Dandelion. Snapdragon. Plume.
The words evoke images of flowers or a bird spreading its wings. But they're names in the tech industry, too – a company that will focus on bringing geothermal energy systems to homes; a Qualcomm processor; and a Palo Alto business that sells WiFi signal boosters.
Companies can spend thousands of dollars on experts to come up with names that sometimes seem crazy. Finding a winner is increasingly difficult, especially as domain names for websites fill up. At the end of 2016, there were 142 million domain name registrations ending in .com and .net, up from 114 million in late 2011, according to VeriSign, a domain name registry.
A thoughtful naming can take six weeks or more – yet it's often worth it, since a name can be a company's most valuable asset, said Anthony Shore, who runs Operative Words in Oakland.
"It ultimately becomes everything that they are, distilled into a single word," he said.
Amanda Peterson, Google's former head of naming, said that during the vetting process, she considers what the worst headline from tech news site the Verge could be and tries to avoid potential ridicule.
When working on Verily, the new name for the Alphabet health care technology division formerly known as Google Life Sciences, "we looked at a lot of words that had a sense of bringing together life and truth and data," she said. Verily means "in truth," and its logo emphasised the "V." According to Peterson, one of the champions behind the name was the division's CEO, Andrew Conrad, who liked how the letter "V" sounds like "vie," which is French for "life."
A Google spokesman declined to comment on the naming process or who replaced Peterson.
Alphabet CEO Larry Page called one of the candidate names for an Alphabet project "icky" because of how it was pronounced, according to Peterson, who declined to share the offending moniker. Page also advised the team to cut back on the sci-fi references, she said.
"His taste is very much about sound," said Peterson, who is now director of marketing at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
When working for a big brand like Google, namers also have to be careful not to be overpowering.
"It can actually distract or compete or pull some of the coolness away from your main brand," Peterson said. "It takes a lot more bravery in Silicon Valley to name something Google Maps than to name it something crazy-town."
For Apple, simplicity, a hallmark of the company's visual design style, also seems to be a factor, observers said. Shore noted that the company often reuses words or parts of words – like software toolkit HomeKit, speaker HomePod, laptop MacBook Air or wireless earbuds AirPods.
Apple's iPad earned early ridicule because some felt it sounded like a feminine hygiene product. But as people came to like the product, the jibes faded away. In Chinese, people don't say "iPhone," but they do use "iPad" for Apple's tablets.
The iPod name came from an agency that added the term "pod" to Apple's family of "i" products, like iMac computers and iBook laptops, said Mike Slade, a former adviser to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. At the time, Apple was considering other names including ones with the word "tune" in it, which Jobs disliked.
"Steve was adamant that it was not pigeonholed as just a music player," said Slade, who went in depth on the iPod's naming in an Internet History Podcast interview last month. That's because Jobs could envision a future where the iPod could be used for more than just music. "He saw that over time that more things would be available to you on small devices."
Apple did not respond to a request for comment on its naming practices.
The budget for a naming project can range from US$6,000 (RM25,725) up to six figures, according to Maria Cypher, creative director of Catchword Branding, which works with both startups and global corporations. The average cost is in the US$30,000 (RM128,625) range, she said.
If the process involves the name of a business, experts will talk with the CEO about the company's mission. If it's for a new product, they'll consult the product manager and engineer.
They then write a report that sums up the meaning and themes they are seeking. A list of hundreds of names will be thoroughly vetted to reduce legal risks and avoid duplicates in the same industry as well as names already trademarked by rivals. Domain name availability and cost is usually crucial – though companies with deep pockets may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure a mainstream domain.
At an earlier firm, Shore's team was once tasked with naming a Samsung phone. Shore requested great names for a New York City nightclub rather than specifying the phone itself. The name chosen was Instinct.
"I would look for its ability to tell a story," he said. "Does it tie into the client's strategy and vision and messaging? Does the name have the potential to inspire?"
Some names given to products get such blistering critiques that companies retrench. Netflix in 2011 said it planned to separate its mail-in DVD business into a different division called Qwikster. Critics panned the strategy as confusing, and the name didn't help. Netflix soon dropped the idea.
In 2009, an Australian Web developer named a Kraft Foods cheesy spread iSnack 2.0 as part of a naming competition – but the backlash was so intense, Kraft decided days later to rename the product.
In 2010, HP bought Palm for roughly US$1bil (RM4.29bil). As the smartphone business struggled, HP prepared to rebrand it as Gram, focusing on its WebOS software. Analysts questioned the need for the change, but HP plowed ahead, distributing Gram-branded gear to employees. In 2013, HP sold the business to LG Electronics and scrapped the Gram name. An HP spokeswoman did not return a request for comment. A San Francisco cannabis-tracking startup named Gram Health registered a trademark for "Gram" in February, though HP still appears to control the gram.com domain name.
Fahri Dinar, CEO of Palo Alto's Plume, said his team came up with about 20 names before seeking a naming expert; one, conjured up over wine or beer, was HomeFi. Dinar said that was a name only an engineer could come up with.
"The difficulty we realised is that people have a tendency to want to capture everything in a name," said Dinar, whose business sells gadgets that consumers can plug into electric sockets to expand wireless Internet coverage in their homes. "We decided we needed some professional help." — San Francisco Chronicle/Tribune News Service