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
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
- 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:
And also the book Positioning, by Ries & Trout.
- Simpler Programming Lingo
- Little Idea Elves
- Creating With Concept
- How to Learn Game Coding (For Kids)
- My Favorite Computer Games
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.