Noonhat

Originally published Jun 20, 2007

A couple months back The Name Inspector had lunch with Brian Dorsey. Brian talked about a kooky idea he had for a website: people would specify a date and a geographical area and get matched up with random strangers via email to meet for lunch.

Brian really likes to go out for lunch. He works in Seattle’s International District, which is full of East Asian restaurants, and knows where to get the best hand-shaved noodles and nigiri and whatnot. Brian also likes the idea of just talking to people that he wouldn’t normally run into during his day. He’s a pretty idealistic guy, and believes that we Americans would benefit from being more cooperative and connected. Brian has a vision. A lunch vision.

He produced a list of names that he was considering for his project/website, which wasn’t exactly conceived as a business yet, in the sense of being, you know, a way to make money. But of course it’s not hard to see how something like this could become “monetized”. Not surprisingly, many of the names contained the word lunch.

Luncheonator.

Lunchendipity.

Some of these names were pretty damned funny. But many of them didn’t really have the properties we normally associate with “good” business names. The two names above, actually blends involving the word luncheon, have a goofy charm but are too long and hard to spell.

Lunch Bastard.

(Really? Yes. Brian has a whole rationale for this name. The Name Inspector has not been entirely convinced by his arguments.)

Lunch is the obvious word to use here. After all, it’s a website that’s all about having lunch with people. But lunch is also a hard word to work with. That final consonant cluster really limits its combinatorial potential.

A ways down on the list there was a standout name: Noonhat. The Name Inspector pointed at that one and said, “This is interesting” (and meant it in a good way). Brian smiled because he especially liked that one. He said he imagined names being drawn from a hat. Out comes the noon hat, names are drawn, lunch plans are made. He also liked the graphic possibilities.

The Name Inspector also thought of the hat as representing a role or persona. Hats are commonly used as metonymies for roles–there are white hat and black hat hackers and search engine optimizers, people sometimes say “Now I’m wearing my _____ hat” (e.g. “my teacher hat”, “my boss hat”, etc.) to indicate that they’re acting in some particular capacity. The idea was that you’d take off your work hat and put on your lunchtime socializing hat–your noon hat–for an hour. People might even show up at the restaurant in real hats to identify each other.

While Noonhat doesn’t contain the word lunchnoon is an effective metonymic reference to lunch, because what else do we associate with that time of day? And this name is short and simple and graphically interesting, with the double o and the near-identical n and h and the curves in all those letters. It also looks like and rhymes with moonbat, which, while used as a political epithet, might be ironically embraced by anyone whose tendencies are at all liberal. And let’s face it, who else is going to want to have lunch with random strangers?

So Brian’s project became Noonhat. Why does The Name Inspector write about it now? Because the Noonhat website is live! It’s graphically pretty sparse, but it includes a really cool Google Maps mashup. If you live in the Seattle area, check it out and have a lunch adventure. Unfortunately for those who live elsewhere, Noonhat doesn’t cover any other areas…yet. But The Name Inspector is confident that the Noonhat craze will sweep the nation. Or at least it should.

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