bing-phonetic1

The Name Inspector knew it. He just knew that Microsoft went with the name Bing because it makes a better verb than, say, Kumo, which sounds like a radio or TV station (like Seattle’s KOMO). Or that crazy killer dog dreamt up by Stephen King.

When people write about the name Google, they almost invariably mention that it has become a verb. Some entrepreneurs, including some of The Name Inspector’s own clients, think that a “verbable” name is highly desirable. Now here’s Miguel Helft reporting in yesterday’s New York Times that none other than Steve Ballmer thinks the name Bing has great potential to “verb up”. And the Bing home page actually conjoins Bing with another verb (“Bing & Decide”), just to nudge things in that direction, real subtle-like.

It’s kind of sad, really. The thing is, if Bing the name is going to become a verb, Bing the web app is going to have to offer a great experience that’s markedly different from the one Google gives us. People already have a verb for searching on the web. It’s google. They don’t need a new one.

Trademark sticklers will say that a company shouldn’t even want its name to become a verb, because that puts a company in danger of losing its trademark. Verbhood is a sure sign that a name has become a regular old word. When an originally trademarked name becomes widely used as a generic word, the name enters the public domain and can no longer be protected. That means anyone can legally use it. Some people call this “genericide”. Aspirin, cellophane, escalator, kerosene, laundromat, trampoline, and yo-yo are all the ghosts of once living trademarks.

In fact, from the perspective of trademark law, trademarks are always supposed to be used as “adjectives” modifying generic nouns. It’s not “a Band-Aid”, it’s “a Band-Aid brand adhesive bandage”. It’s not “a Kleenex”, it’s “a Kleenex facial tissue”. But The Name Inspector is afraid this rule fights the tide of common usage. People always use trademarks as nouns.  You drive a Toyota. You drink a Coke. You use a Mac.

And let’s be realistic: becoming the paragon of a product category, with a name that’s a household word, is a nice kind of trademark problem to have. Many companies whose names are unofficially used as generic words have mounted campaigns to protect their trademarks and are doing quite nicely, thank you. For a while we were all xeroxing, but now we mostly photocopy, thanks largely to an aggressive Xerox PR campaign.

So, what to make of the name Bing? Some bloggers have had a negative reaction to it that seems mostly like a kick-Microsoft reflex. Some say it sounds “silly”. But Google sounded pretty silly back in the day, too. Bing actually has a lot going for it. It’s short, easy to pronounce, and easy to spell and type. It has a kind of friendly “ring” to it. In fact, according to Helft, the marketing people at Microsoft say the name is meant to represent a bell going off, to evoke that eureka moment we have when we find something. It’s “the sound of found”.

Bing, of course, is also a kind of cherry. Sort of reminds The Name Inspector of the name Macintosh, come to think of it. Helft says the marketing people at Microsoft weren’t going for that association, but it’s not a bad one for a search engine (or a “discovery engine”, as Bing is being called). Think “cherry picking”–cherries represent things that are carefully selected and highly valued. Like great search results.

So, while Bing isn’t a bad name,  it may not be destined to be a verb, for reasons that have nothing to do with its linguistic merits. But just in case, The Name Inspector wants to know: Would the past tense of bing be bang? Would the past participle be bung? That would be unfortunate.

12 Responses to “Will we bing? Having bung, will we ever google again?”

  1. on 31 May 2009 at 6:51 am Emma

    Bing makes me think of Chandler Bing, one of the six main characters in Friends.

  2. on 31 May 2009 at 7:31 am MacGizmoGuy

    I don’t mean to go off topic… but when we’re done with the verb-up-age of Bing — can we move on to punctuation? I think Bing! search really deserves an exclamation point. Like “Tah-Dah! Here’s your search results!”

    :)

  3. on 31 May 2009 at 12:32 pm The Name Inspector

    All comments about the name Bing are welcome here, MacGizmoGuy. You’re right, to get that “sound of found” message across, an exclamation point would help.

  4. on 01 Jun 2009 at 1:23 am jb

    I think verbable names aren’t only a desirable thing. They also augment the risk, that a name transforms into a verb with a negative meaning. If (heaven forbid) “bing” doesn’t work properly, “to bing” could also transform in a verb meaning “get lost in useless information” :(

  5. on 02 Jun 2009 at 5:37 am Anthony Mitchell

    I’d bing that.

  6. on 08 Jun 2009 at 7:28 pm Molly

    Around my house we’ve taken to calling our computers “google machines.”

    I see the merits of an exclamation point for Bing, but editors hate that stuff. And copy editors *really* hate it. There is a most excellent restaurant in the Bay Area named Fish. That “.” is part of the name – as in “Fish, period” that’s all they serve (at least I assume that was the thinking). I love everything about it except that “.” It forces one to write things like “I love going to Fish. on a Sunday afternoon.” You see the ridiculous that begins. I can’t think of another example of a name that has punctuation in it, but surely there are many. I’m wondering if The Name Inspector has any thoughts on the matter.

  7. on 09 Jun 2009 at 10:35 am The Name Inspector

    Molly, another prominent example of a name with punctuation is Yahoo!. At least, the exclamation point is part of the logo on the site, but it usually gets left off when people write about the company. Maybe that’s the tack to take with Fish./Fish as well. I can definitely see why it’s an annoyance to copy editors.

  8. on 09 Jun 2009 at 10:39 am The Name Inspector

    P.S. That punctuation problem results when people don’t think about (or don’t care) how their name will actually be used in context.

  9. on 11 Jun 2009 at 1:41 pm yeep

    i thought this was going to have more than just info and thought about just the name…

  10. on 11 Jun 2009 at 10:32 pm Patrick

    Bing means many things in Chinese, but the intonation here is most associated with the character 病,which means illness or disease. I’d love to see how Microsoft will localize that one for China someday.

  11. on 13 Jun 2009 at 10:29 pm Jack

    I googled “bing.com” and bada-bing, bunch of links about The Sopranos showed up in the results… Duh!

    Come to think of it, I like the idea of using http://www.duh.com to build a search engine. Imagine a search engine where the search result page always starts off with a Steven Wright quote ;-)

  12. on 02 Aug 2011 at 12:08 pm Susanna

    I think that Bing cannot be “verbafied” (LOL) because the present tense would be … binging. That doesn’t sound good, does it?

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