Entrepreneur and longtime reader Rich Skrenta has a search start-up called Blekko (click on that link and say hi!). It was covered on TechCrunch, and then Rich wrote a follow-up blog post telling the story of the name Blekko and asking for The Name Inspector’s input.
OK, here goes. Obviously Blekko is a ridiculous name and Rich knows it. He says in his post that it was chosen as the funniest of a number of options. He claims that one vendor told him the name was fantastic and must not be changed, but admits that those comments might have been intended ironically. He also hints that part of the reason he even got written up on TechCrunch was because of the silly name.
Comments on the TechCrunch post, when they address the name at all, are uniformly negative. Someone says the name sounds like retching. Another asks if they went with Blekko because blechbarf.com wasn’t available.
Rich writes that he spoke to some naming firms and they told him that, despite some negative phonetic associations, the name Blekko is essentially an empty vessel.
Oh, how The Name Inspector hates the expression empty vessel. The implication of calling a name an “empty vessel” is that you can fill it up with whatever meaning you want. That’s such a silly branding cliche.
Of course, the way a company name is ultimately perceived will depend on what people know, believe and feel about the company it’s attached to, and that’s going to depend on lots of other things. A good name for a company that fails will come to seem not so good. A silly name for a wildly successful company–Google comes to mind–will start to seem like pure naming genius.
Some people conclude from this that names don’t matter. That’s faulty reasoning. If a company made bad hiring decisions, but prevailed anyway due to its kick-ass technology, you wouldn’t say that hiring doesn’t matter. All companies do some things right and some things wrong, and their ultimate success depends on the complex interaction of all those little successes and failures.
The point of a name is that it’s there from the beginning, and can influence the way people feel about your company before they know anything else about it. Even when names are not obviously meaningful, they remind people of words, and invite them to make relevant connections, perhaps only subconsciously, between the meanings of those words and the company in question.
So, do you want those associations to make things easier or harder?
There are, of course, different ways a name can help you. If you want to blend into the background, it can help you do that. If you want to be provocative to get some attention, a name can help with that, too.
But after the attention dies down, you still have the name. Then it should be able to help you in other ways. If you’re lucky enough to do everything else right, your silly name may not be a hindrance. But if you make some missteps along the way, a silly name will make people less forgiving. What did you expect, they’ll say, from a company named Blekko?
So what, exactly, is wrong with the name Blekko? It’s not a mystery. It sounds like an exclamation of disgust, usually written as blech, that may represent vomiting onomatopoetically. As The Name Inspector likes to pronounce it, blech ends with a voiceless uvular or velar fricative, but the k sound in Blekko is a close approximation.
If you search for blech on Google, you’ll mostly find pages where it’s used as a surname or as a German or Yiddish word. If you search on Technorati, however, you’ll find lots of examples like this:
Rich, if you’re not comfortable naming your company Yukko, it’s safe to say you shouldn’t call it Blekko, either.
But you’re in stealth mode. The Name Inspector believes you have no intention of launching as Blekko. Though he hopes he’s wrong.