Phonetic representation of the name Tinfinger
Paul Montgomery writes about his company’s name:

Tinfinger is intended to be to the Who’s Who what Wikipedia was to the
Encyclopedia Britannica. Its main function is a search engine of
biographical information on famous and semi-famous public figures. It
also has news aggregation features similar to Techmeme, based around
people’s names instead of hyperlink hierarchies.

The name Tinfinger is a portmanteau, of course. Tin is the Vietnamese
word for news, and finger is the name of a Unix command
<> to find out information about a
person. (One of the founders is originally from Vietnam via England, the
other an Aussie.) Tin also has other meanings, especially when used as a
prefix to denote falseness, e.g. “tin god”, referencing the superficial
cult of celebrity. The site’s mascot is a little black robot called Ned
whose backstory is as a put-upon slave to his human masters, so the
site’s name also references the robotic nature of the news aggregation
features which work through the fingers of mythical robot employees.
Finally, the name also recalls the Bond film character Goldfinger,
giving an extra pop culture nuance.

Is it possible to have though too much about a name? :D

This is one of the geekiest and most thought-out startup names that The Name Inspector has come across. The elaborate backstory with the robot workers is pretty entertaining. It’s odd that a search engine focusing on people has a non-human mascot, but it makes a kind of twisted sense.

Something really interesting about this name is that it works on different levels for different audiences. The metonymic (or, more specifically, synechdochic) reference to robots and the allusion to the Bond movie/character are widely accessible to the English-speaking world. Then there are inside jokes for geeks and speakers of Vietnamese. They’re almost like verbal Easter eggs. On this level the name is enigmatic to many people, but they don’t know it. It’s crypto-enigmatic.

The name Tinfinger is self-deprecating almost to the point of being risky. This comes of course from the association the word tin has with cheapness and falseness. If you imagine singing the theme song to the James Bond film Goldfinger saying Tinfinger instead, you can’t help but notice how much self-mocking there is in this name. But if presented with the right humor, this kind of over-the-top modesty can be disarming. The design of the Tinfinger logo hits just the right note with its construction-paper-cutout-style letters and its little cartoon robot. Is it The Name Inspector’s imagination, or are those supposed to be robot and human skin tones in that logo?

In the typology of names, Tinfinger counts as a compound rather than a portmanteau (blend), because it consists of two whole words rather than word parts. The sound is natural and easy, and gets a little poetry from the near-rhyme of the first two syllables. In the orthography this is reflected in the repetition of in, and enhanced by the similarity of the letters T and f.

The name Tinfinger conjures up an entertaining vision that helps us imagine how the underlying search technology works. The Name Inspector can’t wait to see what those robots can do with their tinny little fingers.

[tags]Tinfinger, the name Tinfinger, search, people search, robots[/tags]

6 Responses to “Naming Stories: Tinfinger”

  1. on 27 Feb 2007 at 6:31 pm Paul Montgomery

    You’re right, the colours of the logo are intended to convey both the metallic grey of tin and the various skin tones of humans from all over the world. Maybe you’ll have to start up a site called The Logo Inspector as well!

    Thanks very much for the writeup, I enjoyed it immensely.

  2. on 27 Feb 2007 at 7:53 pm rene-y

    Hello Name Inspector! I just found your site today and I think it’s great! Regular reading for me from now on.


  3. on 02 Mar 2007 at 8:46 am Robert Labossiere

    This is going to be harsh. Sorry, I do mean well.

    Who’s Who is a prestige publication, collecting the names of the rich and powerful, and those who have achieved public recognition. It’s a kind of gold standard. So I have big reservations about the use of declassé tin. Conrad Black is not going to care if he is registered in tin, or understand anything about tinny, tiny Vietnamese robot fingers, but something like this,, he’d get.

    The revenue model of Who’s Who is selling the directory to the very people who are in it. It’s an ego machine. A quick surf didn’t turn up anything about TinFinger’s revenue model, but if that’s it, then I’d say they’ve got some ways to go.

    I’m also reminded of the Tim Man from the Wizard of Oz. “If I only had a heart!” he sings. That’s funny actually, given the perception (if not reality) that the Who’serati must be heartless to have gotten to where they are in Who’s Who.

    And, since it’s come up, the logo. Pink F? for fem perhaps? Goofy lettering? The style is quirky, perhaps coolish, but imho will date very quickly. On the upside, it does kind of look like old movie poster typography… Saul Bass comes to mind, which is something:

  4. on 02 Mar 2007 at 11:17 am The Name Inspector

    Paul, it was fun to write about. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Rene, welcome!

    Robert, I don’t know what their business model is, either, but I have the impression their marketing is directed to a more web-savvy audience than Who’s Who is (more open to irony and humor). As for the Tin Man, did you forget that he actually had more heart than any other character in the movie? And really, what’s with the “fem” comment, Robert? Next are you going to make fun of The Name Inspector for his lovely lavender header?

    I agree with the old movie poster comparison. Nice link to the Vertigo poster.

  5. on 02 Mar 2007 at 5:07 pm Paul Montgomery

    Robert, the Who’s Who business model is quite the opposite of the business model of Tinfinger. We’re definitely going for a broad audience of fans, not just the elites who are listed in it. So tin is appropriate in this case.

    The logo lettering was originally supposed to look like finger-painting, though it turned out a bit more like construction paper cut-outs. The overall effect is raw, anyway, which was the intention to denote the contributions of the fans who will post content about their favourite celebrities.

  6. on 02 Mar 2007 at 6:15 pm Robert Labossiere

    Lavender works for you Chris. With the graphic and the name, the overall effect is a literate, intelligent, New Yorker type thing, which, also like the New Yorker, is solidly backed up by content.

    I shouldn’t have used the short form, fem, which sounds derogatory. Wasn’t thinking. But pink, as a colour, is associated more with femininity than almost anything.

    Thanks Paul for shedding light. I do see you how you are working the participatory and in-the-moment sides of the web. I was surprised that there wasn’t an online, searchable Who’s Who already, so you’ve definitely cottoned on to something.

    But isn’t searchability also a very different thing now? At the moment, all roads, even the yellow brick ones, lead to Wikipedia, e.g.

    And yes, you are right Chris, the only thing the Tin Man didn’t have was self-awareness.

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