Namificationology just got serious

Originally published Oct 13, 2014

The Name Inspector might seem a tad obsessed with company names that end with the -ify suffix (like Spotify). Last year he released a chart showing the crazy growth of this naming fad. And now here he is with another chart!

But bear with him. The indulgence of this obsession has allowed The Name Inspector to hone some analytical tools that will be very useful, both for doing research into naming trends (this study in namificationology being just the first example), and for adding astounding analytical depth to the strategic thinking that goes into client projects.

The Name Inspector’s interest in namification began with an anecdotal observation: What’s up with all these –ify names? Then it grew into a labored but haphazard search. Now it has matured into a systematic exploration of CrunchBase using their API and some Ruby scripts.

The payoff from the added rigor has been enormous. First, this chart has 338 names on it, while the last one only had 187. (Incidentally, when he released the last chart The Name Inspector wondered if the –ify fad might have peaked in 2012. As you can see from the new chart, it most certainly did not.)

Second and more important, The Name Inspector is now able to do a similar study of any naming pattern that can be found with a regular expression query. So if you’re considering a name for your startup but want to know how it fits into (or stands out from) the world of startup naming trends, The Name Inspector can tell you. For real.

Much of the impetus for the creation of these tools has come from The Name Inspector’s need to prepare for his joint presentation with Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy) on naming trends at the American Name Society meeting in January. Once again, academic research yields practical results!

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Microstyle in Turkish!

Originally published Aug 20, 2014

The Name Inspector is pleased to report that the Turkish translation of Microstyle has been published by BZD Yayincilik! It actually happened a while ago but only recently came to his attention. So now there are Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Turkish editions out there. A Brazilian edition is supposed to be in the works, but still no word on that.

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Naming fad visualized: Did Spotify start it?

Originally published Jul 26, 2013

Back in 2011 The Name Inspector wrote a post about the proliferation of startup names that make creative use of the suffix -ify, such as Spotify. At the time he deemed the trend “disturbifying”, identifying about a dozen and a half examples.

Those were simpler times. If The Name Inspector had realized, in all his innocence, just how deep this rabbit hole goes, he might have chosen to live with his comfortable illusions.

But let’s face it: The Name Inspector is a red pill kinda guy. So he kept saving new examples of -ify names on his Pinterest “Wall of Namifying” until he had over 80 examples…and then sort of got distracted by other things.

But then the Wall Street Journal contacted The Name Inspector for this article on startup names, and the Pinterest board came up, and the reporter wanted to know if The Name Inspector thought the namifying trend could be blamed on Spotify, and he got interested all over again. So he decided to get to the bottom of things.

By rounding up all the -ify names in CrunchBase and making note of when each company was founded, The Name Inspector got the big picture. And he realized it called for nothing less than an infographic.

The snazzy chart here–which you can see in a full-sized PDF version by clicking on the image–doesn’t prove that the namifying trend has been created by Spotify wannabes, but it does offer some pretty strong circumstantial evidence. There are 187 names from CrunchBase that use the ending -ify in new ways, and more than 90% of them were introduced after Spotify was founded in 2006.

But why blame it on Spotify rather than one of the pre-2006 names? Because the popular music-streaming service has achieved success on such a large scale, having been included on Business Insider’s list of top private tech companies for 2011 and 2012, at #19 and #15, respectively. And those are also the years when the number of -ify names took off into the stratosphere.

Something is afoot, and The Name Inspector thinks it might be an unruly herd of copycats. Watch your step, entrepreneurs!

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Ronald Johnson

Originally published Mar 11, 2013

The Name Inspector has had a hard time writing this post. The reason is a sad one: his father died in January. It isn’t so much that grieving has made it impossible to work. Rather, The Name Inspector has had the impulse to announce this news and to offer some kind of tribute, yet has been hesitant to step out of the safe third-person space he’s created for himself on this blog.

But here we go. For this post The Name Inspector is going to be me, and I’m going to tell you a little about my dad Ronald Johnson, who has influenced me more than I sometimes recognize.

Dad was a commercial artist. He worked for a while at the Minneapolis branch of Brown & Bigelow, and for many years at a design studio called Cy DeCosse & Associates, where he specialized in food package design. When I decided I wanted to go to a private college, he went freelance. It was a scary move for him, but it boosted his income considerably, and he was able to finance my college education, for which I’ll always be grateful.

