Developing a successful and differentiating startup name can be a painstaking process. Some companies winnow the moniker down after hours on hours of brainstorming rounds. Others seek outside help from agencies to conduct market research and test potential options. A lucky few serendipitously stumble upon the winning idea.
This search is now made even more complex by the logistical challenge posed by the availability of domain names, many of which are no longer available, especially for more common words. However, despite these barriers, the ultimate names of today's tech giants have gone on to permeate popular vernacular and are now integral to a company's identity, with lore of their own.
1. Twitter could have been Jitter or Twitch, but those names came off too "drug addict" like.
Founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams have explained that "urgency" was a key attribute they wanted their company name to convey. As such, options they looked at included "Jitter" or "Twitch," which came off too "drug addict" like. In the end, they placed the name options into a hat and rolled the dice. Luckily, the name that emerged felt more kinetic than hyperactive.
2. Square was nearly Squirrel until Jack Dorsey realized another company already had that name.
Turns out that both the company's name and product didn't start out with the same simple, straightforward aesthetic it has today. Before Square was, well, square, it was named Squirrel and featured an acorn-shaped dongle instead of the more minimalist option it has now.
While accepting an award in 2011, founder Jack Dorsey noted that during lunch with Apple senior vice president, Scott Forstall, he discovered another POS company was called "Squirrel Systems." Dorsey went on to change the name of his company, as well as its look and feel to reflect the new title.
"What could have been: When Square was originally called Squirrel," he said. "The reader was an acorn. Squirrel payments, anywhere."
3. Tinder was once Matchbox, but changed because women favor the sound of the name Tinder.
Despite its entrepreneurial origins in a startup lab, Tinder's original name was tied to a parent company that ran that lab. IAC/InterActiveCorp operated the incubation space and also owns popular dating sites OkCupid and Match.com.
Although the mobile app was first termed Matchbox, its name was later changed to Tinder to dissociate it from Match.com and to address testing results which found that women favored the sound of Tinder.
4. Snapchat separated itself from Picaboo, a company associated with a lawsuit and lots of drama.
In its first iteration released in September 2011, the now immensely popular app went under the name Picaboo. The app was rebranded under the Snapchat name when its Android version was launched.
Following the rebrand, the two Snapchat founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy faced a social network-esque lawsuit from Reginald Brown, who saw himself as a third co-founder that had been left at the wayside after a disagreement emerged. The new name distanced the two founders from Picaboo, which Brown asserted the three had started together.
5. Zipcar was chosen after a few names with the word "share" in it were ruled out.
Alternative names considered for Zipcar included Wheelshare and U.S. Carshare. Founder Robin Chase took advantage of her neighborhood and network to conduct some real-time consumer testing on the names, which she wrote on small note cards.
She discovered that people associated the phonetic sound of Wheelshare with "wheelchair" and did not respond positively to U.S. Carshare in general, due to a dislike of the word "share."
Chase went on to use the same methodology to identify the company's slogan. The most popular of five options: "Wheels when you want them."
6. A domain auction changed Upriser to Upworthy.
After much internal brainstorming, the team behind Upworthy came up with the name Upriser for their company — a choice that encompassed "a touch of activism" and the idea of a better way to spread content on the Internet.
However, an unfortunate domain auction snafu struck and the team was left website-less, foregoing both the name and 10,000 Upriser.com T-shirts they had already purchased. In a rapid sifting through of options including Populist, Likely, Clamor and LibraryofAwesome, the team decided to return to its roots in "Up" words.
And after much discussion, founder Eli Pariser brainstormed the name Upworthy while on a run. The team was excited because the term allowed the name to serve as an arbiter of choice, as in if something was (Up)worthy of discussion and consideration.
7. Yelp beat out Yocal because certain founding members kept fighting for it.
Founder Jeremy Stoppelman acknowledged that he was actually a passionate fan of the name "Yocal" at the time that "Yelp" was brought up as an option.
Despite his hesitation, two other members of his incubator saw the value of the name and one purchased it. Stoppelman eventually came to his senses and bought the name from them.
8. Hipmunk evolved from BouncePounce to connect the company with a cute animal.
Founder Adam Goldstein wanted his website's name to convey the unique deals and transparency his service would offer in the travel space. After becoming frustrated with the naming process, he spoke with his girlfriend about the problem.
She recommended connecting the company with a cute animal, so they could build an appealing logo. At the time, Hipmunk.com was auctioning for $70 and thus, the company was established.
9. RunMyErrand became TaskRabbit as the company grew.
While the start of the company emerged from functional roots — founder Leah Busque wanted help getting dog food during the cold Cambridge winter — Busque saw the need for a more vibrant brand as the company grew.
The choice to relaunch the company as TaskRabbit stemmed from a desire to make the brand "fun, spunky and more memorable." Additionally, it provided the option for Busque to extend her website's focus beyond errands, toward tasks and jobs as a whole.
10. eBay is a short version of Echo Bay because the domain name was already taken.
Pierre Omidyar was already the owner of a computer consulting firm named Echo Bay when he founded eBay and had plans to name his own site after Echo Bay.
However, he discovered that the Echo Bay domain name was taken and was forced to shorten it to become the plainly spelled out eBay.
11. Google was nicknamed BackRub based on the company's origins.
Founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were compelled to found Google based on their fascination and interest in understanding how information online is connected — who is "citing" whom and linking to whom — along with the importance of these connections based on frequency and closeness. Much of this activity required backtracking the people who had linked to a site to see who was citing it, hence the nickname.
A googol is a value represented by a one with 100 zeroes following it. This mathematical term inspired the final name for the search engine, indicating its ability to organize and display infinite amounts of information.
12. Zappos was changed from ShoeSite with the hopes that the company would move beyond just shoes.
While Zappos began as an extremely successful online shoe vendor called ShoeSite.com, founder Tony Hsieh knew that for it to grow and expand its offerings, it would need a name that opened itself up for that evolution.
Not interested in selling just shoes, Hsieh opted for the name Zappos, derived from the Spanish word for shoes, zapatos, to preserve the company's heritage while enabling it to move forward.
13. YouSendIt was changed to Hightail after much testing.
When former Yahoo and AOL executive Brad Garlinghouse took over YouSendIt in May 2012, he aimed to broaden the vision of the file-sharing service.
Garlinghouse felt the name and interface were dated and holding back business growth, and decided to implement a full redesign of the service and enlisted agency, Siegel+Gale to help develop and test several name options. The name ideas were inspired by interviews with key stakeholders.
Hightail scored the best in testing and represents the company's goal to offer a differentiated file-sharing option that is fast, agile and focused on collaboration rather than just information sending.