Let’s ban “cool” codenames that don’t pass search test

Last week I had a great meeting with the guy (David Webster) who runs naming for Microsoft. He enumerated the ways that fun code names suck. Why? Cause he has to do a few things to any name that we use:

1) It has to be trademarkable. Even after his team does a trademark search they still get into trouble over names that other people own.
2) It has to test well in most markets (they do focus groups and other testing to make sure they don't pick a name that accidentally turns off people in a marketplace — even with all this testing finding names that work well everywhere is really hard).

What got me to write about it? Chris Smith talks about his favorite code names (and about Nintendo's "cooler" code name).

What's the answer? Well, he has a whole bunch of rules for product teams as they make names. For one, he wishes that teams would talk with him before coming up with "fun" code names. For two, he wishes that teams would come up with names that don't exist in Internet searches. Remember my "Brrreeeport" test? When I put that name on my blog there were zero results on Google and Live.com. Today it has 169,000 results, according to Google (yes, we know that isn't true, but let's go with it anyway, heheh).

He says that if companies and teams come up with names that simply don't exist in Google and Yahoo and Windows Live that they'll have a pretty good chance of surviving any trademark search that you come up with (it's a rare trademark that doesn't make it to Internet search engines).

I think the day is coming near when companies simply ban any product name that doesn't pass this test.

What do you think?

Comments

  1. The problem is not finding words that have zero hits on Google or Live.com, the problem is finding ones that are cool, catchy and don’t show up on Google =)

  2. The problem is not finding words that have zero hits on Google or Live.com, the problem is finding ones that are cool, catchy and don’t show up on Google =)

  3. Klaus: true. But when you find a “cool” name that already is on Google or MSN or Yahoo, the chances are very high that that name already is trademarked. Then the lawyers force you to change it. Only by that time you’ve already built a large amount of equity on that name. Ala “Revolution.”

  4. Klaus: true. But when you find a “cool” name that already is on Google or MSN or Yahoo, the chances are very high that that name already is trademarked. Then the lawyers force you to change it. Only by that time you’ve already built a large amount of equity on that name. Ala “Revolution.”

  5. If you have a set of rules that product namers have to follow…. it will be easier to ‘invent’ a cool name for a product :D

    Break those rules !

  6. If you have a set of rules that product namers have to follow…. it will be easier to ‘invent’ a cool name for a product :D

    Break those rules !

  7. It’s a shame your legal eagles are taking the fun out of codenames.

    But when did codenames become product names? I understand all the legal, trademark, and search engine concerns for product names, but codenames, at least before era of internet hype, were simply fun names used internally for unreleased/pending new products.

    In many companies, codenames were derived from the existing corporate culture. For example, in one company where I worked codenames were the names of exotic resorts around the world where the team hoped (prayed?) they could go to after a long development cycle produced a “hit” product.

    When codenames leak out to the public, there are, of course, “consequences” to deal with.

    The most famous I remember is Cisco’s first big router designed to go against Juniper that was getting all performance wins.

    Its’ codename was simply the “BFR”. As the codename leaked out to the press, Cisco tried to call it the “big, fast, router” with a straight-face as if anyone didn’t know the real “f-word”.

  8. It’s a shame your legal eagles are taking the fun out of codenames.

    But when did codenames become product names? I understand all the legal, trademark, and search engine concerns for product names, but codenames, at least before era of internet hype, were simply fun names used internally for unreleased/pending new products.

    In many companies, codenames were derived from the existing corporate culture. For example, in one company where I worked codenames were the names of exotic resorts around the world where the team hoped (prayed?) they could go to after a long development cycle produced a “hit” product.

    When codenames leak out to the public, there are, of course, “consequences” to deal with.

    The most famous I remember is Cisco’s first big router designed to go against Juniper that was getting all performance wins.

    Its’ codename was simply the “BFR”. As the codename leaked out to the press, Cisco tried to call it the “big, fast, router” with a straight-face as if anyone didn’t know the real “f-word”.

  9. A guy, we’ll call him Melvin, was asking God how He managed to put electricity into the clouds in the first place. Just a friendly talk, scientist to scientist, since God kindly revealed to him the way to help mankind through the lightning rod. His real name was not Melvin, but it’s not a bad name. Can we ban dumb people? Many companies would go out of business without them. The NFL would stop cold without such creatures at a high level in a big program. What can you do?

    Thanks for help with this from The Committee of Secret Correspondence.

  10. A guy, we’ll call him Melvin, was asking God how He managed to put electricity into the clouds in the first place. Just a friendly talk, scientist to scientist, since God kindly revealed to him the way to help mankind through the lightning rod. His real name was not Melvin, but it’s not a bad name. Can we ban dumb people? Many companies would go out of business without them. The NFL would stop cold without such creatures at a high level in a big program. What can you do?