Dad’s biggest client was General Mills. He designed cereal boxes for them, including the original box for Honey Nut Cheerios, now the top-selling cereal in the U.S. (according to 2011 Nielsen data). That led to my first professional writing gig: creating a how-to manual for drawing the Honey Nut Cheerios bee mascot. My dad also designed boxes for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the now defunct Circus Fun cereal. The black background on the Circus Fun box was unusual at the time (and VERY 1980s), and earned my dad a special award from General Mills. I was delighted to see the covers of Circus Fun and Cinnamon Toast Crunch featured in The Great American Cereal Book.

Dad sometimes participated in ideation sessions to name products and companies. He was involved in naming The County Seat, the Levi’s jeans retailer that started in Minnesota. He said another name that came up was was Crotch & Pocket. (I don’t think that was a serious contender.)

I’m the youngest of five kids, so even though I’m from “Gen X”, dad was a Mad Men guy, albeit an outdoorsy Minnesota one. He liked duck hunting, football, cigarettes, and Manhattans. He shined his own shoes and sharpened his own knives. He raised black Labrador Retrievers and built a beautiful cedar strip canoe by himself. As a youth he trained as a boxer, and once told me he had trouble deciding at that time whether to be a professional fighter or an artist. I’m glad he became an artist, though I’ve recently taken an interest in boxing for fitness, which amused my dad considerably when I first told him. (“Aren’t you a little old for that?”)

Dad joined the Army Air Corps toward the end of WWII. He trained for the dangerous job of tailgunner, but thankfully never went into combat. While stationed in Texas, he saw a strange flash in the Western sky and his crew was instructed not to fly in that direction. That was almost certainly his brush with the Trinity test of the first atomic bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Despite his old-school proclivities, dad had a youthful quality that he maintained through his contact with the younger, weirder creative types he worked with. He was a fan of the drawing style of Robert Crumb, and even did a few Crumbesque cartoons of his own, including some stickers for Burgie Beer (for which he also designed the can pictured here).

While life in my family was not without its complications, one image from my childhood that has maintained its luster is my dad working at his drafting table, where he was always meticulous and absorbed. He had a huge flat file full of hundreds of colored art markers. I loved those markers and all the other tools of his trade: T-squares, triangles, French curves, proportion wheels, metal rulers, compasses, mechanical pencils, gum erasers, rubber cement, X-ACTO knives. (Other fans of old drawing and layout tools should check out the online Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.)

Ron Johnson was an affectionate and charming man with a talent who did his job well and supported a big family. And he was my dad. I’ll miss him.

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Fab is!

Originally published Jun 8, 2012

It’s been a while since The Name Inspector did a regular old post on a great name. So you know what’s a great name? Fab, that’s what. As in, the daily-deal site that features art prints, t-shirts, jewelry, furniture, and other designy things.

At a mere three letters, this name is the ultimate in brevity, but gets a lot of bang for its buck. Fab stands in for two words, both right for the site. One, of course, is the word fabulous, which expresses a superlatively positive opinion, and is frequently uttered, in The Name Inspector’s imagination at least, by effusively fashionable people. This word gives rise to a secondary association with Fab Four, a Mod-era moniker for those Merseybeat moptops otherwise known as the Beatles. (The Name Inspector is feeling especially alliterary today.) And maybe, for some people, there’s even a tertiary association with Ab Fab (Absolutely Fabulous), the name of a funny mostly-1990s British sitcom starring Jennifer Saunders.

The second word that Fab suggests is the word fabricate. This is a site that features the work of designers and makers. It’s nice to shine a light on the creative act itself. (Some people might argue that fabricate implies putting something together out of ready-made pieces, but let’s not quibble.)

The name Fab even packs a bit of poetry into its tiny form. You have to involve your lower lip when saying both consonants, so there’s a nice continuity to the pronunciation and a nice symmetry to the sound.

Now, The Name Inspector hates to be crass, but he can’t help wondering…how much did they have to pay for that domain name?

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A goy’s guide to the Passover Seder

Originally published Apr 6, 2012

The Name Inspector is about more than just names–he considers himself a sort of cultural ambassador. So he’s setting aside his name inspecting cap for a moment to perform a timely public service.

If you Gentiles out there have played your cards right, you may have received an invitation to attend your first Passover Seder this year. Don’t panic! With a little preparation, you can make it through this important ritual without starving or making a complete fool of yourself. Since The Name Inspector’s wife and kids are Jewish, he has a sort of standing invitation to Passover, and he’s learned a thing or two. He’s here to help you.

