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What’s In a Name?

Column
Column
Column
7/12/2000

Stephen Saunders photo Anybody who has done it knows that one of the toughest parts of setting up a new company is thinking up the name.

But that’s no excuse for some of the monikers now doing the rounds of the optical networking industry. Some of these aren’t just bad, they should actually be illegal. (Not “misdemeanor” illegal -- we're talking “federal offence”).

I give you Exhibit A: Campio Communications. (Note to Campio: Ever wondered why it was so easy to get the URL?) Then there’s Enterasys Networks. (Is that Enter-As-Is, Enter-A-Sys, or, um, something else?)

More no-no’s. When naming your company, try to keep clear of:

* Respiratory illnesses (Pluris)
* Yummy citrus fruit beverages (Zuma Networks)
* Dead civilizations (Mayan Networks)
* Nuclear waste (Celox Networks)
These are just the basics. In an effort to help with the naming process, Light Reading has come up with the following list of five do’s and don’ts -- designed to help aspiring vp’s of marketing to pick a winning handle.

Don’t seek professional help:

A look at the examples above might have you thinking that it would be safest to run, not walk, to the nearest “name consultant." Don't.

Like most consultants, name consultants are:

1) Expensive
2) That's it
Expect to pay about $50,000 for their services (note: Light Reading is planning to launch its own naming service real soon).

And don’t think that your 50 large will buy you the personal touch. The first thing naming consultants typically do is give you a computer-generated list of about 20,000 names. It’s up to you to plough through them.

Of those 20,000, assume that 19,997 are complete jibberish. Of the remaining three, the trademark will have gone for one and the URL won’t be available for the other, leaving you with exactly one.

Keep in mind, also, that the name consultant’s fee is non-refundable. That means that if, at the end of the job, their recommendation is that you call your company “Ploptical Networks,” you still have to pay up.

Do some homework:

It’s one of the principals of the naming process that if you can think of a good name, someone else has either snagged it already -- or one very much like it.

This has led to a spate of name-changing recently by companies that have gotten into name-calling spats with other startups. For instance, Chromisys got worried about Chromatis Networks and changed its name to Calient Networks.

Then there’s Corvia Networks, which got threatened by Corvis and changed its name to Brightlink Networks. (Just to make things a bit more confusing, if you go to the old Corvia site you get links to both Corvis and Brightlink. Further, clicking on the Corvis link brings up another link telling you it just bought a company called Baylight. Dizzy yet?). If you must change your name, try not to aggravate matters by choosing one that’s even worse. Synchordia came dangerously close to doing this recently, after being confused with Syncordia, a BT subsidiary that’s also based in Atlanta.

At one stage, Synchordia’s CEO told Light Reading that the top candidate for a new name was Xiara, which is a no-no on three counts:

· It’s too similar to Xros
· It sounds a little like a skin complaint
· Its pronunciation isn’t obvious from the spelling, and vice versa - a problem for Xros and Phaethon, another stealth mode startup.

Do engage brain: It’s always a good idea not to name your company until you’re pretty sure you know what you want to sell people.

Diving in can, again, force you to pull an embarrassing switcheroo. This is what happened to New Access, which changed its name to Zaffire after deciding that it, um, didn’t really want to be in the access market actually, thanks, and, er, wanted to play in the metro core instead, ok?

Don’t pick a name until you know what it means:

Pride comes before a fall. For evidence, look no further than Avaya Inc., the Enterprise Networks Group soon to be spun off from Lucent Technologies.

According to Avaya, its name is “a new, made-up word [and] has a certain flair to it that says we're new and different.” Yeah!

Actually, it’s not new, or made up. Avaya is an old Persian name. Here’s what the Web site of The Society of Kabalarians of Canada has to say about people who bear this moniker:

"A driving urge leads you to one experience after another, seldom finishing what you start. As soon as a challenge is met, boredom sets in, and you yearn for another experience. Acting on impulse instead of with forethought has led to many disappointments and bitter experiences. Your whole nervous system could be affected by the intense emotional influence of this name."

Not exactly what Avaya had in mind, I suspect.

Do follow precedent:

The easiest way to play it safe is to look to the example of successful networking companies. These days, that means going with some sort of bush or tree, a la Juniper and Sycamore. Mind you, Sycamore got its name by chance. Anita Brearton, its VP of corporate marketing, thought of it while gazing at a tree outside her window. She later discovered it was a maple, not a sycamore.

--Stephen Saunders, US Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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