Originally published Jun 12, 2007

Duncan Riley has posted on TechCrunch about Incuby, a social network where inventors can promote their inventions. The Name Inspector thinks this is a great idea for a web business.

But not a great name for one. Clearly it’s intended to be a fun tweak of incubator, which is what we call organizations that help delicate young technologies grow into robust businesses. But Incuby? As in incubi–the plural of incubus? Have we learned nothing from the Reebok Incubus fiasco?

In Medieval folklore, an incubus is a male demon who rapes women in their sleep. Its female counterpart is called a succubus. In the late 1990s, some marketing geniuses at Reebok, clearly unaware of the word’s provenance, thought Incubus would make a nifty name for a women’s athletic shoe. No doubt they just thought it sounded cool. Maybe they were fans of the alt-metal rock group of the same misogynistic name.

Of course, Reebok was publicly humiliated and had to change the name. The Name Inspector is stunned that such a thing can happen at a large corporation. Didn’t it occur to anyone to, say, check the name in a dictionary or something before having it printed on tens of thousands of shoe boxes?

Now, the name Incuby is not quite as bad as all that. First, it’s not for a women’s shoe. Second, it’s not actually the word incubus, or even the less commonly used plural incubi. But it does come awfully close.

And even if you overlook the unfortunate connection to supernatural molestation, this name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like a buttered marble. It’s hard to know whether to pronounce the final syllable to sound like be or like bye. Some people, missing the connection to incubator, might even try to put the main emphasis on the second syllable. If the second syllable isn’t emphasized, the first and second together sound all pinched and puckered, like that little whatever-it-is inside the egg in the company logo.

The Name Inspector hates to be so hard on a startup name, but he calls ‘em like he sees ‘em. Maybe it’s not too late for some rebranding before launch.

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