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What’s in a Name?

February 15th, 2007 by Corey Davis

Over at Vitamin Michael McDerment of FreshBooks has written up an interesting framework for naming a company, but the rules apply to a product or service as well. Though there have been a few negative comments on his framework, I in fact like it very much even though I violated almost every single rule when naming Conxsys.

I’ve been meaning to talk about our name for a while now. It is a point of utter confusion for many people. But rather than just explaining what happened, let’s walk through the McDerment framework and see were I went wrong and why.

So what makes a good name? There are five main characteristics:

  1. It’s easy to remember
  2. It’s easy to spell and requires no explanation
  3. It describes your business category
  4. It describes your benefit
  5. It describes your difference

    Uh-oh. Really? Okay, let’s do each one individually.

    It’s easy to remember. Conxsys. Hmmm…I kinda doubt that is easy to remember for people. Maybe it is, I’m just not sure. I came up with this name ten years ago and had no clue what market research was at that time. So, is it easy to remember?

    It’s easy to spell and requires no explanation. Ha! Okay, I know it’s not easy to spell and that it always requires explanation. I can’t remember now all the iterations of names I went through, but it wasn’t the first choice. The first choice was already taken according to a DBA search, and a subsequent choice already had the .com registered. Getting the .com was absolutely essential to me. As I sat there and thought about what we were doing at the time — web hosting and Domino — I began running through different words that explained these things (something that I actually did do right — sort of — according to McDerment’s framework) and what I kept hitting upon was “connected systems”. An “X” represented the interconnection of connected systems, so I shortened “connected” to “con”, “systems” to “sys”, and slapped an X in between. Viola! Conxsys. And, back then, one of the big emerging web fads was the use of a capital X, so the true spelling at the time was actually conXsys. That just looks so lame today that I can’t believe that I fell into the trap of using a web fad to name my business. But it’s company history and I can’t get away from it. Here’s the old logo:

    Conxsys Logo 2000
    Of course, I still like the big X, old fad or not. It’s not a difficult leap to see how we ended up with the current logo. It’s a big, stylized X:

    It describes your business category. Well, sorta. More so when Conxsys was a web host, but now that we have dropped that division and concentrate solely on application development it doesn’t apply so much anymore. Worse, Conxsys doesn’t describe anything to the person who doesn’t understand it’s heritage as explained above. I’m going to have to say that I got this one wrong as well because it doesn’t describe anything to those who don’t understand what the word means.

    It describes your benefit. Again, no. Unless the benefit of Conxsys is to confuse people, and I sure hope that is not what this company does! Our benefit is years of application development experience for Domino combined with a strong sense of the importance of the user interface that culminate into compelling, easy to use applications.

    It describes your difference. I’m so depressed.

    Here are three more constraints that I like:

      1. It has to be one or two syllables long – no more
      2. Each syllable starts with a strong consonant (B, C, D, G, K, P, Q, T)
      3. It’s fun to say (?…that just rolls off the tongue?)

    It has to be one or two syllables long – no more. Con-x-sys. Three syllables. This just isn’t going well, is it? It’s like taking one of those “How Romantic Are You” quizzes and finding out you’re as romantic as bouquet of cold Halibut.

    Each syllable starts with a strong consonant (B, C, D, G, K, P, Q, T). I’m going to cheat a little bit and say I got this one. The first two syllables start with a strong consonant, it is the last one — sys — that does not. But, placing a strong consonant after the X just makes a hard name even harder to say. Maybe I can’t claim getting one rule right, but I can say I got two-thirds of a rule right! Yes! In your face, space coyote!

    It’s fun to say (?…that just rolls off the tongue?). Back to failure. In fact, Conxsys is so hard to say that rarely is a call received by a potential customer who can say the name the first time, and that leads to them being very uneasy. It’s not a good thing to start a potential customer’s call with doubt and unease. So, how do you say it? Kän-x-sis. If that doesn’t help, then try “con” like “conner”, “x” like “x-ray”, and “sys” like “system”. Con-x-sys.

    The total scores ends up being 1 (okay, fine, two-thirds!) right out of 8 rules. Does this mean that Conxsys is a bad name? Not necessarily. It just means that Conxsys, as a company, has to work harder at building brand awareness. Afterall, Google get nearly the same score (2 out of 8 — they get the syllable rule right and the strong consonants rule), but they have so successfully built their brand that you would be hard pressed to find anyone in a Internet connected community who does not know Google. Having a name that doesn’t follow the rules isn’t all bad, it just means you have to work a little harder at getting your name and brand known to your demographics.


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    2 Responses

    1. Mike McDerment Says:

      Wonderfully self-effacing review of your name, thanks for sharing :)

      Like you said, “Does this mean that Conxsys is a bad name? Not necessarily. It just means that Conxsys, as a company, has to work harder at building brand awareness.”

      That is exactly right. A company’s success is not determined by their name…a name is one small part of the whole and if the rest of the “whole” is solid, then it’s really no big deal.

      Thanks for posting and continued success with Conxsys.

      - Mike

    2. Jordan Says:

      Dang. I just thought it was a funky way to spell ‘conscious’

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