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.
In the early years, I would get attached to the first clever name that popped into my head.
For example, let’s say I were starting a pet grooming business. My first idea might be something like Wash-N-Whiskers.
That sounds pretty unique at first, and I'd be tempted to just go with that.
However, if just did a quick search for the term “pet grooming” in my local area, I'd see a list of companies with names like:
- Bow-Wow Bath Time
- K-9 Kleaning Krew
- Purrfect Pawlish
(I made those up, but I bet they do exist somewhere.)
It turns out that pet puns are incredibly common among pet groomers, so “Wash-N-Whiskers” would just get lost in the crowd.
It wouldn’t be the top dog, or the pick of the litter.
Nowadays, here’s the approach I use to avoid “samey” names:
- Make a list of the names already out there in the same category.
- Put them in groups, to see what the trends are.
- 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.
When I was naming my programming language, the landscape was filled with a lot of natural-sounding names like Crystal, Ruby, Python, and Elm.
Instead, I went with THT.
Going with an acronym is a throwback to the kind of names were the norm in the computer world until the 90's, but are now out of style, like ALGOL, BASIC, and COBOL.
Also, the letters “THT” are made up of symmetrical straight lines, which look clean and structured (like the language), and helped define the logo.
Finally, it obviously points to PHP as its origin.
Back to the pet grooming example. How would I apply this new approach?
To break away from all of the cutesy puns, I might consider ideas that appear more serious:
- Petcraft Salon
- W. J. Winter, Pet Stylist
A good, unique name will help 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 might attract wealthier customers. Being in an upscale location would also be important.
If I went with W. J. Winter, Pet Stylist, I would promote myself with a professional black & white portrait photo, and tout my many years of intense training.
For more about naming and branding, I highly recommend this guide:
I also recommend the classic book Positioning.