Context is King

It’s vital to stage name candidates in a presentation so they have the best chance of acceptance. As a presenter, you must help the audience suspend disbelief that these are not just words on a page. That requires presenting name candidates in a fait-accompli, real-world context. The more a hypothetical name looks like it’s an actual living, breathing brand, the better. (More on that topic here.) 

I chose to present the names in a mocked-up entertainment website. The visual identity development had not yet begun and my client did not have a website, so I started with Ticketmaster’s website then altered it to fit my client’s prospective future. This is what the Jaunt name exhibit looked like for the name presentation: 
The right context makes a hypothetical name seem like a done deal.
Fortunately, Jaunt’s final identity and website is way slicker than my hack. 

The client loved Jaunt. Here’s why:
  • A jaunt is a short trip for pleasure, just as their technology offers a fast and fun escape
  • The name has already been validated – twice! – as a perfect name for teleportation, which is itself the perfect metaphor for cinematic VR
  • It’s short and pairs well with other brands as a technology platform (“See Wimbledon live in Jaunt!”)
Jaunting Ahead 

Following my client’s full legal screening, the name was adopted. Character created Jaunt’s iconic identity:

The name was launched on a snappy website highlighting power-player testimonials:
“Jaunt has created a completely new experience that will change the way we enjoy media.” 
–Brad Wechsler, Chairman of IMAX  
“Jaunt is a total sensory experience unlike anything I've ever seen.The creative community is going to blow our minds with this technology over the coming years.” 
–Peter Gotcher, Chairman of Dolby
I loved how the client incorporated the name into their messaging. From the website:
“The idea for Jaunt originated in early 2013 when one of our founders returned from an amazing experience at Zion National Park.  What if he could go back there for a brief jaunt, at any time, from any place?” 
For further reading on the technology and future of Jaunt, check out these articles:
Meet the Crazy Camera That Can Make Movies for the Oculus Rift 
Virtual reality has another ‘wow’ moment as Jaunt introduces 360-degree cinematic videos 
Jaunt wants to make virtual reality a platform for beautiful, immersive cinema
I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to name Jaunt. Thank you Tom, Arthur, Jens, Ollie, Ben and the rest of the talented team at Character.

- Anth

Naming Colors: My interview in The Boston Globe



Radiant Orchid.

That's the name of Pantone's color of the year. It's a beautiful name befitting the color. I spoke about naming colors with journalist Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe in this interview. Read the story behind the name, Radiant Orchid, the naughty etymology of the word orchid, and the reason why ambiguous color names pop.

Enjoy!

Funny Business: The Game for Namers

Namers of the world, rejoice! I bring tidings of great joy, for unto you a game is born. And the name of that game is Funny Business.


Funny Business, “The Hilarious Game of Mismatched Mergers”, challenges players to give names to companies that have merged. The funny part of Funny Business is that the mergers are of incongruous businesses. What name would you give to diner that merged with a hardware store? Or a fruit stand and a cruise line?


What It Is

Four to eight players compete to give the best name for two businesses that have come together. Two “business cards” are drawn for each round of play, each card features a type of business and a list of related words to inspire a name. For example, the business Comic Book Store includes action figure, edition, graphic, superhero, strip, villain, et al. The names each player comes up with can include those words but don’t have to.


Game Play and Voting

Each player anonymously writes down their one best name on a card and the cards are shuffled. A “Boss,” who rotates between plays, reads each name aloud and players secretly vote on their favorite one. The Boss may not vote on their own name, but other players may. After voting, the votes are tallied and points are awarded according to who gets the most votes (2 points), who voted for the winning name (1 point), and the Boss earns double of any points he or she earned in the round. The voting system is ingenious, ensuring that players are not incentivized to vote for their name, but to vote for the best name. Or, at least the name they believe will earn the most votes.

The Verdict

My greatest surprise with Funny Business is not that the game exists (though: hallelujah!), it’s seeing how amazing names are developed by every non-professional-namer I’ve ever played with. The last game I played was swept by my nine-year-old niece.

Funny Business is a fantastically fun game. It’s great for adults and kids – the box suggests age 12 and up, but, in my experience, younger precocious kids can hold their own. And, at less than $8 bucks discounted on Amazon, you really have no choice but to run to your local Amazon (it’s not far!) and grab a copy of Funny Business to play this holiday season.

Have fun!

Five Ways to Create Great, Free Domain Names

Every company needs an Internet presence. With over 111 million (and counting!) .coms already taken, finding a .com that exactly matches your name is not easy.

Sometimes that’s not a big deal. I believe that it’s more important to have a great name than a great domain. For many companies, you can safely modify the perfect name with a descriptor to secure a .com. But if your website is your product, you really do need a clean domain. GoogleSearch.com would not have cut it.

Here are some creative techniques and tools that have enabled me to present scads of great, available domains to my clients. Give them a try the next time you need a clean domain.