    Thanks for help with this from The Committee of Secret Correspondence.

  11. Worst failure of this test for Microsoft? “.NET” What a pain that was to search on.

  12. Worst failure of this test for Microsoft? “.NET” What a pain that was to search on.

  13. Zoli: yes. Flickr. :-)

    iPod proves that you can make a weird name a household brand if you have a great product and aspirational cool advertisements with Bono in them. :-)

  14. Zoli: yes. Flickr. :-)

    iPod proves that you can make a weird name a household brand if you have a great product and aspirational cool advertisements with Bono in them. :-)

  15. I don’t buy it.

    Sure, David Webster’s got a list of reasons why product naming is hard. Everyone else seems to be able to come up with names consumers can be passionate about, though.

    Bottom line – we don’t care about the details, the same way my clients don’t want to hear data structures and server sessions. They want a software product that looks at least as good as their competitors, and it’s my job to deal with the complicated stuff and just make it happen.

    It’s David’s job to deal with the complications of brand naming and come up with something good, not just safe. Results, not excuses.

    He needs to spend a day reading TechCrunch and catch up on product naming circa 2006.

  16. I don’t buy it.

    Sure, David Webster’s got a list of reasons why product naming is hard. Everyone else seems to be able to come up with names consumers can be passionate about, though.

    Bottom line – we don’t care about the details, the same way my clients don’t want to hear data structures and server sessions. They want a software product that looks at least as good as their competitors, and it’s my job to deal with the complicated stuff and just make it happen.

    It’s David’s job to deal with the complications of brand naming and come up with something good, not just safe. Results, not excuses.

    He needs to spend a day reading TechCrunch and catch up on product naming circa 2006.

  17. In the same theme as the previous comment (10) one has to also be careful with the sound (how it’s pronounced) of a new name to ensure it’s not “too” close or could be confused with a previously trademarked name. Example – you want to name your communications company after your favorite Soprano PAULIE WALNUTS – Pauliecom.com – Great no results found for that name on GYM – .com available – looks like your good to go – right? – Wrong…..if you got it buy your trademark lawyer, and put it out there – expect a letter from Polycom’s legal dept. to show up before long.

  18. In the same theme as the previous comment (10) one has to also be careful with the sound (how it’s pronounced) of a new name to ensure it’s not “too” close or could be confused with a previously trademarked name. Example – you want to name your communications company after your favorite Soprano PAULIE WALNUTS – Pauliecom.com – Great no results found for that name on GYM – .com available – looks like your good to go – right? – Wrong…..if you got it buy your trademark lawyer, and put it out there – expect a letter from Polycom’s legal dept. to show up before long.

  19. [...] Scoble, fire the MS naming guy. Seriously. You said any marketing exec who did not have feeds on a marketing website should be fired. Your naming guy should be fired too. He’d easily get a job in another bureaucracy anyway with that backwards thinking. I watched the interview with MS Legal Army guy Don McGowan and yes I understand the ironic position MS is in. Since they try and utterly destroy anyone that uses one of their trademarks MS now has to keep going and find trademarkable names. Stop letting the lawyers run the company Scoble. Them fucking up the entertainment industry is testament enough that they shouldn’t be let off the leash. The more blood they get, the more rabid they become. [...]

  20. Strange – ‘cos both Vista and Longhorn (Vista’s codename) are both proper nouns which would have had entries in Google long before they were chosen by Microsoft.

  21. Strange – ‘cos both Vista and Longhorn (Vista’s codename) are both proper nouns which would have had entries in Google long before they were chosen by Microsoft.

  22. It’s a bad solution – because eventually everything will be found in Google. And, as Tom points out, “Windows Live Mail” would have had like a zillion results pre-Windows Live Mail.

  23. It’s a bad solution – because eventually everything will be found in Google. And, as Tom points out, “Windows Live Mail” would have had like a zillion results pre-Windows Live Mail.

  24. There’s issues of trademark, and then there’s strangling all the life out of a name. Something like “Avalon Presentation Framework” would have been just fine, and could retain a bit of that codename cool that developers really like. I mean, come on… a lot of us are going to spend the next decade writing for something called the Windows Presentation Foundation. “Foundation”? Isn’t that something women put on their face to cover up the fact that they’re getting older and less attractive? Never mind Google searches, how about opening a dictionary!

