Have you ever heard of the grocery retailer Meijer? Based in Michigan, the company is a bit like Walmart or maybe Costco. But that's not their claim to fame. After posting on my personal Twitter feed, I discovered that people don't know how to pronounce the name. Is it "meyer" or "meeger" or something else? Apparently, even the locals don't really know.

For anyone thinking about  naming a company, there was a time when an odd-sounding moniker helped you gain some traction. Adding an extra z or skipping a few vowels helped you stand out. Way back in 2007, a news aggregator named Grazr made sense--it was an odd spelling for the English word grazer. But how do you pronounce it? Users could say "gray-zer" or "graaah-zer" and, who knows, maybe both are correct.

How you name a company is going to change in 2018. With the rise of bots like  Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana, the name you use for a company could make all of the difference if users know how to pronounce it. Pick a weird name like Jaguar (the English car company) or Stella Artois (the Belgium beer), and customers will forever mispronounce the name. Far worse than that, Alexa and Siri won't understand the user when they say the name. It means repeating yourself a few times or never quite getting it right with bots.

This is a bigger problem than you might think. As more and more of us talk to bots like Apple Siri (now available on the Apple HomePod speaker), we rely on them to relay information like stock quotes, directions to the company, and product pricing. For a startup, it means your first exposure to new customers will involve having them not say your new name the right way. (Incidentally, this is far worse when it comes to band names like MGMT or Chvrches. It literally means they have fewer fans.) If first impressions matter, Alexa will make them wonder if your firm is worth their time.

What's a better strategy?

How do you name a company everyone understands?

It might take some time to think it through. Facebook and Twitter are already taken, obviously. So is Microsoft. Google is not an option. The challenge is picking a name anyone can pronounce easily, and yet isn't already taken.

Here's where it can help to experiment. Say you want to make a new app for helping kids connect with their parents. You might be tempted to use something like KidzKonnectr, but your customers (and maybe the kids) might say "kid z" at the beginning or "connectra" at the end, adding an a sound. Let's just say it's more likely they will butcher the name. Call it Kiddie Connect and you won't have any problems, especially later this year and into 2020 as more and more people start using these bots at home and at work.

Fortunately, an obvious-sounding company name can be a differentiator, and that has always been the case. The app SnapChat is not just popular because the messages disappear n your phone. It's really easy to say, and even a bit fun to pronounce. Send me a SnapChat has an instant appeal. In the past, the way to stand out was when you had an unusual name with a few extra letter. Now, it's being easy to pronounce.

But that's the hard part. Most names are taken. What we might start seeing is longer names or even three word company names that are all obvious and easy to say.

If you're struggling to find a name that isn't taken but will pass the Alexa test, run a few of them by friends and family. Ask them to say it a few times. And drop me a line. I'd love to weigh in on whether you might end up being the next Meijer.