Naming stories: LiftPort

Originally published Feb 2, 2007

Some of the Name Inspector’s readers have commented that the posts so far have all been pretty positive. While he has made a conscious decision to play nice until people get to know him, the Name Inspector is not all bunnies and butterflies. Here’s a story about a name that doesn’t work, bravely submitted by Michael J. Laine, President of LiftPort, a company “dedicated to building an Elevator to Space”. “I am quite interested in your opinion,” Michael wrote in his email, “and feel free to blog about it, if you like”. Here’s more from Michael:

For an interesting lesson in how an idea can get away from its founders, the next Google search should be ‘ “space elevator” LiftPort’. Results for our company are about 1:12 to that of the overall project. And that is fine, as it proves that the concept is taking on a life of its own. However, it tells me that we have not done a great job of branding ourselves to the idea. And that is a little frustrating…

… We named the company to be based on the English version of elevator, a “lift”, combined with a “port” of entry or departure. To me, this seems pretty obvious, and I have gotten feedback that it conveys the image we wanted.

Now the idea of an elevator to space is incredibly exciting, but the name LiftPort just doesn’t capture that excitement. When something is so intrinsically interesting, a descriptive name is often the best way to go. The simple phrase Space Elevator is more interesting than LiftPort, but it’s too descriptive to be a strong trademark.

So what’s the problem with LiftPort?

First, what’s exciting about the “Elevator to Space” idea is that it goes to outer space. There’s nothing about space in the name LiftPortLift gets at the idea of going up, but it’s a mundane word and does not evoke a vivid image. It makes The Name Inspector’s spouse think of those little things you put in your shoes to appear an inch or two taller. Doesn’t exactly send the imagination soaring beyond geosynchronous orbit, does it?

Then there’s the word port. It’s a perfectly good word to use in this context, evoking airports and shipping ports. But it’s a bit redundant in combination with lift. Like liftport also suggests moving or carrying, as in transport and teleport (it is, in fact, derived from the Latin word meaning ‘to carry’). This kind of redundancy makes a compound name fall a bit flat, and squanders the opportunity that such names provide to combine words and their meanings in jarring and delightful ways.

Another problem with the combination of lift and port is that it just leads to too much ambiguity. Either word can be interpreted as a noun or a verb. That makes it especially hard to see how the meanings of the two words should be combined. Is this a port that lifts you up? A lift that ports you somewhere? Something that’s a combination of a lift and a port? A little artful ambiguity in a name is good, but too much is confusing.

Phonetically the name is okay, with balanced sonority and a little poetry from the repeated [t] sounds at the ends of both component words. The sequence of consonants in the middle–[ftp]–is a little hard to pronounce, though.

LiftPort isn’t one of those terrible, embarrassing names. The rationale for it makes perfect sense. It just doesn’t convey the excitement of this venture, and it doesn’t leave a strong impression on the mind. A better name would provide a more vivid image of an elevator going into space.

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