Naming stories: Lilipip

Originally published Jan 25, 2007

The Name Inspector has a special interest in names for tech companies, and not just the ones you’ve already heard of. Names for startups also capture his imagination, and entrepreneurs have begun to send in their naming stories. Here’s a story from Ksenia Oustiougova, founder of Lilipip, which produces mobile educational video content for children:

I have read a couple of Seth Godin’s books from Purple Cow to All marketers are liars, and in one of them he talks about naming the companies. So I finally e-mailed asking how to name my company, and he told me: whatever name you choose, it must yield 0 results when typed in Google search. I set off brainstorming, mostly combining letters into shapes visually (I was an architect in the past), and finally after spending hours in Google I arrived at a hybrid misspelling of “little people” (since they are my customers) mixed with lollipop ( I just like the sound of it) plus liliput – little people from my favorite book when I was a kid, Gulliver in the Liliput land or however it is you guys are saying it in English. Anyway, LILIPIP yielded 0 results in Google, and I breezed through the trademark process. But the whole process took me several weeks, so it didn’t come lightly. I was also sort of ashamed to pronounce it out loud for a while, until it stuck. And when people came up to me talking about my company after the MIT Forum presentation last week, they said it without difficulty. What this name will bring in the future, I have yet to see.

The Name Inspector is a great fan of the name Lilipip and of this story, which illustrates some interesting facts about how naming works today:

  1. Findability is one of the most important considerations in selecting a name. Make sure your name will come at the top of search engine results.
  2. It doesn’t matter how you come up with the idea for your name. What really matters is the process of screening and selection, and having enough good ideas to select from.
  3. Thinking of candidate names and selecting the best one takes more time than you think it will.
  4. That’s okay, because a great name won’t necessarily jump out at you. It’s a good idea to sit with your name ideas for a while, because some strengths are not immediately apparent. For example, you can’t make a snap judgment about the memorability of a name–you have to just wait to see which names continue to stand out in your memory.
  5. Great names have multiple appropriate associations, but need not have any overt meaning.
  6. The way a name looks is important (though not as important as its associations or the way it sounds).

Seth Godin covers some of these points in the post that Ksenia mentions. He really emphasizes (1), and also notices a shift in importance “from what the words mean to what the words remind you of”. He seems close to point (5) here, but goes so far as to suggest that the original meaning of the name you select “doesn’t matter at all”, because what’s important are the secondary meanings the name will acquire in association with your company, product, or service. Here the Name Inspector must disagree. While it’s true that most names no longer generically describe what they stand for, the meanings evoked by the linguistic raw material from which a name is constructed matter a lot. Even the name Starbucks, which Godin rightly points out has little if anything to do with coffee, is made of recognizable parts that nevertheless bring good associations to the table.

Now about the name Lilipip. You can tell this is a name created by an architect, because it has a striking orthographic balance created by repeating visual elements. First there are all those vertical lines, long ones alternating with short ones. The long ones extend up in the two l’s in the left half of the name and down in the p’s in the right half, creating a kind of mirror-image effect. Then of course the three vowel letters in this name are all the same–in fact, every other letter in this name is an i.

The strong orthographic shape of the name reflects a strong phonetic profile. The pattern of repeating consonants and vowels is striking and singsongy in a good way. The liquid [l] sounds and the high vowels are light and diminutive sounding, which is very appropriate for a children’s media company. Let’s just come right out and say it: this name is cute!

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