Onym

Tools and resources for naming things.
Collected by Greg and Willem.

Naming is hard. Names, after all, are perhaps the most indelible artifacts of the product creation process. Brands are redesigned with a lustrum regularity and codebases are continually rewritten and replaced but a name, for better or worse, usually sticks.

That’s because a good name is a hook that sets itself into a person’s mind, linking their brain back to your idea – try to reset the hook and you risk losing the connection. The process of naming, then, is the process of neatly packaging up that idea, discovering where it begins and ends so it can be linked as a discrete, easily remembered concept.

A good name can help a company or product become successful, of course, but it can also help the lowliest code library find an audience, help formalize an informal process, and propel ideas about the world toward becoming talking points throughout it.

And yet, what tools do we use for naming? What methodology? Many of us practice it informally, doing our best with thesauruses and domain name searches, never stopping to formalize an approach because it seems so devilishly simple – all you really need is a word or two in a language you’ve probably been using your entire life.

But like any art form, naming benefits from rich tools and processes, and this site is meant to help you discover them – to provide a starting point for anyone who needs to name something. That is: everyone, because every idea benefits from a good name.

If you find the site useful, consider joining our mailing list below where we’ll send occasional thoughts and additional resources on naming. And if you see something that would be a good addition to the site, submit an edit via Github or drop us a line.

– Greg and Willem

Brainstorming

Dictionaries

  • Datamuse

    • A collection of free websites, mobile apps, and APIs designed to help people create and communicate more effectively.

    • OneLook Dictionary – Generally considered the go-to dictionary while naming, OneLook is a “dictionary of dictionaries” covering general definitions as well as slang, medical, technology, and more. Also offers powerful search tools to find related words, phrases, and fill-in-the-blank.

    • RhymeZone – An effective rhyming dictionary that categorizes results by number of syllables and includes near-rhymes and offers solid searches. Don’t miss the “Find synonyms” option – it’s perhaps the best thesaurus out there for naming purposes.

  • Dictionary.com

    Primary definitions, secondary definitions, root words, and related terms. A good jumping off point but unlikely to get you to the end of your search.

  • Green’s Dictionary of Slang

    Self-described “Five hundred years of the vulgar tongue.” Search by slang term (versus finding slang words for a term). Useful to check if your selected name is offensive.

  • Merriam-Webster

    Comprehensive dictionary including pronunciations, first known uses, language learner and children’s definitions. Also includes a strong thesaurus.

  • Sideways Dictionary

    A helpful tool for describing technology terms by using analogies instead of dense terminology.

  • Urban Dictionary

    The people’s internet dictionary. Find obscure memes, definitions and phrases. Useful to check if your selected name is offensive or has an obscure second meaning.

  • Wordnik

    The world’s largest online dictionary (by number of words). Wordnik shows definitions from multiple sources, example sentences, rhymes, and related words. A powerful comprehensive tool.

Associations

Thesauruses

  • OneLook Thesaurus

    One of the web’s most powerful thesauruses. Search by single word or phrase. Great for quickly generating lists of loosely related words.

  • Thesaurus.com

    The classic internet thesaurus. If you find OneLook Thesaurus too dry, this is your best bet.

  • Etymology Online

    The etymology and history behind modern English words with dates, languages, origins, and roots. Includes some slang and informal English.

  • Sketch Engine

    An online tool that works with large samples of text to identify what is typical and frequent in a language and what is rare, outdated, going out of use. In a nutshell, Sketch Engine is a tool to learn how language works. This is the most pro-level linguistic tool in this list. Paid product with 30-day free trial.

Translators

  • Google Translate

    A good start for browsing foreign language translations — not always 100% reliable but improving quickly through community verification.

  • Linguee

    High quality translation dictionary with over one million translations and 20+ languages. See meanings, contextual translations, and other pages around the web where the word is properly used so you can get a feel for how a word used.

  • SDL Trados Studio

    One of the most recommended computer-assisted translation tools, Trados Studio is a paid service with a 30-day free trial.

