Last year, Steve Manning, the founder of Sausalito, California-based branding agency Igor, told me: "So much has been burned to the ground over this past year. I think you'll see bolder and more interesting names."
But even he couldn't have foreseen the precise level of weirdness we'd reach in 2021. The shift is thanks largely to the burgeoning ecosystems of cryptocurrency trading and Web 3.0.
"It's one of the most fascinating areas for naming, because it's a wide-open playing field. You can do anything within it and it could stick," says Scott Milano, managing director of New York City-based branding agency Tanj. "It's a creator's dream in some sense."
In the crypto ecosystem, some themes have already emerged--especially names inspired by astronomy and astrology, including established players Stellar (a decentralized exchange with a cryptocurrency), Gemini (a centralized exchange with a cryptocurrency), and Cosmos (an ecosystem of blockchain apps, as well as a cryptocurrency). Others in the field evoke flow, such as trading-platform Liquid, and Osmosis, an upstart with a venture-funded cryptocurrency, which raised $21 million via a token sale this year.
But the newest cryptocurrencies seem to be taking advantage of the openness Milano alludes to. Among them: Parrot Egg (a cryptocurrency by decentralized finance and NFT platform Parrot DeFi) and Attack Wagon (a blockchain game studio). Crypto lending-and-borrowing platform Aave is also in fresh, if perhaps unpronounceable, territory. (The company, called ETHLend upon its founding in 2017, transitioned to the word, which is Finnish and roughly translates to "ghost.")
Entrepreneurs are conjuring names from sources ranging all the way from mythology--Kraken is now not just a folklore-bound ship-swallower, but also a massive trading platform--to, well, the halls of the United States Congress. In a hearing December 8, Brad Sherman, a Democratic representative from California, lamented that all the cryptocurrencies just seem to displace each others' value, and joked: "What could Mongoose Coin do to CryptoCoin?" Wouldn't you know it, in response someone created a Mongoose Coin, which by the following day had a market cap of $14 million.
Outside of crypto, there's a bit more reliance on convention and timelessness, but plenty of room for joy and optimism. After almost two years of lockdowns and health concerns dictating how people socialize, companies are working to address customers' desire to gather and celebrate.
Pomp, a direct-to-consumer floral bouquet startup, launched out of Miami in July. And Parade, an inclusive, carbon-neutral underwear brand operated out of New York City, has garnered a lot of buzz this year. "It has a real celebratory, 'Come on in!' sensibility, and we are seeing a lot of that trend," says Liz Juusola, group strategy director at New York City-based branding agency Red Antler.
Finding a name that is at once modern and enduring has never been more challenging, Juusola warns. That's because not only are simple URLs increasingly difficult to find, but trademarks are being filed at record numbers, meaning competition for owning a name is far greater than it was a decade ago (there were some 300,000 trademark filings in 2011; nearly a million in 2021).
Still, there are some new names that are truly good--they're simple, make sense, and aren't missing any key vowels. A few: Alltruists, a kid-friendly volunteer-project subscription box, launched in Los Angeles in March. Slash, which provides banking services for professional resellers, in San Francisco, is still in beta. An upstart chain of dental clinics launching soon, also in San Francisco, is simply called Rinse.
And cute is still in style. A healthier macaroni and cheese startup launched in 2021 with an endorsement from Gal Gadot and the name Goodles, which seems silly enough to stick. Meatable, a European cultivated meat startup, this year closed a $47 million Series A funding round, bringing the company's total funding to $60 million. PolkaDot is arguably the cutest sounding cryptocurrency, at least if you're not into shiba inus. Then there's Hedgehog, a cryptocurrency-trading robo-adviser.
Health care startups are booming. Many seem to have heeded Manning's warning to avoid just slapping "Health" onto the company's name, but some in the industry are still making some ill-advised choices. In startup-accelerator Y Combinator this winter is a Stockholm-based subscription service for chronic-skin-care issues called Itchy. And there's an online health care training platform called Stepful, which might make you dread just how many steps your training might require.
Going negative or counterintuitive, such as Slack--the opposite of what you're supposedly doing on the workplace chat app--worked for Slack. But that's a rare case. San Francisco-based online ADHD therapy upstart Done's name makes one wonder whether it's really necessary. Mud/Wtr, pronounced mudwater, an organic alternative to coffee started out of Venice, California, might conjure images of slurping from a stagnant puddle.
Finally, some names go dark but are so hip they just might work. Life insurance brand DeadHappy's black and hot pink website says, "Please die responsibly," and offers to let you leave "death wishes" for how your payout should be spent. The brand-growth agency NoGood's site, also chic black, notes: "If you're looking for a traditional marketing agency, we're NoGood for that."