Trendy Company and Band Names

October 11th, 2006

I noticed a few years ago that something had happened to the names of up-and-coming music groups. It seems like about every 10 years bands switch en masse from using “the” in their names to omitting it. The trend looked something like:
1960’s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground
1970’s: Rush, Journey, Led Zeppelin, Spinal Tap
1980’s: The Cure, The Gogos
1990’s: Nirvana, Radiohead
2000’s: The White Stripes, The Thrills, The Killers

The trend spans genres and made me wonder what psychic wavelength musicians share that causes them to all hit the same ideas at the same time. Maybe it is just a handful of publicists that kick things off and get everyone thinking it is the way to be “new”.

Recently I have noticed a similar pattern in naming conventions for startups. The ecosystem is much smaller than the music world, so perhaps it is easier to find the sources.

In the ’90s there was a proliferation of companies named using uncommon words (I am focusing on English here). Yahoo! is the earliest of these I can think of. Others include Google and Quokka.

In the early part of this decade Flickr set the standard with its IM-style omitted “e”. Many imitators followed, culminating in Zooomr (third “o” and omitted “e”!).

While initially clever, this trend doesn’t seem to have legs. The range of options for a really stand-out name with omitted (or added) vowels seems pretty limited and the idea appears to have run its course.

Another emerging trend was kicked off by with its creatively-placed periods. may illustrate a potential pitfall of the strategy, though- forget the . and you may end up at ExxonMobil.

Much more creative, in my opinion, is the class of “numeral/word” company names. I draw the history here back to 37Signals and SixApart, though others may find earlier examples. Narenda Rocherolle wins the creativity award here for using the trend to name both his company, 80degrees, and its product, 30boxes (with bonus points for the completely inscrutable nosoapradio blog).

I like this trend. It makes you think a bit more: why 37? Is there some literary or technical reference I am missing?

Of course, the practical benefit may be that the domain names for unusual number/word combinations aren’t taken, or aren’t expensive to purchase. Actually, that one fact may explain the entire span of company naming trends- necessity is the mother of invention and ocassionally cleverness as well.

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