Combine Words

This technique relies on creatively combining words that may have never been combined before (if they had been, the .com would probably not be available). Creativity is, at its essence, combining novelly, so this technique is really about good creativity.

Here’s how to do it:

Create two columns of words relevant to the new brand. List functional and descriptive words in one column, and attributes in another. Or relevant nouns in one column and relevant verbs in a second.

Then use a tool like CombineWords.com to combine column A and B in a “brute force” method. This will compel you to consider two-word names that your brain might not put together. Try swapping the first and second columns to double your productive output. Sometimes, with some words, this reversed syntax works better.

Another combinatorial technique relies on mixing adjectives and nouns to create vivid, picturable names. Make a column of colors or sizes and another column of shapes or concrete nouns. Mix and match using Combine Words or another word permutation tool.

You’ll find that some words work better than others. Refine your lists and combine them with other ideas to create longer, better lists of name candidates. This recursive technique will easily net you hundreds of candidates.

Once you have a good list, run it through a batch domain search tool to see what’s free.

These are names I have created that had free and clear .com domains using this technique:

DwellAware.com
ArtistRising.com
HometownAdvantage.com
RunBrainRun.com
BigRedArrow.com
RichPageant.com
OperativeWords.com

This technique is suitable when your name really does need to match your .com, like for a search engine, video site, photo sharing site, etc.

Don’t Use .com

Back in 2009, I predicted that .coms would be like 800-numbers. That is, companies would begin using non-.com domains and then .com would lose its exclusivity and cachet, much as people got used to seeing 866 and 877 toll-free numbers. That’s happened to some extent.

Top-level domains other than .com have gained some traction. For example, there are scads of names ending in .ly, like bit.ly and live.ly (Nancy Friedman has amassed an impressive collection on her Pinterest board). Some companies have used .net (slideshare.net) and .us (del.icio.us, before they bought delicious.com). ICANN has also blessed the issuance of new domains like .coach and .design. You could create one of your own, but it’ll set you back over $100,000.

My opinion is if the top-level domain name is a natural suffix, like –ly, or separate word, like it or me, you can get away with a non-.com name. For example, visual.ly, flip.it and about.me, but not letsfea.st (hat tip for examples from this article). It does not work so well if the non-.com domain is just hanging out there like a meatball, like secureserver.net. (Non-commercial domains, like .org and .edu, don’t suffer the same restriction because we expect non-profits and educational sites to end with .org and .edu.)

The challenge with creating great names using this non-.com technique is that there are only so many TLDs that exist, and precious few are also English suffixes or words, and fewer still are also available for all to use regardless of where your company is. Here’s my list of viable top-level domains that fit the bill:

.at
.ly
.be
.by
.do
.in
.is
.me
.to
.us

This link will take you to registrars for these TLDs, and from there you can search for domain candidates. The world could use a new bulk search engine that will let you search against the TLDs cited above. Geeky entrepreneurs, are you listening?

I have proposed alternatives to .coms to my clients when the .com is unavailable, but they have opted for an available .com based on a name+descriptor.

Light Coining

This technique is the most difficult to get right. Some online names (Flickr and Scribd and Tumblr) found their domain by ditching a vowel. Others by adding a letter (Pinterest). Others by adding a novel suffix (Spotify). Other have substituted one letter for another (Cingular, Embarq).

Here are come light coining techniques, each illustrated by a domain I’ve created:

Homestyler.com
Technique: add an –r or –er to a verb to create an agent, or try another suffix)

Lytro.com
Technique: create a portmanteau, throw in some letter substitution

Fanhattan.com
Technique: letter substitution

Zact.com
Technique: clipping (from exact to xact) and letter substitution (using z for x)

Poptism.com
Technique: clipping (from optimism to optism) and letter addition. Poptism.com forwards to Poptism.org since it’s a nonprofit.

Other coining techniques can be found here.
You can find a list of sites dedicated to neologisms here.
My other postings about coined names can be found here.

The following are two techniques you can use when it’s OK for your company name and domain to differ slightly:

Add a Descriptor

OK, let’s say you’ve found the perfect real word that’s available as a trademark for your client. Naturally, the name.com will be taken, since all real, single English words are. Just add a business descriptor, a technique that is suitable for most companies.

Domains I’ve created like this include:

RaptStudio.com
BracketGlobal.com
ScribeWinery.com
KeepsAmerica.com
PatternEnergy.com

The following names are creative leaps, but they still required appending a descriptor to get the .com:

WanderfulStorybooks.com
LaughingGlassCocktails.com

Make a Call to Action or Tagline

I have never created a domain name that is also a call to action, but it is a viable technique. My naming colleague, Alexandra Watkins, has touted the benefits of domains like EnjoyCoke.com.

For example:
ThisIsColossal.com
LetsFeast.com
PayWithIsis.com

I hope these techniques prove useful for your domain naming projects.

Good luck!