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This question has been bothering me for a while. Let's take some of my projects as an example. In my projects I tend to prefix them with "quack". This means that you'll have project names like (disclosure: These are my actual projects) Quackbot, an IRC bot, and Quackedcube, which was a Rubik's Cube solver. At least when repeating to others, the name does sound strange and unprofessional.

The only other example I can think of is the Bouncy Castle library for Java which handles all sorts of encryption related things. The name, though, sounds a little silly, and I've seen several comments to Stack Overflow answers that recommend it saying something like "Would anyone really trust their commercial app to something called Bouncy Castle?"

In these two examples, would you say that the name will or has prevented adoption by people seriously looking for libraries for their commercial application? Is the success of Bouncy Castle an example of the rule or the exception? Would you use libraries or programs with silly, funny, or immature names?

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The GIMP. Go and try to search the Web for tutorials ... if you dare >:-D –  Piskvor Aug 11 '11 at 15:05
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This discussion on Hacker News might be of interest. –  Corey Aug 11 '11 at 15:22
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I hear there's a really good database called Postgri.. Pos... something-sequel. I forget what it's called, just use MyEs... MySeq... crap. –  Joey Adams Aug 12 '11 at 2:10
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Just don't name a JavaScript framework after a core native JavaScript property. I couldn't Google what I wanted out of 'Prototype' successfully for like 5 years. –  Erik Reppen Aug 12 '11 at 7:06
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One of the more well-known and often-used proof assistant programs is called Coq (coq.inria.fr). It looks like the webmasters of that site are French, which may have something to do with their choice of the name, but I'd be uncomfortable to say 'I proved this theorem using Coq'... –  Alex ten Brink Aug 12 '11 at 10:06
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9 Answers

It depends on your target audience. Will they appreciate the joke? Will they be put off by the apparently trivial/funny name? Does the name belittle your product or make it seem less serious than it is?

Some years ago I worked for a company who's most successful product was called DOGS (Design/Drawing Office Graphics System). Another company released a product called Cats (I can't remember whether this was an acronym or not). The first line in a review was "Is this another product from PAFEC?". In this case having a potentially silly name didn't hurt us. It gave us free publicity. We only wished we had a product called CATS in the first place. However, later the company moved away from this type of name as it was seen as too frivolous.

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As a rule, audiences who label themselves as "creative" (e.g. developers, designers, and writers) take well to names with, well, creativity. When working in the medical field, it is less so. Psychologists responded better to "TherapyTracker" than "NUTS". Go fig. –  Christopher Bibbs Aug 11 '11 at 13:53
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If you plan to sell your product to enterprises, then yes, it does.

Consider the following fictional situation:


Manager John receives an e-mail from the sales manager of SeriousCompany. They happen to provide a service and a software that just fits the profile of Manager John's company. They might get more profit, increase synergy and dynamism with it! This is very compelling. If the offer is packaged well enough, Manager John might even go for it without asking the employee who will use it. But ideally, he will ask them:

"Hey, Employee. I've got an offer from SeriousCompany who provide this fast-paced workflow solution. This could help us increase synergy in e-business vertical markets for Web 3.0! Is it suited technically for us?"

"Hmm, well yeah, that might work. But here is this open source solution called Gaga Sasquatch Dinosaur that does the same thing, for free."

"What? Allright then! We will go with SeriousCompany's offer! We can't use a free thing that's called like that. It's probably an April fool's joke anyway, no one would give this away for free. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about."


Of course, it's oversimplified, but ultimately, you need to look serious in the eyes of the decision-makers, otherwise it doesn't matter how serious your product really is.

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+1 Yesterday's Dilbert says something quite similar: dilbert.com/2011-08-10 –  Piskvor Aug 11 '11 at 15:09
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Argument from fantasy. Imagine the manager would react differently! –  user unknown Aug 11 '11 at 18:10
    
Agree with the previous comment. A fictional example is not an argument. It's not even half an argument. It's unconstructive, one-sided speculation. –  Aaronaught Aug 12 '11 at 1:38
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It's observation of a phenomenon distilled into a silly narrative. If you don't know what he's talking about, you've never worked in an office where you've wanted to stab your eyes out to try to take away the sting of mediocrity-championing buffoonery or you're a part of the problem. –  Erik Reppen Aug 12 '11 at 7:04
    
It's not an argument from fantasy. If you disregard the fact that I illustrated my viewpoint with a fictional story, you will see that what I'm saying is that silly names don't go well with enterprises. I know a manager of a big company who said to me "we don't buy from 'mickey mouse' companies, even if they do it better and cheaper. We buy from enterprises like us". Of course, this is just another opinion, so let's agree to disagree. –  Tamás Szelei Aug 15 '11 at 15:38
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If it's only the name of the library and the classes and methods inside it have useful names I wouldn't mind much, as long as it doesn't sound totally stupid. It can be difficult to find a good new name and sometimes you want it to stick in the memory of potential customers.

