How Not to Name a Startup: The Curse of the Camel Case

12/22/11Follow @gthuang

What’s in a tech startup name? More specifically, is there a correlation between the type of name a company has and its success?

That’s a question every startup founder and investor should be interested in. Because if there is a correlation, then using a name-based strategy for picking winners would be, well, about as good as any other strategy. And much faster.

Consider the following companies: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle. And more recently, Groupon, Twitter, Zynga. Or how about these biggies: Facebook, Salesforce, Qualcomm. These are all top companies, no doubt about it.

Notice anything about their names? None of them has a capital letter in the middle of its name—sometimes referred to as “camel case,” because an upper-case letter in the middle of a word looks like a hump. (Of course, there’s also plenty of startup name-ology around whether to use real words, made-up words, misspelled words, acronyms, and so forth, but we don’t have all day.)

Maybe I’m getting punchy as the holidays loom, but as an end-of-year exercise, I thought we’d play the name game and see where it leads. So let’s drill down into some specifics. What I’m really talking about are company names that are two words mashed into one, where each word or part could stand on its own. Because there are so damn many of them these days. Not just Facebook, Salesforce, Qualcomm, and Rackspace, mind you, but also Admeld, Airbnb, Dropbox, Foursquare, Zipcar, Wayfair, Redfin, Evernote, Flipboard, Shopkick…and the list goes on.

Note that the above companies—all of whom are doing reasonably well, I think—spell their names without the camel case. It’s Facebook, not FaceBook. Salesforce, not SalesForce. You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Historically, camel-case companies have had their share of difficulties. Consider the plight of AltaVista, the early search engine that lost out to Google. Or of struggling MySpace, which seems to have actually changed its moniker to Myspace—exactly my point, of course. More recently, GlassHouse, the cloud computing and virtualization company, withdrew its plans for an IPO earlier this month (for the second time). BlackBerry hasn’t done much to … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://blog.thansys.com Kirill Sheynkman

    Naming a company can be a tough exercise. Meaningful to the founder and marketable often don’t connect. I wrote a post on the subject about a year ago:
    http://blog.thansys.com/2010/12/26/whats-in-a-companys-name/

  • Piskvor

    Correlation. Causation. Who gives a damn about the difference?

    Making a list of CamelCase companies and claiming meaningful correlation with success smells of cargo-cult thinking; even more so as data which don’t support your claim are dismissed as irrelevant (“YouTube? Meh. Not a real success.” – wtf? What I hear is “…because if it were, my blogpost would be largely pointless, so it’s not a success! It must not be!”).

    Entertaining, perhaps, but no more valuable than inferring meaning from chicken entrails.

  • http://www.sri.com Alice Resnick

    Thank you Greg — LOL at the Dilbert strip! (Let’s not take ourselves so seriously all the time, folks.)

  • http://www.turningthecrank.com Bob Proulx

    Amusing reading but probably not very useful for the entrepreneur who might actually be concerned that this a serious issue for them. Your list of startups is extensive but you failed to include the likes of established companies such as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and PepsiCo (hyphenated use not withstanding).

    There are companies that specialize in the art/science of name creation for companies and products. Your readership might be best to look into engaging someone whose business is the name game if they are seriously concerned about the value of brand name on longevity or success rather than rely on your holiday anecdotal musings.

  • http://www.city-portal.ro mike dolha

    hmm, good article, actually now i’m thinking about changing the name of my company because it has a big ‘P’ in the middle of the name :)

  • Michael

    Greg – Nice piece of Christmas time comedy. Best wishes for the New Year.

  • Richard Nixon

    Don’t forget:

    SOLFAN — Still Out Looking For A Name; not sure what they ever made.

    SOROC — the letters in Coors rearranged, maker of the IQ120 terminal device.

    QANTAS — Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service. Only major airline to never have killed a passenger (but has killed some crewmembers).