Joe Lesko | Blog | creativity, programming, and design

How to Name an App or Anything Else

I've come up with dozens of names for apps, websites, and projects and it’s never an easy task.

In the past, I would make the very common mistake of getting attached to the first clever idea that came to me. Sometimes it worked out, but often I would later realize that those first ideas weren’t as unique as I thought.

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

But if I were to take a step back and do a search for “pet grooming” in the local area, I would see a list of companies with names like:

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

It’s clear that my name would get lost in the crowd of other pet puns.

* * *

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

  • Make a list of the names already out there in the same category.
  • Put them in groups, to see if there are common trends.
  • 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 names like MapTool and D20Pro. Very techy-sounding.

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

When I named my programming language, it was almost the opposite problem. There were already a lot of friendly-sounding names like Crystal, Rust, and Elm.

Instead, I opted to go with THT. Acronyms were the norm in the computer world until the 80's but had since fallen out of style, so I guess you could say it is retro. It also clearly embraces its PHP origin.

* * *

Back to the pet grooming example.

To stand out from the crowd of cutesy puns, I would brainstorm ideas that are more serious sounding:

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

As a bonus, a unique name can suggest a unified approach to your services, pricing, interior design, etc.

That’s what the art of positioning is all about: Having an overall brand that makes it unique in the mind of customers.

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

The Igor Naming Guide (PDF)

And also the book Positioning, by Ries & Trout.

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Joe has been designing and developing games and web apps for about 20 years. He is a self-taught programmer, and creates art and games in his spare time.

He currently works as a User Experience Prototyper at Netflix, on the Interactive Design team that created Bandersnatch.