In some communities, specific types of names are quite common. In the Python world you will find lots of references to Monty Python movies and quite some very old names in IT are somehow based on works of literature, for example the big-endian and little-endian are from Jonathan Swift's book Gulliver’s Travels.

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I'd say it's a risk, but one that can potentially have a payoff.

A funny or silly name can have the positive effect of making the product more memorable, and make some people who appreciate the humor be positively disposed towards it.

OTOH, it can have the negative effect of making the product seem less respectable, and offend some people who will then be negatively disposed towards it.

Which of these effects is stronger? That may depend to some degree on the target group of potential users/buyers, but also simply on coincidences (mostly, I suspect).

Personlly, I'd say the most important factor is that such names are more memorable - they say that there's no such thing as bad publicity for a reason.

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My previous employer was a large international conglomerate. Nothing was permitted to be named anything that could be offensive in any language. Even including the text wtf in an email was considered offensive by people I never sent the email to (someone else forwarded it, and I got nastygrams from VPs in different timezones). People in the finance industry are notorious for a lack of humor.

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Many business people have the "grumpy old men" syndrome, even if they around their 30's, and it does affects business operations... –  umlcat Aug 11 '11 at 21:40
    
VP's have to justify their presence in organisations, and rarely do they contribute to the bottom line. Don't take them too seriously if you can. –  MSalters Aug 12 '11 at 12:11
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As long as you don't spend too much time trying to think up funny names instead of creating a good product. Google is an alternate spelling of a math term that got its name from child babble. Some people thought that was interesting and others just think it's some silly name just like all the others from the dot com bubble.

Like everything else, you can change it. I'm sure you'll get plenty of feedback before you spend millions on advertising.

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If you want to go global with your product, you should pick your name carefully so that it's not offensive for your prospective customers. For example, "DOOPA" maybe a nice acronym in English, but it's not a good name if you want to win Polish market (why? I leave it as an exercise for the reader).

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"'QTAS' maybe a nice acronym in English" Is it really?! The first thing I thought is in conversations people will be pronouncing "cute a$$" –  maple_shaft Aug 11 '11 at 14:19
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Changed the example –  quant_dev Aug 11 '11 at 14:23
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LOL! My Polish grandmother called me "doopa" endearingly. I was 20 before I figured out what it meant! :) –  maple_shaft Aug 11 '11 at 14:26
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Altought, I may agree also, that depends on the target market, (software for kids, example of funny name "Simple Simon Software"), Its better, to have a more serious name.

That's one of the reason, there is a whole specific career, for Marketing stuff.

The same goes for product logos, I have seen many people that doesn't trust *Linux or *BSD for their mascots (penguin, fish, "daemon").

Also, works with "sensitive" names or logos. For example, once, FreeBSD, make a contest for a new logo, in order to get to enterprises, and someone make a stylish image of a "daemon" face.

I replied in a newsgroup, that the logo still relate somehow to a "demon", and, unless your product has to do with religion ("daily bible quote software"), religious related figures are a bad idea, and altougth, I personally do not care, many business people does.

I was bashed by the logo designer...

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A few loose thoughts

Popular CCleaner was originally named CrapCleaner, but they abbreviated it - I guess because being mildly obscene, it didn't look professional. But also, once the app has gained some following, you don't need to be so explicit about what it does.

I think it's fairly obvious in what context a silly name could be a drawback; the question is more difficult if you reverse it (when could a name too serious hurt?)

The worst mistake is probably a name that is hard to memorize. As one blogger remarked:

"Have you heard of Ninite? It’s an excellent little utility that lets you install a bunch of software on your new computer, automatically. [...] There’s just one problem: I can never remember the damn name." link

and guess what, I remembered about this blog entry, but I had to do some trial and error googling before I dug it up ;) I couldn't remember the name of the program either, even though I had actually decided I'd use it some day when I first read about it...

So the value of fun names is probably not as much in the comical factor as in their memorability

PS. "Operations in which large numbers of men may lose their lives ought not to be described by code words [...] of a frivolous character," as W. Churchill remarked - paraphrase at your own discretion.

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Oh hells yes I've been looking for an app to do just that. (Ninite) –  insta Oct 3 '11 at 18:21
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