Naming stories: Biznik

Originally posted Feb 6, 2007

What follows is a story from Dan McComb, one of the founders of Biznik, a Seattle-based social network for independent business people. Dan’s story is so well told that it’s quoted in its entirety here.

By the way, the Name Inspector gets a real kick out of the name Biznik, but, as a Biznik member who has had some correspondence with Dan, and who spoke on the same stage as Dan in the first Ignite Seattle event, he is not entirely unbiased.

Biznik was originally The Biz Group. A totally unremarkable and non-trademarkable name. But one that made it clear what we were about – business. But our group wasn’t just about business – it was about indie business, business that thinks outside of the box, that isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo; bootstrapping business, progressive, sustainable business. I wanted a name that:

  1. Contained within it an allusion to what the group is all about
  2. Was short and memorable
  3. The domain name was available.
  4. We could trademark
  5. Ideally, would be a made-up name so that it’s easy to track every single reference to it, ever, on the Internet, using Google alerts.

I spent hours doing who-is lookups, and finding every cool name I could think of was already owned by somebody. Somebody, who when asked, wanted on average $6,000 to part with it. No thanks.

Some names we considered: Bizgroove (our lawyer advised it was too much like Groove Networks, which Microsoft purchased), radicalselfpromotion, bizfire, bizgroupies, and a long list of even worse options. After a couple of weeks of fruitless searching, I remembered something I once heard about creativity – “creativity is the art of absurd combinations.” I thought, why don’t I just start randomly tacking arbitrary suffixes onto “biz” and see what happens. I manage a lot of web sites, so that means I manage a lot of passwords. And one thing I’ve done for a long time is tack made-up suffixes onto real words, to get something that isn’t in the dictionary, but is memorable. One of the suffixes I used to use was n!k. As in, passwordn!k. When I thought of tacking that onto biz to create Biznik, I looked it up, and the .com domain was available. I immediately thought, that’s a stupid name – if nobody else wants it, why would I want it? So I skipped over it and kept trying other combinations, without finding anything satisfying. A few days later I came back to Biznik in my head, and ran it by my partner Lara. It occurred to both of us that it might be pretty good – it met all of our naming goals, and more – it contained an allusion to radical (beatniks, sputnik), and business (biz). I tried it out on a couple of my friends and they all liked it immediately, a reaction that hadn’t happened in the previous possible names I’d shared with them. So I went back to the computer, and sure enough, the domain was still available – I purchased it for 8 bucks.

I later found out that -nik is a Yiddish suffix that means “to have an affinity for.” And the final bonus is that members of Biznik can be referred to as “Bizniks.” It’s a multi-purpose name, and as time has passed we realize how lucky we were to get it. In fact, we discovered it by using; the domain had been previously owned by someone in London, who had let it lapse literally a few months before we stumbled on it. How cool is that?

Great story. The Name Inspector would like to thank Dan from the bottom of his heart for not naming this business Bizfire. That would have been a real Mizfire.

Biznik is lots of fun and a great name. It’s the holy grail of domain names: one that carries the right meaning in six letters or less. (An aside: This six-letter rule seems to be received wisdom in the world of web names–does anyone know how it got started?). Combining biz with the radical connotations of the suffix -nik is a surprising and funny juxtaposition that gives this name real personality. Of course, -nik is not really radical in a threatening way. It ironically evokes the Cold War era, and its Yiddish origin, its association with beatnik, and its diminutive sound give it a kind of lighthearted friendliness.

Phonetically the name is great, with the repeated vowel sound and the smooth transition between the sounds [z] and [n], which are similarly pronounced. Biznik is nice orthographically, too, with the two strikingly angular letters z and k and the repetition of the letter i.

Nice name, Dan, and thanks for your story.

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