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What’s in a name?

November 23, 2010

When the term KitchenPC was first coined, it referred to a side project I had in the works that aimed at bringing the power of the personal computer into the kitchen.  I imagined the culinary utopia created by a central device that would organize my recipes, help plan meals, manage my inventory and talk to my kitchen appliances; all with a touch screen interface that was impervious to grease, flour, spaghetti sauce, and accidental blender explosions.  I still look back at some of my early software prototypes, written in whatever language was popular or I felt like at the time.  KitchenPC has been a name that has stuck by me through-out the years, and thus far the only constant in a river of change.

KitchenPC was purposely generic.  I imagined a future where the name KitchenPC, though protected by trademark, was ubiquitous in household dialect; similar to Saran Wrap™, Jacuzzi™, Kleenex™ or Roller Blades™.  I imagined the new LG or KitchenAid fridge, with a “Powered By KitchenPC™” logo in the corner.  Ah, daydreaming was sweet.

Years later, the idea has morphed into a functional website that strives to help people build meal plans.  Though this site might be used from a desktop computer or an iPhone, perhaps even an iPad or Tablet, one thing’s for certain.  The name KitchenPC is neither a PC nor a kitchen device.  Though the connotation connects most eloquently with both the idea’s past and its dreams of the future, KitchenPC leaves the users of today scratching their heads.  “Is it a hardware device?  Do I need Windows?  Can I buy one at Radio Shack?”

This is a thought that has been on my mind off and on over the past few months.  It creeps back into the cognitive foreground sometimes when I’m digging through lists of Google keywords, seeing that people searching for “How to build a kitchen pc” are being referred to my site or blog.  It’s become linguistic muscle memory to explain what my site is immediately after saying the name, knowing any layman assumption is bound to be far disconnected from reality.  Lately, one of the advisors I’ve been communicating a bit with as of late put it bluntly with, “Mike .  We need to talk about the name KitchenPC.”

My fears have also been confirmed with others friends, who once confronted will say “No offense, but yea the name sucks.”  Some, before the beta release, would hint at the subject with “So, are you gonna keep that name for the beta launch or come up with some clever new word?”

One thing’s for certain.  KitchenPC has overstayed its welcome, and changing it sooner is a lot easier than changing it later.  Ok, sorry that’s two things for certain.  So, this begs the question that is no doubt on your mind by now.  “If not KitchenPC, then what?”

Well, if I had an answer to that question I’d be on right now, and not blogging at 3am.  However, I’ll share my thoughts on the importance of a name.  A name has to communicate either a business function or an emotion you want your target customers to relate with; and preferably both.  It also has to be memorable, and something you can build a brand name around.  It can’t be too similar to competing brands and it can’t create confusion.  In the dot com world, you also need to acquire the domain name within your budget.  Due to the difficulty and potential expense with the last issue, completely made up words are becoming increasingly popular.  If done right, they can be installed into common household vocabulary and be wildly successful.  Zillow is a great example of this.  If done wrong, no one has a clue what your company does.  Does anyone really know what Zoosk is?

Ideally, these newly created words should be self-describing.  Today, I was chatting with a friend about the snowfall here in Seattle (which is now the topic of most conversations in the area) and she mentioned that the nightly news would most likely be dedicated entirely to the weather.  I responded with, “Yes – It will be snoclusive coverage.”  I made up this word on the spot, however she chuckled because she knew exactly what this word meant.  A good website domain should do exactly this.

Google is a successful name because “google” is a huge number, and your mind relates to a massive number of potential search results.  Yahoo! is the feeling you get when you find something you’re searching for.  Amazon makes you think of a massive landscape, perhaps filled with books.  Mint makes you think of money.  Even Twitter (one of my favorite Web 2.0 names) relates to Internet chatter floating around the Internet like tiny butterflies.  The late 90s gave us TiVo, which has the letters T and V right in it, and also perfectly nails the much sought after transitive verb benefit.

I’ve been spending the entire evening trying to call upon my creative muses (which is probably why this post is a bit more linguistically artsy than my usual techno-dribble) and have found a few strands of inspiration I think I can run with.

First off, I’m a big fan of combining two words that share an overlapping end and start sound.  The mission statement of KitchenPC is “Meal planning made easy”, thus a good company name should target that functionally and emotionally.  Combining “Recipe” and “Easy into “Recipeasy” is both fun to say, and communicates function (recipes) and emotion (easy) into one.  Though, this domain name carries a high price tag (around $2,600) and my friend Joe stated quite fairly that this sounds like Snoop Dogg’s recipe site.  Perhaps I could get him to be my spokes person?

I think the reason Recipeasy works so smoothly is because the name “Recipe” ends with a soft vowel, which can smoothly transition into another word.  I’ve been searching for other words that have similar properties.  Ideally, I’d like a name that customers can easily relate with, and something I can build a brand name around.  However, I fully recognize this will be weeks or even months of work.

Changing names is also extremely scary, as you completely disrupt any sort of customer base or brand name recognition you already have (though for me, this is very little).  I would have to move my blog, redesign my logo, change massive amounts of website content, get a new Twitter feed, setup a new Facebook page, register for a new trademark, design new business cards, the whole works.  However, as I said already, with each passing day that job gets even harder.  I want to find a name that makes me excited about doing all that work.

One resource I’ve found so far is a website called SquadHelp.  They provide a service that allows entrepreneurs in my position to offer a reward for domain name ideas, and it’s pretty cheap too.  You don’t have to pay anyone if you don’t like any of the ideas, however you’re listing fee is non-refundable.  So far, people have been coming up with a few interesting suggestions for my site.  Feel free to take a look if you’d like.  One gripe I have with SquadHelp is most of the suggestions are crap, and users insist on posting dozens of the same name with slightly different spellings, such as a Z instead of an S.  I think it’s safe to say if I don’t like your S one, I won’t like your Z one.  The site is also fairly buggy.

I’ve also been recruiting help through my Facebook network, and have found a lot of my friends are quite willing to bounce ideas around with me.  I’ve found it really helps if you harvest the parts you like from a name, and try to use them in various ways.  For example, I’ve become somewhat fond of the word “Scout,” and have been seeing if I could incorporate that into any clever name.

So what are my rules for a great domain name?  First, I have to be able to acquire it without needing thousands of dollars.  Second, it has to be spell-able.  If I have to tell people about it and then tell them how to spell it, I’ve already lost.  They’ll never remember.  No hyphens or numbers either.  Two or three syllables are ideal.  I’m also a fan of alliteration, such as PayPal or BestBuy.  If you have any ideas, please let me know!  If the site takes off, I’ll try to find a way to return the favor.

That’s it for now!


From → Business

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