Word Generators / Other Tools

  • Ngram Viewer

    Compare the popularity of words across the massive corpus of Google Books.

  • Behind the Name Generator

    Generate random given names based on nationality, fantasy, or root.

  • Fantasy Name Generator

    Generates names, words, and descriptions in nearly every category possible including well-known fictional universes, every known culture, places, flora and fauna, pop culture, and more. A one-stop shop for inspiration or worldbuilding.

  • Building an Alien Language

    A forum with resources on how to construct a convincing (sounding) alien language.

  • Mixwords

    Simple tool that takes source words and generates random mixes to quickly visualize potential combinations.

  • Panabee

    A simple way to search for domain names, app names, and company names. Combines input words to create unexpected pairings and connections.

  • Text Mechanic

  • Wordoid

    Power random word generator with toggles for language, quality, patterns, length, and domain availability.

  • Tools for creating ideas

    Methodologies and prompts for new ways of thinking about what you’re naming and generating unexpected word associations.

  • Universal Text Combination Generator

    Useful for seeing how words might fit together.

Inspiration (Glossaries, Technical Terms)

Inspiration can be found in the most random places — jaunt (Alfred Bester) example. #TODO

  • Three letter words

    Created for Scrabble but useful for generating short names from real words

Babies

Naming companies and products after given names is growing in popularity (Harry’s, Oscar, Casper, etc). Luckily there are several tailor-made tools to help aid in that search.

  • Mother & Baby Name Generator

    Search for baby names alphabetically or browse by category.

  • Name Mixer

    Baby name generator that mixes two parents names yielding real name results that include bits of both names.

  • Random Name Generator

    Meant as a fiction writer’s tool, this generator creates random real-sounding names sourced from samples in the US Census. Offers the ability to toggle rarity of the names generated.

  • Baby Name Wizard

    An extensive database of baby names with perhaps the best tools for digging through them. Don’t miss their NameVoyager, for exploring trends across decades, as well as their OKCupid-style data analysis blog posts.

  • Most Popular Baby Names

    2017’s most popular girl and boy names.

  • Nameberry

    50,000+ database of baby names with popularity, lists (trends, cool, classic, etc.), and a name generator.

  • Behind the Name

    The etymology and history behind first names and surnames. Also includes tools for top names by country and year.

Geography

Rare geographic terms and exotic locations.

Mythology

Some of the most iconic brands today are named for ancient gods and goddesses.

  • Greek Gods & Goddesses

    A complete list of Greek Gods, their Names, realms, and influence. Major gods have additional backstory and information.

  • Hindu Gods & Goddesses

    An in-depth resource on the history and meaning of Hindu deities.

  • Japanese Creatures

    A list of demons, ghosts, yōkai, obake, yūrei, and other legendary creatures that are notable in Japanese folklore and mythology.

  • Mythical Civilizations & Places

    A list of mythological places which appear in mythological tales, folklore, and varying religious texts.

  • Norse Mythology, Gods, and Creatures

    Reliable, well-documented information on the fascinating mythology and religion of the Norse/Germanic peoples.

  • Roman Gods & Goddesses

    A complete list of Roman Gods, their names, realms, and influence. Major gods have additional backstory and information.

Technical & Trade Language (i.e. jargon)

Great resources for finding specific, expert-level terminology and language that refers back to a broader idea for your naming project.

  • Architectural

    Architectural terms along with photos illustrating their meaning. Ex: chancel, soffit, impost, naos

  • Aviation

    Aviation related terms and definitions obtained from the Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Aviation Regulations, and many other sources.

  • Biker Slang

    Introductory dictionary of commonly used road-motorcycle terminology and biker slang, compiled with the average “citizen” in mind.

  • Cartographic Glossary, University of Texas

    Definitions of map and cartographic terms.

  • Cocktails, The Spruce

    Terms for mixology, bartending, and cocktails.

  • How to Name a Cocktail

    A bartender’s guide to developing cocktail names.

