Joe Lesko | Blog | creativity, programming, and design

How to Name an App or Anything Else

I've created names for dozens of apps and other projects over the years, and it’s always tough coming up with a good one.

When I was starting out, I would get attached to the first clever name that popped into my head.

For example, if I were to name a pet grooming business, my first idea might be something like Wash-N-Whiskers.

It sounds unique, but really it’s not! If you do a search for the term “pet grooming” in your local area, you will see a list of companies with names like:

  • Bow-Wow Bath Time
  • K-9 Kleaning Krew
  • Purrfect Pawlish
  • etc.

(I made those up, but they probably do exist somewhere.)

Pet puns are incredibly common among pet groomers, so “Wash-N-Whiskers” would just get lost in the crowd.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be the top dog, or the pick of the litter.

A New Approach 

Nowadays, here’s the approach I use to avoid “samey” names:

  1. Make a list of the names already out there in the same category.
  2. Put them in groups, to see what the trends are.
  3. Think of new names that break away from those trends.

For example, when I was coming up with a name for my tabletop roleplaying app, a lot of the existing apps had techy-sounding or literal names like MapTool and D20Pro.

So I named my app Fabletop — a portmanteau that captures the storytelling side of tabletop roleplaying.

Another Example 

When I was naming my programming language, the landscape was filled with a lot of natural-sounding names like Crystal, Rust, Python, and Elm.

Instead, I went with THT.

Acronyms like ALGOL and BASIC were the norm in the computer world until the 80's, but have since fallen out of style, so it is a bit retro.

Also, the letters “THT” are made entirely of straight lines, which look clean and structured (like the language), and helped define the logo.

Finally, it clearly points to its origin in PHP, which is key part of its lineage.


Back to the pet grooming example.

To stand out from the crowd of cutesy puns, I might consider ideas that appear more serious:

  • Animalé
  • Petcraft Salon
  • J.W. Lesko, Pet Stylist

A good, unique name can also guide your overall positioning — a unified approach to your services, pricing, design, etc. that makes it memorable for your customers.

For example, with Animalé, I might go with a minimalist interior design, and make all of my services more European sounding. That perception of luxury means I would probably attract wealthier customers (being in an upscale location would also be important.)

If I went with J.W. Lesko, Pet Stylist, I would focus on promoting myself with fancy black & white portrait photography, and tout my years of intense training.

Read More 

For more about naming and branding, I highly recommend this guide:

The Igor Naming Guide (PDF)

I also recommend the classic book Positioning.

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