You can probably imagine that coming up with a name for a start-up is hard. It should be memorable, unique, and as short as possible. It should also sound good, possibly have a connection to what you’re doing, and (that’s the trickiest part) the .com- and .net-domain should still be available.
When we got started with our idea, the working title of the project was “Literacula” because we imagined how our software would sink its teeth into literature and automatically (supernaturally?) suck the metadata out of it. Besides, the cheesy “B-movie monster” sound of the name made us giggle.
Unfortunately, no one else liked it, let alone knew how to pronounce it. So we decided to ditch “Literacula” (prompting my Ph.D. thesis advisor Thorsten Hennig-Thurau to exclaim “Good riddance!”) and started to think about a new name.
We tossed around quite a few and got mixed reactions: Horizontina (“how do you pronounce that?”), Horizontas (“Pocahontas?”), Theora (“sounds boring”), Sciendia (“too generic”), Scientree (“nah”), Thoughtweaver (“too much like Dreamweaver“), and the list goes on. After I had read the enormously entertaining autobiography of eminent physicist and prankster Richard P. Feynman – “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman” – we were quite high on the name “Feyn” for a while. It sounded short and sweet in German, our native language, but was pronounced like “feign” by our English friends. Clearly not the best connotation in the academic context, so we dropped that one, too.
But we felt we were on to something: Scientists’ names! The chemists and biologists among you may have already deduced from whom we derive our name: Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev (alternatively spelled Mendeleev), who developed the periodic table of elements, and Gregor Mendel, who is often called the “father of modern genetics”.
We liked the analogies: Just as Gregor Mendel studied the inheritance of traits in plants, Mendeley will enable you to trace how ideas and academic theories evolve and cross-pollinate each other. Dmitri Mendeleyev formed the periodic table based on the properties of known elements, then used this data to predict the properties of elements yet to be discovered – and Mendeley will help you discover new literature based on the known elements in your library.
In addition, it seemed reasonably short and sounded good. Thus, after months of searching, we happily settled on Mendeley. Feel free to let us know what you think of our name in the comments section!
P.S.: If you’re trying to come up with a name for your start-up, you might find these articles helpful: “The Name Game” by Guy Kawasaki, “How To Name Your Company” by Michael McDerment, and “How NOT To Name Your Company” by Michael Kanellos.
Even if you’re not looking for a name, I urge you to read this brilliant and hilarious Salon.com article by Ruth Shalit. It describes the “Pynchonesque netherworld” of professional naming agencies like Landor, Idiom, and A Hundred Monkeys which charge their corporate customers a hundred thousand dollars for a single vowel. Here’s an excerpt:
Tom Lagow, US Air’s executive vice president of marketing, says it was exciting for him, too. “They did an extensive amount of research,” he says. “A hundred to 150 hours of interviewing. And I’ll tell you, I was very impressed. They peeled the onion back to the point where they were able to define what business we were in. They determined that we were in the business of proficiency. And that, very unfortunately, that message of proficiency was not conveyed by the name US Air.”
What was the new name? I asked. And when would it be unveiled? I was guessing Skystar, Glident, Proficienta.
“Oh, it’s already been unveiled,” Lagow explains. I was perplexed. “But isn’t US Air still US Air?” I asked. “I was just in an airport the other day, and I could have sworn …”
“No, no,” Lagow says. “It’s been changed to US Airways.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“That’s all we needed!” he said eagerly. “What we found was that airlines that end in ‘Air’ tend to be thought of not as major. What we found is that if you stretch the name a little bit – don’t throw it out, just stretch it a little bit – you create the perception of a larger, more substantial airline. Strategically and structurally, we are now oriented toward the international.”