  25. There’s issues of trademark, and then there’s strangling all the life out of a name. Something like “Avalon Presentation Framework” would have been just fine, and could retain a bit of that codename cool that developers really like. I mean, come on… a lot of us are going to spend the next decade writing for something called the Windows Presentation Foundation. “Foundation”? Isn’t that something women put on their face to cover up the fact that they’re getting older and less attractive? Never mind Google searches, how about opening a dictionary!

  26. Oh that’s such utter tripe.

    Bonjour
    Rendezvous
    Service location Protocol

    One of these was already trademarked when it was used. So it was changed to another one. The third was never trademarked, but who cares, almost no one really knows what it is.

    The Zen. That’s a product name too. It’s not that all the cool names are taken. it’s that no one in Microsoft product branding has any ability to understand the difference between “Evocative” and “Descriptive”

    Origami was “Evocative” and with the money Microsoft has, anyone fussing could have been bought off. Ultra Mobile PC is descriptive and sucks like a Dyson in a black hole. Avalon was cool. Windows Presentation Foundation sucks arse.

    I’m surprised you’re keeping Aero and Glass. Those are actually good, evocative names. Whoever managed to keep those did a good job.

    “Vista”, albeit dorky, is still evocative. Almost a really good name. But then, Microsoft has to go and screw it all up. Vista ULTIMATE!!! Every time I hear that, I think of the posers from “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” yelling “EXTREEEEEEME”, and you know what, that’s exactly what it is. Posers trying to sound cooler than they are. When you add SKUs and stupid version names, why even use Vista? Just call it Windows 2007 Most Expensive Edition. It’s no worse than Vista Ultimate, and no one’s going to trademark a craptacular name like that.

    You know, I think Microsoft branding looked at “If Microsoft did the iPod box” and thought “Yeah, we COULD make it better, JUST LIKE THAT”.

    Sigh.

  27. Oh that’s such utter tripe.

    Bonjour
    Rendezvous
    Service location Protocol

    One of these was already trademarked when it was used. So it was changed to another one. The third was never trademarked, but who cares, almost no one really knows what it is.

    The Zen. That’s a product name too. It’s not that all the cool names are taken. it’s that no one in Microsoft product branding has any ability to understand the difference between “Evocative” and “Descriptive”

    Origami was “Evocative” and with the money Microsoft has, anyone fussing could have been bought off. Ultra Mobile PC is descriptive and sucks like a Dyson in a black hole. Avalon was cool. Windows Presentation Foundation sucks arse.

    I’m surprised you’re keeping Aero and Glass. Those are actually good, evocative names. Whoever managed to keep those did a good job.

    “Vista”, albeit dorky, is still evocative. Almost a really good name. But then, Microsoft has to go and screw it all up. Vista ULTIMATE!!! Every time I hear that, I think of the posers from “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” yelling “EXTREEEEEEME”, and you know what, that’s exactly what it is. Posers trying to sound cooler than they are. When you add SKUs and stupid version names, why even use Vista? Just call it Windows 2007 Most Expensive Edition. It’s no worse than Vista Ultimate, and no one’s going to trademark a craptacular name like that.

    You know, I think Microsoft branding looked at “If Microsoft did the iPod box” and thought “Yeah, we COULD make it better, JUST LIKE THAT”.

    Sigh.

  28. The obvious answer is to just put a ‘random’ letter in front of any new name.

    We’ve had ‘e’ and ‘i’ but there’s still ‘a’,’o’ and ‘u’. Actually I think ‘u’Something is pretty much covered…

    oVista? oOffice? oIE?

  29. And while you are at it, interweb-friendly names please ( so no non-alphanumeric characters, no ‘I am too smart for my shoes’ things going on with strange capitalizations) and you can also ban names that fork search keywords , e.g. should I search for C#, CSharp or “C Sharp”.

  30. The obvious answer is to just put a ‘random’ letter in front of any new name.

    We’ve had ‘e’ and ‘i’ but there’s still ‘a’,’o’ and ‘u’. Actually I think ‘u’Something is pretty much covered…

    oVista? oOffice? oIE?

  31. And while you are at it, interweb-friendly names please ( so no non-alphanumeric characters, no ‘I am too smart for my shoes’ things going on with strange capitalizations) and you can also ban names that fork search keywords , e.g. should I search for C#, CSharp or “C Sharp”.

  32. I’m generally pretty reluctant to post on topics like this as my team works behind the scenes supporting our product groups. But since my name is posted (and I’m now part of the conversation in absentia) I figured I should at least clarify a couple of these points so people understand what’s going on here and don’t leap to erroneous conclusions.

    First, I’m totally uninterested in being the fun police. My whole career has been built around creating dynamic engaging brands that use a wide variety of naming practices. I worked in a brand strategy firm during the .com era and participated in the glory days/feeding frenzy of whacky name/domain creation and acquisition for 7 years. So I’m certainly not trying to “cancel Christmas” as one of the posters suggested.