  • Cryptography

    An exhaustive list of expert-sounding crypto terms.

  • Dive Speak, ScubaIntro

    List of scuba terms, definitions, and slang.

  • Electrical Engineering

    Very detailed glossary of engineering terms and acronyms.

  • Emergency Services

    Terminology for emergency management education and practice.

  • HAM Radio Glossary, ARRL

    Amateur radio terms and lingos. Ex: flutter, fox hunt.

  • Hobo Code & Terminology

    The glossary primarily documents terms from the1880’s until World War I. Also includes some contemporary hobo, railroad and homeless terms.

  • Leet speak

    • An alternative alphabet for many languages that is used primarily on the Internet. Useful for character substitution, alternative spellings, usernames, and license plates. See also: Universal Leet Converter.
  • Legal

    The official glossary for U.S. courts legal terms. Ex: acquittal, docket, hearsay.

  • Lighthouses

    Glossary terms collected from the United States Lighthouse Society and United States Coast Guard.

  • Math words

    A comprehensive listing of formulas and definitions from beginning algebra to calculus. Created by a high school math teacher, the explanations are readable for average math students, and over a thousand illustrations and examples are provided.

  • Medical Terminology, GlobalRPh

    Definitions, roots, and word building terms for medical terms.

  • Nautical Know-How

    A glossary of boating and nautical basics.

  • Politics

    A meta-list of wide reaching political terminology, from Cold War terms to political terminology in South Africa.

  • Spycraft

    Spy code, terminology, and covert talk.

  • Surfer

    The lingo and technical terminology for surfing and surfers. Ex: akaw, hodad, mullering.

  • Thieves Cant

    Based on the “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” London in 1811.

  • Space Travel

    A glossary covering the real world kind of space travel. Ex: accretion disc, gagarin, mach.

  • Sports

Science

Technology

  • Intel codenames

    Intel Inc’s internal project and technology codenames (Wikipedia).

  • Google Android

    Android’s version naming has been built-on the names of treats and candy for over ten years.

  • Mac OS

    With the launch of Mac OS (?) Apple made the decision to celebrate California and name their desktop operating system off of iconic CA landmarks and natural wonders.

  • Glossary of Computer Programming Terms

    CS and general programming terms. Ex: scheme, overloading, mutator

  • All TLDs (domains)

    A full list of all top-level domains. Useful for generating unique URLs.

Vetting

Cultural Sensitivity

  • Urban Dictionary

    The people’s internet dictionary. Find obscure memes, definitions and phrases. Useful to check if your selected name is offensive or has an obscure second meaning.

  • Word Safety

    Search across 19+ languages to ensure your name isn’t in offensive in a foreign language.

Trademarks

  • App Annie

    Leader in App Store search. Useful for finding vetting names for existing apps and services.

  • Logobook

    Not directly name related but a useful showcase (and well-maintained) of brands, logos, and corporate identities.

  • Brands of the World

    Corporate logo search engine. Useful for seeing visual representations of words.

  • Markify

    A paid trademark search engine. Offers more sophisticated tools than other free offerings.

  • Trademarkia

    Search millions of U.S. trademarks filed in 1870.

  • USPTO Trademark Search

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s official search. Useful tool when vetting candidate names.

Domains & Social

  • I Want My Name

    Perhaps the most comprehensive domain search, providing availability status for domains across most of the new TLDs.

  • Domainr

    Wide reaching domain search, with auto-suggestions for modifications to find available names. Ex: unti.tl/ed

  • Domain Groovy

    A fairly comprehensive list of tools and resources for domain name generation.

  • Char 5

    All currently available 3, 4, and 5 character .com domain names.

  • Domain Maker

    A wizard for generating available domain names based on a seed word.

  • Impossibility

    Adds random words and letters to domain names. Good for rapid generation and vetting.

  • KnowEM

    Incredibly useful tool to check for the use of your brand, product, personal name, or username instantly on over 500 popular social media websites, domains, and trademarks.

