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.

[tags]incuby, the name incuby, incubus, incubi, incubator[/tags]

4 Responses to “Incuby?”

  1. on 12 Jun 2007 at 12:29 pm Aaron

    When I look at the name, I can’t help read it as if it were spelled “in cubby” (as in cubby hole), which at best doesn’t help me understand their company at all and at worst leads to a negative connotation (I end up thinking about cubicles as soon as I think of cubby holes).

    Is there some linguistic rule that should rule out my pronunciation? Or a way to spell it that more clearly encourages your suggested pronunciation?

  2. on 12 Jun 2007 at 2:55 pm Lexi

    We all know Reebok was trailing in the battle with Nike for the shoe industry reigns. Could it be that reebok created the shoe with that name on purpose, to gain some kind of publicity.

    Maybe incuby is doing the same, got you to write about it………….

    Besides I thought it was pretty easy to understand and think its a great name because of the play on incubation. Much better than going with the ol’ web 2.0 incubr.

  3. on 13 Jun 2007 at 11:34 am The Name Inspector

    Thanks for your comments.

    Aaron, it’s not so much a linguistic principle as a convention of English orthography that rules out the pronunciation you’re talking about. Normally the consonant would be doubled, as it is in the word “cubby”, to cue that pronunciation of the preceding vowel.

    Lexi, maybe they were going for a little “even bad press is good press” attention with the name. I still don’t like it. But I also share your relief that they didn’t go for a Flickr copycat name. I can’t believe how many of those there are. They don’t exactly scream innovation, do they?

  4. on 13 Oct 2008 at 3:31 am Darius

    Well, I can’t see how the Reebok guys could come out with the Incubus name without knowing what it means. I mean, there is almost no chance to “invent” such a name. However, it’s possible they had looked over a list of supernatural creatures and find it, and instead of checking a dictionary, they checked the and trade mark availability.

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