    Our team helped drive Windows Vista naming along with dozens of other upcoming examples you’ll see soon that demonstrate our passion for simpler, better names. There isn’t only one way to name things, and we work with product teams to determine when fanciful, suggestive and descriptive names are called for based on the marketing strategy.

    On codenaming, the strategy I’m advocating is pretty straightforward.

    My first and primary point is that we should be creating our real product names much sooner, thus reducing the need for codenames in the first place. The equity built in codenames is generally wasted. Buzz is built, communities develop, attachments form and then we switch the name to something new. This isn’t a good thing.

    So my main pitch to marketers across Microsoft is to drive naming timelines from disclosure dates, not RTM dates as has been the practice. If they do this early enough, no code name needed.

    So then the question becomes “how do you secure a great product name that you can both use and protect.”

    Even if you’re not interested in protecting the name, you still need to find a name you can safely use. This isn’t a matter of “lawyers running the company”. The fact is that Microsoft is a much bigger target than many of the other companies cited as being “braver” than we are in this regard. Trust me, when Microsoft uses a codename that somebody else owns, we hear about it immediately and not acting on it isn’t an option. When teams pick codenames that are other people’s trademarks they expose us to unnecessary risk and waste an opportunity to build equity in the real name. It’s just not a good trade-off.

    Just searching for a random word that produces zero search results won’t do it either, as most folks want a name that communicates some specific idea or emotion. And most words that do will turn up lots of hits (whether or not they are trademarks). The categories we make products in are just very crowded.

    My challenge to my team and the product groups they support is “Come up with a engaging/compelling real-name instead of a codename and do the hard work to get it legally cleared internationally.” Coming up with a cool-but-taken codename and then blaming marketing or lawyers when it ultimately gets killed is a weak cop-out.

    Since folks have mentioned Apple, it’s worth noting that Apple has run into legal issues of its own in codenaming. Remember Sagan (BHA)? :)

  33. I’m generally pretty reluctant to post on topics like this as my team works behind the scenes supporting our product groups. But since my name is posted (and I’m now part of the conversation in absentia) I figured I should at least clarify a couple of these points so people understand what’s going on here and don’t leap to erroneous conclusions.

    First, I’m totally uninterested in being the fun police. My whole career has been built around creating dynamic engaging brands that use a wide variety of naming practices. I worked in a brand strategy firm during the .com era and participated in the glory days/feeding frenzy of whacky name/domain creation and acquisition for 7 years. So I’m certainly not trying to “cancel Christmas” as one of the posters suggested.

    Our team helped drive Windows Vista naming along with dozens of other upcoming examples you’ll see soon that demonstrate our passion for simpler, better names. There isn’t only one way to name things, and we work with product teams to determine when fanciful, suggestive and descriptive names are called for based on the marketing strategy.

    On codenaming, the strategy I’m advocating is pretty straightforward.

    My first and primary point is that we should be creating our real product names much sooner, thus reducing the need for codenames in the first place. The equity built in codenames is generally wasted. Buzz is built, communities develop, attachments form and then we switch the name to something new. This isn’t a good thing.

    So my main pitch to marketers across Microsoft is to drive naming timelines from disclosure dates, not RTM dates as has been the practice. If they do this early enough, no code name needed.

    So then the question becomes “how do you secure a great product name that you can both use and protect.”

    Even if you’re not interested in protecting the name, you still need to find a name you can safely use. This isn’t a matter of “lawyers running the company”. The fact is that Microsoft is a much bigger target than many of the other companies cited as being “braver” than we are in this regard. Trust me, when Microsoft uses a codename that somebody else owns, we hear about it immediately and not acting on it isn’t an option. When teams pick codenames that are other people’s trademarks they expose us to unnecessary risk and waste an opportunity to build equity in the real name. It’s just not a good trade-off.

    Just searching for a random word that produces zero search results won’t do it either, as most folks want a name that communicates some specific idea or emotion. And most words that do will turn up lots of hits (whether or not they are trademarks). The categories we make products in are just very crowded.

    My challenge to my team and the product groups they support is “Come up with a engaging/compelling real-name instead of a codename and do the hard work to get it legally cleared internationally.” Coming up with a cool-but-taken codename and then blaming marketing or lawyers when it ultimately gets killed is a weak cop-out.

    Since folks have mentioned Apple, it’s worth noting that Apple has run into legal issues of its own in codenaming. Remember Sagan (BHA)? :)

  34. Just another comment on Apple. Apple seems to have issues with its company name itself, “Apple”. I guess they are fighting this law suite the third time.