Incidentally, The Name Inspector has Scandinavian ancestry, and he and his wife have discovered interesting parallels between their peoples. For example, there’s a shared love of cured and smoked fish. Also, a tendency to make things out of potatoes and put sweet stuff on top. For this reason The Name Inspector is mystified by his wife’s refusal to appreciate lefse.

There are differences as well, of course. For example, judging from the wife’s family, it doesn’t seem like Jews are into boats as much as Scandinavians are. Also, Jews have a tradition of telling jokes that are funny.

Anyway, the first thing you need to know about Seder is that there’s going to be dinner,  it’s going to take a really long time, and the host is going to tell you when you’re allowed to eat each thing. It will make you feel like a kid again, but not necessarily in a good way. There will be lots of stories, but no funny ones.

At least there will be plenty of wine, you’ll be relieved to know. But you’re going to have to wait forever before you can start drinking it. If your hosts serve a traditional kosher wine, once you finally do get a taste of it you’ll understand why no one seemed like they were in much of a hurry to drink. The Name Inspector recommends having cocktail hour at home before the Seder if possible.

Come to think of it, you might want to have some appetizers beforehand as well. The food at a Seder is chosen mainly for its symbolism. As you surely know, Jews have had some pretty tough times throughout history, and they have the culinary traditions to prove it. For example, at one point during dinner you might be invited to dip some parsley in a bowl of salt water and eat it. Now, the polite thing is to go along with this, but don’t get your hopes up flavor-wise. It’s meant to represent the bitterness of the Jewish experience and the tears of the Jews, and it does a pretty good job.

Then theres’ the bread, called matzo, which is like a big cracker. Any kind of puffy bread is a faux pas during Passover, so don’t try to demonstrate your cultural savvy by showing up with a bag of bagels.

The thing you’re really going to want to get your hands on is the charoset, a tasty mixture of chopped fruits and nuts and spices, like something you’d bake into cinnamon buns. There’s even a little wine in there. If you’re really lucky, your Seder will have a Sephardic touch, and the charoset will have dates in it. Matzo by itself isn’t much, but matzo with Sephardic charoset is delicious.

The funnest part of Seder is when the little kids get to ask four questions about why Passover is special, and also at the end when they have a treasure hunt. All they find is some of the big cracker, but they seem to enjoy it. And then they get some money.

So there you have it! You’re now a veritable Passover Seder expert. Oh, one other thing: at the end, people will say something about seeing you next year in Jerusalem. It’s confusing, but just smile and play along–they won’t actually mean it literally.

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Queasy living

Originally published Mar 13, 2012

A building named Vertigo, and James Stewart about to fall off a building in the movie Vertigo.

Before the financial unpleasantness of recent years, and the attendant collapse in the housing market, developers were throwing up cheap condos all over Seattle trying to accommodate /capitalize on the growing population. Now you see these condos everywhere, and most are hurting for tenants.

One building that has caught The Name Inspector’s eye is right next to the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library. It’s called Vertigo. It actually says that in big letters right on the side.

The name Vertigo is probably supposed to imply that the building is so awesome it will make you dizzy with excitement. (Never mind that someone identified it as possibly the “ugliest condo building in Seattle”.) And Vertigo is the title of a classic movie by Alfred Hitchcock, right? One that’s hiply alluded to in the prize-winning title sequence for the popular television series Mad Men?

Granted, the movie is about a guy who falls off a building. (Spoiler alert!) And then has nightmares about it. And then sees his girlfriend fall to her death from a building. And then gets another girlfriend similar to the first and breaks up with her/tries to arrest her and sees her fall off a building.

But the guy does survive his own fall. And in his nightmare he falls stylishly, with op art in the background.

And the Mad Men guy, he falls in a really stylish way, past beautiful models and luxury goods, and lands safely in what is probably a totally collectible mid-century modern chair, and he’s even smoking a cigarette.

So on balance, the associations of Vertigo are probably pretty positive. Besides, this building in Seattle isn’t even that tall. You’d probably survive if you fell off it.

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Hmm, Pinteresting

Someone should write about the name Pinterest.


Don’t you think someone should write about Pinterest?


OK, it looks like The Name Inspector is going to have to do it.


Sometimes it seems like he’s the only one who ever does any name inspecting around here.

Pinterest, like Groupon, is one of those blend names that doesn’t seem to exhibit any obvious design flaws but that still doesn’t quite work, at least for The Name Inspector’s ears and eyes. Clearly the name combines the words pin and interest. The service is a bit like an online cork board onto which you pin things that interest you. What could be simpler?

