By any damned name

I do have sympathy with the Pajamas Media guys for the name headaches. I named Entertainment Weekly — and always hated that name because it was boring and obvious and when you talk as fast as I do it’s hard to say. I’ve been trying to help name another venture and after 20 minutes I get headaches hearing word-association games gone wacky. It’s a lot easier naming kids. Anyway, after the Pajamas whiplash, blamed on a naming company, I saw a link to this post with advice on naming, which in turn pointed to a naming company’s blog. There are whole industries now to optimize search and invent names. Whatever happened to making widgets?

: And to see just how bad the name shortage is, look no farther than Emily Chang’s eHub, an unintentionally hilarious list of names gone over the edge. Names are hard. Very hard.

  • Do what Nick Denton does — roll around phonemes and connotations and word roots for hours. Honestly, e-mail me and I’ll take a few cracks with you.

  • The name isn’t important. It’s the content. A good name might get you a kick-start, but if the content sucks, they won’t stay.

  • Coming up with names for things is easy. I can do it. Somebody please pay me to do that.

  • Jim, I cringe at the thought of YOU naming ANY business! I think you would be a wee bit too honest. :-)

  • Arthur

    I think you’re missing the point on names. Names don’t mean anything until you define them for people. Case in point: McDonalds, which has nothing to do with fast food, until you market it and now it’s synonymous with hamburgers and fries. Compare that with the perennial second place Burger King, which bears some relationship to the business it is in.
    Is Toyota a good name for a vehicle manufacturer? Apple a good name for a computer maker? Cialis a good name for a drug? Or Nexium? The problem people have with naming projects, (and I’ve done a few) is that people expect the name to carry the weight of transmitting, instantly, the qualities of the product or service being named. (OSM being the latest example). Almost everybody tries too hard, or thinks it’s too hard, which is why they hire “branding” companies. (My feelings about them are another matter, which would take too much rant space to go into here.)

  • Arthur, that was basically my original point. However, having a name that can be remembered and typed easily WILL help get you hits to begin with. is a good name for a website that sells pet supplies. But in that instance, it couldn’t save a business with a lousy concept.

  • I guess if we’re on the topic of unfortunate names, I’ve just created a subdomain and installed forum software in it for a centralized discussion of OSM/PM’s problems. I figure that there needs to be a discussion board for members as well as the public.

    Of course, we all know what happens when I create a subdomain… ;)

  • A name like Pets Inc. or is okay in the short term, but terrible in the long term. The problem is that once you have build a business up with a generic name, you will find many other businesses with similar generic names trying to steal your business. Customers will probably not make much of distinction between and, and you will find it very hard to defend your right to a generic name like this. In the same way, Open Source Media is a terrible name when compared to the name Pajamas Media. The number of companies with “Media” in their names is already ridiculous, and adding “Open Source” to “Media” makes for a totally generic name. I can’t imagine who thought this was a good idea.

  • I’m glad they went back to Pajamas and I like the logo. It’s fun. Now if they could loosen up a little on the design of their site to match the logo a little more …

  • Lawrence, I just read your post ( at your site. I think it’s a must-read by PJM management.

  • Adam, didn’t die because it had a bad name. It died because buying cat litter online is stupid.

    I don’t think Pajamas Media has a name problem.

  • William

    The name game – A classic Salon article about naming companies (“What you have here is clients being taken for a ride.”).

  • Hah, I was just about to post that Ruth Shalit article from Salon too – it is a classic.
    I did in fact buy dogfood online this week; it can make sense if they get the logistics right, and the delivery infrastructure that makes eBay work applies here too.
    My new criterion for names is that you should not need to spell the URL when speaking it, eg when sponsoring PBS or a podcast.

  • Arthur

    Scott, I understood your point, but I was trying to make a larger point than just online businesses. If all you want is something that’s easy to remember, it doesn’t have to be the name of the ‘concept’. e.g. Amazon, Yahoo, etc. Of course lousy content will sink the business, but that simply seems to underscore my point, which was that names don’t matter, attaching them to good business and/or online content is what counts. I think Pajamas Media is a fine name, mostly because avid blog readers already know why they’re using it. I agree with Jeff that the business seems a little ,er, unfocussed, right now. I have a sinking feeling that rather than follow their collective instincts, they’re paying for “advice” on what to put on the site. The design also looks like it was designed by someone with a graphics degree but no passion for the business.

  • ArtD0dger

    Did anyone else notice that their first logo looked like the brown ring of quality?.

  • Now that you mention it, yes it did.

  • Jim, I cringe at the thought of YOU naming ANY business! I think you would be a wee bit too honest.

    True; my suggestion for Burger King’s new Chicken Fries was Bird Flu Is Quicker Than a Massive Coronary. They said it was too long to fit on the box.

    Of course, we all know what happens when I create a subdomain… ;)

    I don’t. What happens?