Next week The Name Inspector will be attending Gnomedex, a technology conference/unconference that happens in Seattle. (If you’re also going to be there, come find The Name Inspector and say hi.) That makes this a great time to write about the name Gnomedex.

To understand this name, you first need to know (if you don’t already) that the conference is run by Lockergnome, the brand under which net entrepreneur Chris Pirillo and his associates do all their stuff. That’s where the Gnome- part comes from. The -dex part, of course, is a reference to COMDEX, a big computer trade show that took place every year between 1979 and 2003. COMDEX got too big and then hurt feelings in the media world in 1999 when it made its press admission criteria overly exclusive, and has never recovered from the resulting backlash. It’s currently in a state of limbo.

COMDEX stands for Computer Dealers’ Exposition. That makes it a hybrid letter/syllable acronym:

COM (syllable) + D (letter) + EX (syllable)

The name Gnomedex can be thought of as a blend of Lockergnome + COMDEX. Because Gnomedex does not, unfortunately, mean ‘Gnome Dealers’ Exposition’, the ending -dex in this name has lost its acronymical (yes, that’s a completely made-up word) function and is only used to set up an analogy to COMDEX.

Gnomedex makes that allusion both to show that it’s the name of a conference and to distinguish that conference from the fallen trade show. Gnomedex is what COMDEX was not: small, a bit loosely organized, and focused on attendees and not at all on vendors. It’s a bold and interesting naming strategy, evoking something negative in order to distinguish yourself from it. We also see this strategy in the name YouTube, which plays on the derogatory term boob tube to distinguish itself from ordinary TV. The strategy might be summed up as, “This is in the same category as X, but it’s in a class by itself”. And Gnomedex is indeed–it’s a strong brand in the technology world. Lots of people, The Name Inspector included, think of it as one of the most interesting tech conferences around.

Gnomedex is a funny name. There’s something absurd about the word gnome, and using it to replace the first syllable of a stuffy, corporate-sounding acronym really makes Gnomedex work. Gnome makes you think of garden gnomes. And the Underpants Gnomes of South Park. They have a three-point business plan that may seem eerily familiar to you VCs and angels out there, and cut a little close to the bone for you web entrepreneurs:

  1. Collect Underpants.
  2. ?
  3. Profit!

Chris probably had a more thunk-out business plan when he started Lockergnome.

The Gnome-substitution works well phonetically. Gnome is just similar enough to Com- to make Gnomedex sound natural, but just different enough to make Gnomedex subtler than a pun.

So where does the name Lockergnome come from? It’s a slight tweak of The Locker Gnome, a nickname that Chris gave himself in high school that relates to one of his physical characteristics. Let’s just say that what Chris more than makes up for in professional stature, he lacks in physical stature. As he says in his history of Lockergnome, people, including his own writing teacher, used to call him “shorty names” such as gnome. One day when Chris was standing by his locker, The Locker Gnome just came to him. Chris insists that he was never actually stuffed into a locker.

[where: 98121]

[tags]gnomedex, gnomedex7, gnomedex2007, lockergnome, chris pirillo, seattle, gnomes, underpants gnomes[/tags]

3 Responses to “Gnomedex: The name”

  1. on 02 Aug 2007 at 12:35 pm Ponzi

    This is awesome! I love it. :)

  2. on 08 Aug 2007 at 1:23 pm Dave Schappell

    I never probed to get the story behind LockerGnome — that, alone, made me really enjoy this post. And, I always thought of the ‘dex’ as related to Rolodex (since it seems like a collection of the a-list tech bloggers).

    Wrong on all counts, but pleasantly so!

  3. on 08 Aug 2007 at 1:38 pm DaveO

    Great work! Now i can point people here instead of trying to explain the Gnomedex name as well as the story of the underpants gnomes – a South Park classic!

    See ya in Seattle …

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