In Sunday night’s episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley, a new series that follows a fledgling startup, the main character fights to buy the (terrible) name “Pied Piper” for his company. Meanwhile, his compatriots seek out other names to hilarious ends.
The episode mocks a lot of the dumb name trends we’ve seen in tech companies over the past few years. One of the programmers points out that all the best names are carnal ones that you can yell out in bed. The other guys take turns mimicking orgasming to names like “Uber,” “Google” and “Hulu.” “Hooli”—the fictional Google-like tech giant in the show—also adheres to this rule.
In another scene, one character suggests the name “SMLLR” and then “SMLR” because “we make things smaller, and this would be like a smaller version of the world ‘smaller.’”
“Looks like ‘smeller,’” a programmer responds. Other suggestions written on the whiteboard include “SmushIt,” “Contractor,” “Konctractor” and “Kntrktr.”
Of course these satirical versions of popular tech company names aren’t any sillier than the real Silicon Valley naming conventions that have followed some pretty identifiable patterns over the last 15 years.
Here are our 7 favorite trends, from the silliest to the best:
1. Words that sound like noises a baby would make
- Venmo (slightly justified: rooted in the Latin word “vendere” or “to sell”)
2. Add a Dot
3. Dropped Vowels (because who has time to type that extra “e”?)
- Honorable mention: Twitter called itself Twtter when it launched in 2006 because Twitter.com was taken, but luckily they eventually bought the vowels
4. Cute Suffixes
5. Blended Words
- Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia)
- Zillow (zillions + pillow)
- Hipmunk (hip + chipmunk)
- Pinterest (pin + interest)
- Instagram (instant + telegram)
- Epicurious (epicurean + curious)
6. Intentionally Misspelled Words (hey, it worked for the Beatles)
7. Compound words (pushing two seemingly unrelated words together)
Most of these sound ridiculous at first. As one Silicon Valley character concludes while high on shrooms, “It’s all just f***ing meaningless words.” But once a company becomes successful, we all end up using these nouns as verbs no matter how goofy they seem.
And to be fair, there’s a method behind the madness. We see a lot of compound words with capitals in the middle (like PayPal) because of early computer code, which didn’t allow for spaces. Plus there’s the problem of locking down a domain name: in 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that 252 million domain names were registered across the web, so there aren’t that many options left for startups, hence the trend of sites that end in “.ly” instead of “.com.” Trademarking a company name is a major issue too, and the trademarked name must work internationally—something that isn’t incomprehensible in Japan or offensive in Australia.
There’s also the diverging desires to come up with a name as original as “Google” and to take advantage of a trend: when Spotify, succeeded hundreds of other companies began tacking on “ify” to their names. The process is so complicated that there are companies—like Lexicon and Catchword—dedicated to coming up with a names that are original but not terrible.
But that doesn’t excuse Pied Piper, which is still a terrible name with a terrible logo.