I work for a company called Homekoala. For the past year, we were known as Hutbitat. We are a big data real estate search engine for Australian properties. See, after using the name Hutbitat for a year, we realised that this was a do or die moment for us and we had to change the name. Hence the name, Homekoala.
For the past year, we have had great difficulties conveying the name “Hutbitat” to people, be it over the phone or face to face. Often, we would have to repeat ourselves or spell it out for them.
We have also tried other ways to get people to remember it, such as associating it to the word “Habitat”. Alas, it did not really stick in people’s heads as much as we would like it to. We analysed what went wrong and here is what we think.
We gave this some thought and came up with 3 categories that names fall into.
- Real words
- Unique words
Hutbitat ended up in the category of wordplay — one that was, unfortunately, really bad.
1) Real words
This is a no brainer. Real words are easy to associate with and easy for people to remember. However, they can also be notoriously expensive to obtain as domain names and therefore, not viable for a small enterprise like ours.
Examples of companies using real words that easily spring to mind are — Uber, Apple, Shell, to name a few. Real words do not need to signify the company’s nature of business. They just need to be actual words. Apple does not sell apples and Shell definitely does not sell shells.
Going on further, you will find companies like Microsoft, New Balance or Facebook. Sure, these are not exactly real words and might even be unique. You will not find them in a conventional dictionary and the names themselves might not have an actual meaning to it.
However, they are a mixture of existing words, or compound words, and do not take much brain cells to retain as people have already come across these individual words at some point in their lives.
2) Unique words
A few companies that come to mind immediately are Adidas, Häagen-Dazs and Google. These words are not real and have little or no association to the product they are selling. However, it becomes easier for a consumer to link that particular word to that particular brand simply because it is not a derivation of an actual word.
Hence, there is little room for confusion. In our view, unique words should have little or no relation to an actual word. You might even have easier and cheaper access to domain names simply because of its uniqueness.
This is a dangerous territory that we happened to end up in. This is not something we would recommend anyone to start off with simply because wordplay either makes it or breaks it.
It can be difficult to verbally convey the name as an individual is bound to compare it to the actual word before trying to figure yours out. Imagine if you had to perform an elevator pitch yet spend precious time spelling and explaining your company’s name. By then, you would have completely lost the person’s attention and interest.
Imagine starting a company called Smartfone that sold smartphones. Inevitably, you would have to convey that it’s phone spelt with an ‘f’ instead.
It might be easy to relate Smartfone to smartphones, but what happens when it is not as straightforward? Now picture something else more complicated.
For example, you decide to start an online B2C platform that sold birthday supplies called Sellebration (intended pronunciation — celebration).
Here are some of the immediate stumbling blocks.
- Different people have different ways of reading and enunciating words.
- It is especially difficult for someone reading it to understand it immediately.
- It is difficult for people to share it with others verbally.
It can be difficult to relate the word to anything at all if not done well. Now, the onus is on you to give meaning to your word. In that case, why not just go with a unique name to minimise a mix up with an actual word.
This is where we failed miserably. Hutbitat was extremely difficult for people to relate to and even harder to pronounce.
When we coined the term Hutbitat, we intended for it to be a wordplay of the word “habitat”. Hubitat was our first choice as it was much easier to pronounce and convey to people, but it was already taken. Hence, Hutbitat was intended to be a wordplay of “Hut” and “Habitat”. Confused yet?
Not only that, we also ended up with two consecutive consonants in the name.
The “t” followed by “b” in the name Hutbitat ended up being more than a mouthful for many.
For the less informed, consonants are speech sounds that are not vowels. “It also refers to letters of the alphabet that represent those sounds: Z, B, T, G, and H are all consonants.”
This is where we feel that some companies like Pinterest have struck wordplay goldmine. The word itself does not deviate much from “interest” and adding a “P” to the start does not change much of the pronunciation. Not only that, it also enhanced the meaning of the word “pinterest” as the company operates on a basis of allowing users to pin their interests.
Our new name
Why Homekoala? We probably ran through at least a few hundred name choices. In the end, it boiled down to two requirements. It could no longer be a wordplay and it has to be something that people can easily associate to. Koalas look cuddly and we frankly cannot think of anyone who does not like cuddly animals.
In addition, we built our website for home search in Australia so ‘home’ was pretty much a given because we wanted our name to have some association to real estate.There were plenty of other possibilities raised including cheesy or generic ones such as besthomes, findyouahome, homesforyou that were a dime a dozen in the vast ocean of real estate related websites.
We would urge anyone thinking of naming your startup or company to stay away from wordplay unless you are certain that it is absolutely brilliant. Otherwise, you will end up in the territory of it being an overlap of a wordplay and a unique word. Do yourselves a favour and stick with real words or unique words instead. They are easier to remember and easier to associate with.
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