Naming your new SaaS app was covered in Episode 11 of the Tech Marketer Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes to hear myself and branding expert Nicola Cloherty discuss this in more depth.

Your company or app name is a huge decision. Every marketing message you put into the world will bear that name. A great name will help shape the voice of your brand and lead your audience towards a common understanding. A bad name will require more investment to explain and stick in consumers’ minds.

If you’re trying to come up with a name, then you most likely have an idea that you love and want to see come to life. You need a name you love equally and are excited to share. Not one you’ve settled on because you’re fed up with talking about names!

Naming your new SaaS is a big step. It’s a decision that comes with a fair bit of pressure. Instead of being a lot of fun it can quickly seem overwhelming. Here’s some practical advice to come up with ideas for your name, how to evaluate your ideas and how to choose the perfect name.

Step 1: Name-storming

There’s a proven correlation between good ideas and how many ideas you generate. The more ideas you generate, the better they’ll be. During step one you need to ignore the “quality over quantity” myth and set aside your Judge Judy mindset. This is the creative and exciting part of naming your SaaS app.

The “Rules”

  • Come up with as many ideas as you can – do this before any other steps
  • Don’t critique or judge at this stage – there’s no such thing as a bad idea at this stage, as bad ideas can lead to great ideas.
  • Ideally give yourself a few days to complete this stage so ideas can marinate and spark new ones
  • Have fun!

Here’s a few places to start name-storming:

1. Draw from your values 
Make sure you understand the foundations of your brand – your vision, mission, values. Keywords related to this purpose may inspire you during the naming process.

The founders of Uber wanted to create an experience that was extraordinary, hence the audacious name. What started as “UberCab” was shortened to the more succinct “Uber.”

2. Consider your benefits
Telling people what you deliver is a great way to come up with ideas and a name built on this will require less marketing explanation (win!).

Airbnb Founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia turned their home into the first Airbnb, offering their three airbeds to anyone who needed it. Dubbing themselves the “Air Bed and Breakfast,” it was eventually shortened, a common theme among tech companies.

Skype started as Sky Peer to Peer and Digg was originally Diggnation. eBay was supposed to be a much longer name: Echo Bay Technology Group. After being shortened to Echo Bay, it was changed to because EchoBay was taken!

3. Use a dictionary / thesaurus to expand on your ideas list
Once you have a base list of words a dictionary and thesaurus can be helpful tools for extrapolating and coming up with new ideas. It’s an approach that has lead to many famous tech names.

Tinder started out as “Matchbox” eventually became Tinder after the founders consulted a thesaurus. They stuck with the fire theme, liking the idea that their app could create a romantic spark. 

Twitter had the same approach: 

“We did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word ‘twitch,’ because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But ‘twitch’ is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word ‘twitter,’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds.’ And that’s exactly what the product was,” Dorsey told the LA Times in 2009.

4. Word associations and random sources
The Medici Effect explains how breakthrough ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory, and offers examples how we can turn the ideas we discover into path-breaking innovations. For example, Charles Darwin was a geologist but created the theory of evolution.

I’ve used this technique personally by using a word association exercise. I purposely choose an unrelated piece of text, a cookbook or gardening book, and pick a random page. For every word on that page I try to connect it to the thing I’m trying to name. Here’s an example for a hypothetical app that let’s you take photos of your wardrobe contents.

This exercise can be a lot of fun, and also helps to shift you mentally away from circling on the same ideas and words. Foreign langauges can be another random source. E-commerce site Etsy meant “Oh, yes” in Italian, “and if” in Latin. The founder picked it up from an Italian movie he was watching.

5. Misspelt words
“Real” words are great because they naturally evoke a meaning and require less marketing explanation. However it can be hard to secure trademarks and domains. Changing the way a word is spelt can help addd uniqueness. Google once wasn’t in the dictionary, it came for the misspelling of the word “googol”. Googol is a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros—it reflected Google’s mission to organise a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web.

6. Compound words
A favourite of tech companies are compound words – taking two real words and combining them to make a new one. This is popular as it has the benefits of a real word, uniqueness and less confusion explaining how to spell the new word!

For example, Microsoft was named by Bill Gates’s partner, Paul Allen. He came up with the clever name by combining his fascination with microprocessors with what he believed to be the future of computing, software.

Podcast co-host, Nicola Cloherty, used crowd-sourcing to name her business Upmarket. She consulted friends and family to build upon ideas. I’d suggest keeping this for later in your naming process so you have direction to draw on rather than a blank slate. Involving differing opinions too early can confuse the process! 

How many names is enough?
Go for quantity at this stage, keep going until you’ve got dozens, if not hundreds of ideas. Stop when you have 5-10 names you love. You need a few you’re keen on to get through the next stage, evaluation. 

Listen to the Tech Marketer Podcast to hear the next steps in naming your SaaS app, or check out Part 2: Evaluating your name (coming soon).


Posted by Nicole Williams

I'm a marketing geek with a passion for tech. Previously, I was the marketing manager for SilverStripe (open source CMS and cloud PaaS) Currently, podcaster and blogger for and founder of Wellington Marketing meetup. Currently exploring Europe and living the dream! I'm always up for a chat about marketing and I love sharing my experiences so that others don't have to learn the hard way.

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