  • Name Station

    Primarily a domain name search tool, but has a wizard like interface for generating name ideas and does an okay job of offering synonyms, recombinations, etc.

  • Name Mesh

    Domain name search, but offers a column based view of different combinations, etc. Also checks social media availability.

  • 800 For All

    Search for available toll free numbers, including vanity numbers using word prefixes and suffixes.

Guides & Sprints

Etymologies

  • Alibaba

    Named by founder Jack Ma because of the overwhelming connection Alibaba has to “open sesame” and how the company opens the door to small and medium-sized businesses.

  • Apple

    Named while Steve Jobs was on one of its fruitarian diets, he thought the name sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.”

  • Asana

    Named for a Sanskrit word that refers to the place and posture in which a yogi sits.

  • BlackBerry

    Named to evoke joy, countering the stress typically associated with work email. The keyboard’s little buttons vaguely resembled the skin of a fruit. On a Mind Map, someone wrote “strawberry.” but “strawberry is too slow.” They felt that this technology needed to be instantaneous. BlackBerry was born.

  • Bumble

    A board member simply suggested the name. References the conversations on the platform and female-centric nature of bee hives.

  • Canon

    When the company began manufacturing cameras on a trial basis, it named them “Kwanon”, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. The name “embodied the Company’s vision of creating the best cameras in the world.”

  • Duck Duck Go

    Derived from the children’s game Duck Duck Go, the team also cites the action to “Duck it” when you search.

  • Dropbox

    Named simply for its function to enable users to drop documents into a virtual box and then access them whenever and wherever.

  • Etsy

    The company attempted to create a logical system for naming the company based on brevity, domain availability, SEO, and Mechanical Turk rankings. It failed but the script’s name (Etsy) ended up serving a different purpose.

  • Google Chrome

    Originally an internal codename (because a project lead “liked fast cars”) the team stuck with it because of a mix of sentimentality, the word’s association with speed and the minimal amount of UI “chrome” the product possessed.

  • Groupon

    Named from the functional portmanteau of group and coupon.

  • Haagen-Dazs

    The Danish-sounding name is just that — a nonsensical invention of a Bronx ice cream maker that was looking to evoke the “aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship.”

  • IKEA

    • The name is an acronym standing for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd — comprised of the founder’s name (Ingvar Kamprad), his childhood farm (Elmtaryd), and hometown (Agunnaryd).

    • IKEA Product Names - IKEA puts a lot of intent into its product names. A few examples: bedroom sets are named for Norwegian cities, dining tabs for Swedish places, and carpets for the Danes.

  • Instagram

    Originally named Burbn, the final name is a portmanteau of Instant Camera + Telegram = Instagram.

  • LEGO

    Made from a contraction of “leg godt,” a Danish phrase meaning “play well.”

  • MailChimp

    “If all else fails, clients love monkeys.” The name (and its misremembering) spawned a wonderfully weird ad campaign.

  • Mircrosoft

    A portmanteau named for their product: microprocessor software.

  • Napster

    Founder Sean Fanning’s handle on a hacker forum was Napster, a nickname given to him by a basketball rival because of his nappy hair.

  • Nest

    Named to evoke simple, delightful things for a thoughtful home.

  • Oyster

    A reference to a line in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor: “the world’s mine oyster.” Meant to evoke the unlimited books readers on the service can access.

  • Pokémon

    Pocket monsters or “Poketto Monsutā” in Japanese.

  • Polaroid

    Named after the invention that allowed its creation: polarizing discs – a polarizer laminated between two sheets of optical glass.

  • Postmates

    A portmanteau for postal delivery and mates — with the latter standing as a metaphor for the peer-driven approach.

  • Quora

    A Latin-sounding association to “quorum” — a sufficient number of people to make a decision.

  • Siri

    Each team member reportedly has their own favorite origin story but the two leading cases are the Norse meaning “beautiful woman who leads you to victory” and a translation of “secret” in swahili.

