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Baltimore Sun

July 27, 2004

Cooking up your company name

Branding: Exclamation points, unconventional alphabet-soup spellings and rule-defying punctuation go into what technology firms decide to call themselves.

SHAKESPEARE conjectured that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but he might have thought differently if a technology company had been put in charge of the naming.

Then a rose might be known as a rOHz! or ARROWmatic or even 1ThorneeBud.

Technology companies go to unusual lengths to find names for themselves, even if it means throwing all convention - and punctuation - to the wind. Companies in the sector are known to jam words together and put capitals in odd places (like SafeNet Inc. in Belcamp), start with lowercase letters and throw in numbers (a2z Inc. based in Columbia), and seem to have an unusual fondness for exclamation points (Yahoo! Inc.)

The reasons range from tech users being used to rule-breaking capitalization from Web site names and instant messaging to weird combinations of letters and numbers thought to convey the cutting edge.

"You can't sound like you're a dentist or a law firm. You need to pick a name that does sort of put you into the right genre," said Larry Fiorino, president of 6-year-old G.1440, a technology consulting group based in Baltimore and pronounced gee, fourteen, forty.

Internet search giant Yahoo! - which began as "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web" - tacked on its exclamation point because it "adds more excitement to the name," said spokesman Brian Nelson.

Network security specialists SafeNet left the "N" capitalized "because some graphic designer thought it was cool," said Chairman Anthony A. Caputo. And Rajiv Jain, president of event-management software company a2z, picked the name in part because it's "cute" and the "a" helped it to pop up first in Internet searches. Jain also liked the generic quality that would let his business shift directions if need be.

Laura Ries - a business marketing consultant based in Georgia who's written several books with her father Al Ries, including The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding - said names can make or break a company.

"If Ralph Lauren launched with his real name - Ralph Lifshitz - do you think [the business] would have gone as far?" she said, suggesting that names be simple, catchy and easy to spell. But that's becoming increasingly difficult to do.

More than a million names, slogans and logos are actively registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And according to a June report by VeriSign Inc., a global domain name registry company, more than 63 million Web site names have been snatched up - 4.7 million of them created in the first quarter of this year.

"Every Latin word, English word, Spanish word - every permutation of everything was taken" when Fiorino was name hunting he said, so he pulled out a calculator and switched gears, opting for numbers.

Minutes in a day

The 1440 in the name represents the number of minutes in a day - rationalized by Fiorino because he says his software works round the clock. And the abbreviated "G," which stands for "global," came into being because he thought "just being a number might make us sound like a part on an automobile."

People have registered most of the dictionary in Internet domain names, hoping a company will decide it must have a site and fork over thousands for the name rights. There's a potato.com, a thorough.com, an air.com and even a toe.com - all of which lead to space-saver pages with no real information. At toe.com, a link says "This domain may be available for transfer. Make an offer."

The dearth of names is frustrating Mark Wesker, who's trying to change the name and direction of his 2-year-old Baltimore company, now called Artifact Software Inc. Wesker wants the new name to represent the new focus: offering software services online to help manage development projects in multiple locations. But he's having a tough time finding available names that match his concept.

"I've been living in name hell for the last 30 to 60 days," he said, even testing made-up words to see if they're taken. They often are, though they don't fare well, said Steve Manning, managing director of Igor Naming and Brand Consultant Company based in San Francisco.

"They don't mean anything to anybody," Manning said, calling such titles a copout. Still, some companies survive the ambiguity, like Xerox, which was derived from the Greek word for "dry" to represent the dry style of copying.

Another naming sin frequently practiced according to Manning is adding a ".com," which companies often did to advertise their Internet addresses and appear Web savvy.

"It's terrible, it's a terrible idea," Manning said, concerned that the phrasing will lose its meaning as technology changes and pointing to the negative connotations associated with dot-coms after many crashed in 2000 and 2001.

"After the bubble burst, companies dropped the '.com' off their names like bad girlfriends," said Penny Lewandowski, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council. But Locust Point-based Advertising.com held strong, which may have helped the fledgling company.

"There was a lot of chatter about why they kept it," Lewandowski said. Next month, America Online Inc. is expected to complete a $435 million acquisition of the company, which will keep its increasingly well-known name.

Name generators

Programs that will generate company names are cropping up on the Internet. A free generator at wordlab.com came up with PingChunk, FactorFlame, bonkLens and ElectroRight - none of which would shock Manning, who's seen hundreds of companies randomly pick combinations of words.

"That's a really bad convention that came out during the Internet naming scare when there were so many companies launching at once," Manning said.

Fells Point 's WhoGlue may seem random, but founder - and father of young children - Jason D. Hardebeck says the choice was calculated.

"I don't know if it was just sleep deprivation or reading a lot of Dr. Seuss," he said, but to him WhoGlue "is a very explicit way of explaining what we do." The company offers permission-based software that manages member-driven networks and helps "people stick together."

Hardebeck said he stuck the words together as one as a nod to Internet domain names, and capitalized the "G" to help people understand how to pronounce it. "People either really love it, or they're ambivalent about it," he said, but at least they remember it - and it wasn't taken.

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