Originally published Apr 11, 2007
A while ago Allegra Searle-LeBel sent in a story about naming her online media-editing startup:
We had been struggling for about 2 months, trying to find the right name. There was this funny, almost mystical sense that it existed *somewhere*. We just needed to keep slogging through the troughs of lame options and almost good enough ideas. I tried combining different parts of my name with words describing our services or industry (BlissArt, MadriGal, DisinterMedia, FemMediate). Terrible and incessant variations on terrible. Not all of them were so bad; some of them would have been good enough. But I didn’t want to have just an okay name. I wanted one that felt right. That rolled off the tongue. That was easy to spell. That had meaning. Eventually, naming showed up on the list of milestones that had to be accomplished in order to further the work. I wrangled all day, learned more about the domain drop process, bought some domains that were “good enough”. I went to bed glad to have chosen something, but still unsettled. I dreamed of standing in a crowd with names being called out to me. I felt happy! I liked them! In the morning, I checked the domains, I checked Google, I laughed at the simplicity. Limber Media, Inc. Now the fun is coming up with slick soundbites, right…? “LimberMedia.com, For anyone who is overextended.”
Limber Media is a nice, mellifluous name. There’s a poetically symmetrical pattern in the consonants, from alveolar (produced with the tongue behind the top front teeth) to bilabial nasal to bilabial stop and then back to bilabial nasal and then alveolar again. And see how the phonetic representation is so pale? That shows what high sonority this name has. There’s uninterrupted voicing–vibration of the vocal folds–when you say the name, and three of the five consonants are sonorants–they allow an unimpeded flow of air and do not introduce noisy turbulence to the speech signal. These qualities provide sound-symbolic support for the idea of limberness (or suppleness or flexibility or something like that).
How does limberness relate to online media editing? Limberness is of course a property of people, not web applications. But, if you think of the users of the application as limber, the implication is that they’re able to move and bend freely with no constraints imposed by their own bodies. This idea of unimpeded motion can apply metaphorically to any kind of human task, suggesting that it can be accomplished easily. The metaphor works similarly if it applies to a personification of the company or its web app. The idea of limberness also makes a nice connection between the company and its founder, who is a choreographer and dancer as well as a web entrepreneur. Limberness also evokes the more general concept of flexibility, which can apply to objects and materials as well as people. A flexible medium is one that is easily manipulated, so this is a very appropriate association for a media editing service and application.
Allegra’s naming experience illustrates an important point that The Name Inspector has been trying to get across to people lately. The names that are the most descriptive of a company–the ones that are the easiest to come up with–are often not the best ones. Going directly from the idea of the company to the name just doesn’t seem to be that effective. In successful naming efforts, what often happens is that a name idea comes from a dream or a random connection of some kind, and after the name presents itself, so to speak, it just seems to fit. Then, on reflection, one can see what accounts for that fit. This is why naming seems so simple but is actually so hard. Going from the company to the right name is an uphill climb, but getting from the name to the company is–or should be–a ride downhill.
Thanks for your story, Allegra, and good naming work!