  • Skype

    The name was derived from the descriptive expression “sky peer-to-peer.”

  • Slack

    A tweet from the company’s founder revealed the name came from a project acronym for Searchable Log of All Conversation & Knowledge. More recently the company shared a more poetic backstory.

  • Spotify

    An early conversation between employees led to a misheard word “Spotify” that was later described (retroactively) as a portmanteau of spot and identify.

  • Starbucks

    A search for names that start with the strong “st-” eventually led to Starbucks, name name of Captain Ahab’s first mate in Moby-Dick.

  • Strava

    The name evokes the company’s core values around motivations — it means “to strive” in Swedish.

  • Stripe

    Despite the name’s commonality it lacked any direct corporate association — and after weeks of debate it stuck.

  • TED

    The merging of Technology, Entertainment and Design.

  • Tinder

    Named along the theme of “igniting a spark” the team arrived on Tinder, material that “burns easily and can be used to start a fire.”

  • Warby Parker

    Derived from two of beat writer Jack Kerouac early characters: Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker.

  • Waze

    A simple play on the word “ways,” as in the variety of ways one can navigation to any location.

  • Weebly

    After struggling with finding available domain names the founders wrote a script to generate short, pronounceable names eventually resulting in Weebly.

  • WordPress

    The blogging and website platform used an historical reference to the printing press to name the new site.

  • Yahoo!

    Originally “David’s and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” they opted for a punchier name, short for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.

  • Yelp

    The founders were reportedly lukewarm on the name but the domain was available and it also was a convenient contraction of “yellow pages.”

  • Zillow

    Zillow name evolved from the desire to make zillions of data points for homes accessible to everyone. But, as a home so much more, it’s where you lay your head to rest at night, like a pillow – Zillow was born.

Collections

Cautionary Tales

  • Artsy & Syria

    Shortly after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, The United States set sanctions against Syria, which included .sy domains, forcing then Art.sy to become Artsy and start using Artsy.net as their primary domain.

  • The story of .ly

    .ly domains were poorly managed due to political instability

  • Bodega

    Two ex-Googlers start a “don’t call it a vending machine” company named Bodega. To add insult to injury the company’s logo is a bodega cat. New Yorkers and the rest of the internet revolt — highlighting the insensitivity, cultural ignorance, and hubris of the name.

  • -ify

    One of the bigger trendings of naming in the late 00’s and early 10’s — largely attributed to Spotify’s success and arrival to the US in 2011.

  • iPhone X

    Apple confuses customers and chooses to name their newest flagship phone the iPhone X, insisting it should be pronounced iPhone 10 — muddling Apple’s sequential iPhone numbering and bringing back Roman numerals in a big way.

  • Paper

    • A common word and popular name for tech company products focused on productivity and writing. A bit of an obvious name given the screen’s role as a replacement for paper products (notebooks, journals, sketchbooks, calendars, etc). In 2014 FiftyThree made a public statement and filed a copyright lawsuit against Facebook after Facebook’s launch of “Paper” — it went nowhere.

    • Paper by FiftyThree, 2012
    • Facebook Paper, 2014
    • Dropbox Paper, 2015

Agencies & Services

Naming Agencies

  • A Hundred Monkeys

    Named: Eero, Inkling, Okta

  • Brand Institute

    Named: Bubblicious, Chef Boyardee, Civitas, Doritos Jacked, Ensure, Kellogg’s Smart Start, Prevacid, Trident Gum

  • Catchword

    Named: Ancestry.com, Asana, Clover, McCafe, PopChips, Vudu.

  • Eat My Words

    Name: Wrigley’s Alert Gum, Del Monte Bloom, Hand Job Nails & Spa

  • Gin Lane

    Named: Hello Alfred, Sunday Goods, Noon, Recess, Tomorrow, TYME

  • Idiom

    Named: FogDog, Munch’ems, Wheatables

  • Igor

    Named: Cutthroat Kitchen, TruTV, North Face Ventrix, Palm Folio

  • Interbrand

    Named: IBM Ecomagination, Oros, Voya

  • Ixxeo

    Healthcare naming firm. Named: Viagra.

