TrenchMice is was a site where people can share inside scoops about the companies where they work. Trenchmouse John has written a great post about how they came up with the name TrenchMice. This is one of the best, most thorough naming stories that The Name Inspector has come across.
John wrote the post in response to a comment he had received about why TrenchMice gets so much less traffic than Guy Kawasaki’s site Truemors. The commenter suggested that it might have to do with the branding: people don’t want to be associated with mice, because timid rodents do not represent professional aspiration well.
Now, The Name Inspector can see the commenter’s point, but has a hard time believing that the name TrenchMice is being unfavorably compared to Truemors–he’s already been in contact with Guy about how Truemors sounds way too much like tumors. Don’t you think Truemors might get a lot of traffic because Guy Kawasaki has one of the most popular blogs on the planet?
But on to John’s post. You should definitely read the whole thing, but here’s a passage about the list of names they first came up with that really struck a chord with The Name Inspector:
What’s interesting is how unsuitable all of these names were, even though we were trying very hard to come up with a deliberately on-target name. It’s as though the actions of trying to be on-target kept us locked in uncreative names. All of these name categories had names we didn’t like, but the “on target” names were uniformly uninteresting.
This is such an important point. Before John even brought it up, The Name Inspector had been working on an analogy to illustrate it. Here it is:
Naming a company is like taking a picture of a house. Being too descriptively “on-target” is like standing right next to the house, or even inside it. To get a good shot, you really need to step away, walk around, and find just the right angle. Ideally, you’ll get interesting details in the background and/or foreground that show something about the neighborhood.
All this does not mean that your name should have nothing to do with your company. Forget that “empty vessel” stuff–most good names are not empty vessels, they’re just indirect. TrenchMice works because it offers a vivid image that’s useful for thinking about anonymous sources of inside information about a competitive world. The Name Inspector doesn’t believe that people using the site would have so much invested in the metaphor that they’d feel like mice themselves. The name TrenchMice is funny, extremely apt, and very memorable. Maybe the World War I allusion is a touch grim, but that’s part of the point of the name. It’s tough out there in the trenches.
Thanks for your very illuminating post, John.
UPDATE 5/29/2010: TrenchMice, alas, ceased to be some time ago. The blog post link above takes you to an archived version of the post. Thanks to John Humphrey for providing the link in his comment below.