Naming an App: The Stories Behind AirBnB, Bumble, Wistia and More

The more you think about it the better it sounds. This app idea couldn’t be better. Everyone tells you that ‘If you build it, they will come’ is a fallacy – but you’re sure this idea is different.

All of this excitement continues to build as you get ready to write the first line of code. Only one thing stands in your way – what to name your app.  It’s now been two hours of combining two words together for GoDaddy to just shut you down over and over again.

You’ve moved on to the even more painful “norsu is Finnish for elephant, maybe there’s some connection between my (social network, emoji app, analytics platform…) and elephants!

Three hours later, after GoDaddy and its seeming lack of available domains has torn apart any inspiration you have left, it’s time to go to bed. Maybe you’ll choose a name tomorrow.

If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone. Choosing a name isn’t much of a science, nor an art. As you’ll see from the following stories, inspiration for your app name can come from anywhere.

This post definitely won’t teach you how to name an app, but maybe it will be the dose of inspiration you need. Let’s dive into how 7 massively successful web and mobile apps came to choose their name.

Spotify

Not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but every founder has some ridiculous process behind coming up with their app name. Whether it’s name generators, translations, or just making up random words, everyone is desperate for inspiration.

Spotify’s naming story is no different. In a Quora answer, Spotify founder Daniel Elk tells us the story:

“This again takes us back to my flat that I had out in the suburbs of Stockholm. Martin and I were sitting in different rooms shouting ideas back and forth of company names. We were even using jargon generators and stuff. Out of the blue Martin shouted a name that I misheard as Spotify.

I immediately googled the name and realized there were no Google hits for the word at all. A few minutes later we registered the domain names and off we went.

We were a bit embarrassed to admit that’s how the name came up so our after construction was to say that Spotify stems from SPOT and IDENTIFY.”

Airbnb

The story behind how a company name comes to life is almost always better told by a founder. Especially when one of your founders is as great of a storyteller as Joe Gebbia.

Joe was recently on The Tim Ferris Show where he relayed the story of the idea for AirBnB and it’s name. Here’s that story in full:

“Suddenly our backs are against the wall, there’s this dark stormy cloud that forms over our apartment, and the enthusiasms gone. Now it’s just terror, fear, how are we not going to get evicted next month? We need to make the rent check.”

“And that’s when I’m sitting in my living room one day that week. I’ve got my laptop open and I’m looking at the website for a design conference for industrial designers coming to San Francisco two weeks later. And it says in big red letters:

Hotels are sold out in San Francisco

And I’m thinking, aw man what a bummer for somebody that wants to come last minute. They’ve got nowhere to stay. I glance over to the top of the laptop screen into the vast space of the living room and start to think. “

“What if I pull my airbed out of the closet and blow it up on the floor? We could host a designer for less than the cost of a hotel and maybe make some money to make our rent check. So I email Brian and he loves the idea. We actually get two more airbeds and we start to think through this experience: what if we offered airport pickup? What if we gave them a map to San Francisco and a bart pass to the subway and we cooked them breakfast in the morning? “

“And so, we created this concept called The Air Bed and Breakfast.”

Wistia

Wistia’s platform allows you to host, manage, and share videos while tracking video engagement. In the early days, Wistia was competing with video giants like Youtube until they shifted their positioning to focus on video marketers.

When it came to choosing a name, Chris Savage makes it sound like a cake walk in this Q&A: “When we came up with the name Wistia we were looking for something short, memorable, and available (.com). We wanted to be sure that if someone searched for us they would find us. “

With this criteria, your pretty quickly come to the point of making up a word. As we’ve seen with other names, Wistia (of course) has some meaning behind it. It turns out “Wist is an archaic past tense of ‘wit,’ so it’s related to knowledge. And video is all about conveying knowledge! The ‘-ia’ is purely aesthetic.”

 

Bumble

Whitney Wolfe had just departed Tinder among a major bout of controversy and was looking for a way to fix online dating for women. The big change? Put the power in the woman’s hands by allowing them to make the first move – if they’re interested.

The story of how she chose their app name couldn’t be more typical. Whitney, like many of us, took to obscure methods trying to find a cool app name: “I’m not kidding you–I probably spent two weeks on a Russian word generator.”

Eventually “our board member, Michelle, came up with a name. At first we all rolled our eyes, but then we thought about it. Wait a second. Bumble–like the bee society. There’s a queen bee, the women is in charge, and it’s a really respectful community. It’s all about the queen bee and everyone working together. It was very serendipitous.”  – 

When thinking about how to name an app, it seems that it needs to have some meaning behind it.

Twilio

Jeff Lawson may make it sound like landing on Twillio was an easy choice but let’s take a look at some of the other names him and co-founder John Wolthuis were tossing around.

Uber

As the story goes, Travis Kalanick and Garret Camp were out in Paris one snowy evening and had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea–tap a button, get a ride.

This idea was the start of UberCab, better known as Uber Today. The name was simple: uber, defined as “denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing” and cab, which is well… pretty self explanatory. A classic use of the combination of two words technique that so many others have used to name their app.

Only after uber received a cease and desist order from city authorities in San Francisco did it drop the ‘cab’ and go ahead with just Uber. This story is one of many examples of simple, obscure company names becoming part of the common lexicon.

Uber’s branding success  – having songs written about it, becoming a global brand, and becoming more of a verb than a name – should be inspiring. Sometimes if you just hear a word enough times it starts to sound good.

Palantir

Palantir, the billion-dollar, CIA funded, data-mining company remains largely hidden from the public. This is not to say that their name isn’t a perfect representation of what they do. If you’re a Lord of The Rings fan you may be familiar with the word Palantir.

In the movies, a Palantir is described as a crystal ball, used for both communication and as a means of seeing events in other parts of the world or in the distant past.This description could fit right in on a product page for the company that works with counter-terrorism analysts, fraud investigators, and cyber warfare analysts to discover crimes through data analysis.

Wrapping Up

Still struggling to find inspiration? Try lowering your standards.

Just remember, Twillio could have been named PigTone, you can probably do better than that.

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About Shane Rostad

Shane Rostad is a marketing manager for TriFin Labs that loves to share his knowledge and learnings about tech through writing. When he's not reading you can find him exploring Florida's parks or loitering in a local coffee shop.

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