  • Landor

    Named: Teejay, Djantoli

  • Lexicon

    Named: Apple Powerbook, BlackBerry, Embassy Suites, Flywheel, Gimlet Media, OnStar, Scion, Sonos, Subaru Outback, Swiffer, Texture, Tidal, Toyota Venza, Turo, Verizon Fios,

  • Namebase

    Named: American Airlines Aadvantage, Coca-cola Fruitopia, Kia Sorento

  • The Naming Group

    Named: Chevy Sonic, Capital One Quicksilver, Reebok Tranzen, New Belgium Slow Ride

  • Pieratt

    Named: Electric Objects, Maison Sport, Mediar, Olli, Oscar, Pronoun, Svpply, Very Goods, WorkOf

  • River + Wolf

    Named: Arro, Redken Chromatics, Discover More, Dremel Trio

  • Salt Branding

    Named: WiFi, Jawbone, XboxONE, Microsoft Surface, Glu

  • Tanj

    Named: Nintendo Wii, Filmstruck, Sony Bravia, Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss

  • Wordworking

    Named: Dorsal, Mast Mobile, SENS8

  • Zinzin

    Named: Aria Hotel & Casino, Gogo Inflight Internet

Services and Other Resources

  • American Name Society

    A society dedicated to onomastics, the study of names. The Freemasons of naming, if you will.

  • Operative Words

    Former Landor & Lexicon employee

  • Good Characters

    Organization devoted entirely to coming up with Chinese names for other American companies wanting to do business in China.

  • Squad Help

    Pay freelancers to generate names for your brand or product. Results are a bit hit or miss.

  • Sutton Strategy

    Linguistic analysis provided by a linguist with a marketing background.

  • Tessera

    Preliminary trademark screening from a former Lexicon Branding trademark research consultant.

  • The Name Inspector

    A great (but discontinued) blog on naming trends and news.

Further Reading

Books

  • Beyond Ava & Aiden

    by Linda Rosenkrantz. An updated complete guide to baby-naming divided into four sections: style, image, gender, and tradition.

  • Don’t Call it That

    by Eli Altman. A short book/workbook focused exclusively on guiding readers to name a company or product. Nicely designed and typeset by House Industries.

  • Hello My Name is Awesome

    by Alexandra Watkins. A thorough and well-researched book on naming philosophies and guides. Feels a bit dated today and reliant on pun/bad humor happy but the core processes still apply.

  • Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business

    An examination of the world of top tier naming, including firms and case studies of well recognized brands.

Further Reading

Colophon

Thanks for stopping by.

Onym is a Greg Leppert and Willem Van Lancker joint production. The name comes from the suffix -onym used to denote specific types of names — from the Greek word ónoma meaning “name.”

It was designed and built in Cambridge, MA and Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY. The site is (appropriately) set in Untitled Sans designed by Klim Type Foundry. Each section’s header icons are adapted from the International Code of Signals and Captain Frederick Marryat’s A Code of Signals for the Merchant Service.

Gregory Leppert is named for his father who, in turn, was named for Gregory the Great, the sixth century Pope known for establishing papal supremacy. His middle name goes without mention – one of those musky old family names that inevitably leads the listener to ask for its spelling and question his parents’ naming judgment. His surname, Leppert, hails from the Alsace region by way of Bavaria. It stems from “Liutberht,” an Old German word meaning the “bright” (-berht) or holy “people” (liut-).

Willem Paul Van Lancker is named for Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist Willem De Kooning. His middle name comes from his maternal grandfather, Paul Emile Poirier, who was an arborist. His surname, Van Lancker, is Belgian and while its meaning is unclear, the prefix “Van” is a preposition meaning “of” or “from” and is traditionally capitalized in Belgian names. The surname commonly refers to a house (common or noble) or signifies ancestral relation to a particular place.

© 2017 - ∞