Originally published Jul 12, 2007
In the 10 company name types post, The Name Inspector identified ten ways to put together a name out of meaningful parts. That post was about the nuts and bolts of a name’s structure. This is the first post is a series that will focus on an issue that’s more slippery but also more fundamental: how the intrinsic meaning of a name (if there is one) relates to the company, product, or service that the name stands for.
To examine this issue it helps to have a long list of different names for the same thing. That makes it possible to see the range of meaning strategies used to deliver a message relevant to that thing. This post uses Charles Knight’s list of the Top 100 Alternative Search Engines, and considers the different ways the names on the list relate to web search.
The direct approach
Of course, many names are based on words that already have strong conventional connections to the idea of web search and web use:
Some names evoke the more general idea of web surfing, which is getting hard to imagine doing without search technology. The idea of web surfing is of course based on a metaphor that treats web use as travel (discussed below). The word surf, however, is now the most basic verb we have for web use.
Other names focus less on the activity of web use and more on the informational need that it serves:
Not surprisingly, many of the names on the Alt Search Engines list involve metaphor. That is, they evoke meanings that do not relate to search literally, but that give us a way to think about search using another concept as a sort of model or template.
There are two important things to keep in mind about metaphor. First, it is primarily a conceptual issue, and its linguistic significance follows from that. Second, most of the metaphors that people use in names are not made up, but are already a part of the way we all look at and talk about the world. There are existing metaphors that we can all draw upon and expand upon. A famous and accessible discussion of these ideas can be found in George Lakoff’s book Metaphors We Live By.
So what kinds of metaphors are we talking about here? One of the most common casts the search engine as a sentient being.
Search engine as sentient being
Knuru (play on guru)
guruji (based on the word guru)
This one is a little tricky because personification is common in names independently of any particular metaphor. However, many of the names above emphasize aspects of personhood that are especially relevant to search. Agents, genies, gurus, swamis, and scouts are all people who know or find out things that are useful to us.
Other names relate more generally to the idea of intelligence:
Another important metaphor treats search and web use as motion. Of course, this metaphor has become a normal part of the way we think and talk about the web: we navigate it, we surf it, we go to or visit websites, etc.
Some names relate to the idea of motion in a general way:
Skreemr (relates to fast motion as well as sound)
Other names tie into the conventional navigation metaphor by evoking different kinds of travel:
A little oddly, some names focus on dancing. These names may be motivated by the motion metaphor combined with the idea that dancing is fun.
The flip side of the motion metaphors is the idea that the web is a world in which we can move.
Web as world
A completely different metaphor that’s used in the context of web search is the one that treats becoming aware of new things as uncovering objects. A prominent website name that uses this metaphor is Digg (which The Name Inspector has written about).
Becoming aware of things as uncovering objects
The last name on that list combines the uncovering metaphor with the nautical context implicit in the web navigation metaphor.
Related to the uncovering metaphor is the metaphor that treats learning and understanding as physical taking or holding. We use this metaphor when we talk about grasping a difficult subject. Only a one name on the list clearly uses this metaphor, which means that there’s an opportunity for you namers of new search engines!
Even this brief examination of search engine names makes it clear that metaphor is an important naming tool that can be used in different ways. When naming anything, it’s important to understand the metaphors we already use to think about that thing.