On the face of it the name is well constructed. The word pin, which deserves its own emphasis, replaces the first emphasized syllable of interest, which it rhymes with. So there’s no obvious awkwordplay here. But there’s still something a bit odd about this blend.

One thing that bothers The Name Inspector about the name Pinterest is its distracting resemblance to the word Pinteresque, which describes a literary work written in the manner of English playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter. Ever see Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman? Pinter wrote that screenplay. He also wrote a play called Betrayal, which had a great screen adaptation starring Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley, and Patricia Hodge. It’s the story of an adulterous affair told in reverse chronological order.

Don’t worry, The Name Inspector won’t tell you how it starts.

Pinteresque works have mundane yet tense or ominous dialogue with lots of awkward silences.

Anyway, what was The Name Inspector talking about? And have you seen his glasses?

How silly, they’re right here on his face.

Oh, right, Pinterest. The Name Inspector started hearing so much about it that he had to try it. And it’s great! It’s a simple idea that seems obvious in retrospect, and it’s easy to see why people are excited about it. Everyone likes those designy sites that show their posts as a checkerboard of images, right? Pinterest lets you make one of those out of your web bookmarks. Or really, it’s more of a patchwork, because the “pins”, as they’re called, aren’t all the same size, but the experience is appealing in the same way.

The experience offered by the name Pinterest, on the other hand, is less satisfying. The linguistic reasons for that remain somewhat obscure, but The Name Inspector is determined to ferret them out. He suspects it might have to do with the minimal duration of the first syllable of interest. Compare it to the first syllable of syntax, for example, which seems longer and more complete. Or it might have to do with the abstract meaning of interest. Or the particular syntactic contexts it occurs in, which sound funny with the blend: This might be of Pinterest to you, I have a strong Pinterest in neologism, etc.

But these are trifles to trouble only The Name Inspector’s mind. He suspects most people will be merrily pinning, not caring much about the name. So pin away!

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Achieve life goals and odd spellings beyond your wildest dreams!

Originally published Jan 30, 2012

The Name Inspector was amused–and appalled–to read in the New York Times about a website called Noomii. It’s a directory to help you find a life coach or business coach, and yes, it’s supposed to evoke the phrase “new me”.

From one point of view, the name is appropriate. New you, new spelling!

But The Name Inspector would like to tell you about the other point of view. One of the main points of the NY Times article is that the coaching field is booming, and a bunch of newish university programs are cranking out coaches who are a bit…unseasoned. Like, hardly half the age of some of their clients.

Now, there’s much to be said for an infusion of youthful energy and enthusiasm to jumpstart a flagging career or personal life. But shouldn’t a coach also have some relevant experience to draw on? To paraphrase the headline for the NY Times article, shouldn’t a life coach have a life first?

That question must be on the minds of some potential coaching clients. Granted, proponents of coaching say that it’s not the same as mentoring. If you’re looking for an insider’s advice on your chosen field, look somewhere else. But still, you have to have some confidence in your coach as a knowledgeable human being, right? Does a 45-year-old with new professional ambitions really want to visit a site with a name that flouts conventional spelling with such whimsical abandon? Or, to put it more accurately, a site with a name that abandons conventionally conventional spelling to so fully embrace the contrived whimsy of a web startup struggling to find an available domain name?

Maybe the kooky spelling of Noomii represents all that is youthful and fresh. In fact, maybe barely post-adolescent coaches should text their clients inspiring messages like “UR 2 gr8 2 fail!” But The Name Inspector doesn’t think so. In this context, he’ll take a little grizzled experience and boring old-fashioned spelling any day.

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Microstyle in Korean!

Originally published Nov 21, 2011

The Name Inspector received a mysterious package of books today from Norton, publisher of his book Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little. The paperback version already? No, too early for that. Inside he was delighted to find four copies of the Korean translation of Microstyle, with the distinctive exclamation point graphic on the cover replaced by a leaping rabbit!

The rabbit also makes several appearances inside the book, which has a lovely interior design. The section headings, for example, appear inside little thought bubbles coming out of the bunny’s brain. The text is printed in two colors, so the rabbits and the examples are in a different color from the body text. The whole look is pretty cool, and, let’s come right out and say it, a bit on the cute side. Thank you, Banbibooks!

Now, are there any Korean speakers out there who can tell The Name Inspector what he wrote?

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