  35. Just another comment on Apple. Apple seems to have issues with its company name itself, “Apple”. I guess they are fighting this law suite the third time.

  36. Why can’t they just call Vista “Windows 6.0″? I mean, that’s what it is. And it’s not confusing or anything. Although, then I guess that would leave Microsoft competeing with “OS Ten” and “SUSE Linux Enterprise 10″. I mean, 6.0 is soooo 1997.

  37. Why can’t they just call Vista “Windows 6.0″? I mean, that’s what it is. And it’s not confusing or anything. Although, then I guess that would leave Microsoft competeing with “OS Ten” and “SUSE Linux Enterprise 10″. I mean, 6.0 is soooo 1997.

  38. “… and you can also ban names that fork search keywords , e.g. should I search for C#, CSharp or “C Sharp”. ”

    I think that’s a fault of the search engines. C#, F#, G#, etc, should all be searchable, since they are musical notes. Let’s fix the search engines rather than cater to their restrictions.

  39. “… and you can also ban names that fork search keywords , e.g. should I search for C#, CSharp or “C Sharp”. ”

    I think that’s a fault of the search engines. C#, F#, G#, etc, should all be searchable, since they are musical notes. Let’s fix the search engines rather than cater to their restrictions.

  40. “Why can’t they just call Vista “Windows 6.0″? I mean, that’s what it is. And it’s not confusing or anything. Although, then I guess that would leave Microsoft competeing with “OS Ten” and “SUSE Linux Enterprise 10″. I mean, 6.0 is soooo 1997.”

    “SUSE Linux Enterprise 10″ sucks as a name.

    As for Apple’s “OS Ten”, Apple’s “brand” names for its OSes aren’t “OS X 1.0″, “OS X 1.1″, “OS X 1.2″, “OS X 1.3″, “OS X 1.4″, but are “OS X Cheetah”, “OS X Jaguar”, “OS X Panther”, “OS X Tiger”, “OS X Leopard”.

  41. “Why can’t they just call Vista “Windows 6.0″? I mean, that’s what it is. And it’s not confusing or anything. Although, then I guess that would leave Microsoft competeing with “OS Ten” and “SUSE Linux Enterprise 10″. I mean, 6.0 is soooo 1997.”

    “SUSE Linux Enterprise 10″ sucks as a name.

    As for Apple’s “OS Ten”, Apple’s “brand” names for its OSes aren’t “OS X 1.0″, “OS X 1.1″, “OS X 1.2″, “OS X 1.3″, “OS X 1.4″, but are “OS X Cheetah”, “OS X Jaguar”, “OS X Panther”, “OS X Tiger”, “OS X Leopard”.

  42. The problem with names like C# is not so much that the search engines can not find it, but rather that people use the other ways of writing it, for various reasons. One reason is that it can not be used in an URL, so people will “spell it out” in a product name. The same thing happens with .NET and ASP.NET, which gets written as dotnet, aspnet or just asp or net or even aspdotnet.
    “Mac OS X” is also difficult to search, by the way.

  43. The problem with names like C# is not so much that the search engines can not find it, but rather that people use the other ways of writing it, for various reasons. One reason is that it can not be used in an URL, so people will “spell it out” in a product name. The same thing happens with .NET and ASP.NET, which gets written as dotnet, aspnet or just asp or net or even aspdotnet.
    “Mac OS X” is also difficult to search, by the way.

  44. for David, to add to his “Vista” folder – in latvian language it means “Chicken” … so, there you go :)

  45. for David, to add to his “Vista” folder – in latvian language it means “Chicken” … so, there you go :)

  46. [...] Let’s ban “cool” codenames that don’t pass search tests; David Webster, who runs naming for Microsoft, enumerated the ways that cool codename suck. Why? He’s got a list of reasons why product naming is hard. It’s David’s job to deal with the complications of brand naming and come up with something good, not just safe. Results, not excuses. After 239 years of being called Dover Township, the New Jersey’s seventh-largest municipality will be re-named Toms River Township on Nov. 14. [...]

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    I just got my own USB rocket launcher :-) Awsome thing.

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    Check out the video they have on the page.

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  50. Want to start your private office arms race right now?

    I just got my own USB rocket launcher :-) Awsome thing.

    Plug into your computer and you got a remote controlled office missile launcher with 360 degrees horizontal and 45 degree vertival rotation with a range of more than 6 meters – which gives you a coverage of 113 square meters round your workplace.
    You can get the gadget here: http://tinyurl.com/2qul3c

    Check out the video they have on the page.

    Cheers

    Marko Fando