Business 2.0

September 2000

Branding, Waikiki-Style

How to give your startup's name that extra punch? Go Hawaiian!

Naming your company is hard work -- you find a good domain name and then discover that it's already taken. So what's a startup to do? Like Pacific Rim warriors a millennium back, try raiding the fertile shores of Hawaii. Mellifluous yet obscure, the Hawaiian tongue seems custom-made for companies looking for a URL-friendly moniker.

Take Akamai, the content-caching startup born on MIT's campus two years ago. Its technology is cool, but its Hawaiian name (pronounced ah-kuh-my) has helped make it more memorable. The company -- whose name means "intelligent, clever, or cool" -- went public last year and is now worth $12.7 billion.

Not so lucky was Pupule ("crazy") Sports, a women's sports apparel and content site that was left dry when e-tailing's tide ebbed. Other startups donning Hawaiian names: Mahi Networks, named after the tasty fish; Ponoi ("self"), a New York privacy-software firm; and Kalepa Networks (a "kalepa" is a flag put on houses that have goods to trade).

Steve Manning, a principal at naming firm A Hundred Monkeys [now Managing Director of Igor] in Sausalito, Calif., isn't impressed by most of these names, though he concedes that Mahi Networks "is the nicest of the bunch." "I'm not sure what you can hang off a word that nobody understands," he says. "Everything sort of goes in waves like this." In other words, don't run out and name your laser-broadband startup ("brilliantly feathered gourd").

OK, but what about non-Hawaiian names? Like, say, eCompany Now?

"From our philosophy, that's the kind of company we usually end up renaming," says Manning.

Further reading: