Life is too short to want to punch a website in the face, but there I was, staring at Apple.com, feeling the rage. I was struck for the nth time by the sheer badness of the name iPad when I realized there were worse names of tech companies, products, and services. In fact, there are entire categories of bad.
I thought I’d do a roundup of them, because shared pain is lessened pai—I just need an excuse to self-medicate.
No lie: English is a persnickety language when it comes to pronunciation. But it doesn’t mean that marketers have to roofie up English and take serious advantage of it.
Sony’s Vaio line of laptops: Is it Vay-o or Vy-o? Is the Cuil search engine pronounced Quill or Cool? Is Cisco’s Cius tablet supposed to be Sigh-Us or See-Us? I wouldn’t have known without a bit of research, wasting precious seconds I could have spent reading fan fiction.
Note to marketers: The time I took to look up this information, divided by a sense that marketers are failing to be cute, and minus the irritation when I had to look up a pronunciation guide, is equal to the amount of time I spent using these products.
Names that use symbols
The Pentax *ist was a camera. The Olympus m:robe was an MP3 player. These product names are particularly bad, and not just because they make me lapse into a confused silence. No, they’re bad for a very special reason.
Pentax has said that the asterisk was a “wildcard.” What they intended, I suppose, is that a “flor”ist can take a picture of flowers, a “dent”ist can take a picture of teeth, and an “existential”ist can take a picture of hopelessness and absurdity. As for the m:robe, Olympus said it was a contraction of “music wardrobe.”
In other words, we need special knowledge in order to figure out what these names mean. We can’t know by reading the words. We have to experience it. It’s enough to make one become an existentialist.
But then again, there’s the :CueCat. This barcode reader was a famed product failure (with it, a user could avoid all of that painfully slow typing out a URL).
How bad is the use of a symbol, really? In the case of :CueCat’s, very bad. The company abbreviated it as :C …which looks like the world’s most emphatic frownie face.
For the icing on this cake, Google ignores punctuation in searches, so these product names then become difficult to find. Awesome.
Dishonorable mention: Google+ is, of course, easily findable on Google.
Names that overuse the letter Q
Some letters are overused in technology (see below), and let’s not forget the entire decade in which “e” was inflicted on us. But that’s not what’s bothering me now. It’s q-words.
- Qube is an online networking site.
- Qik is a mobile phone video-sharing service.
- Qinetiq is a defense technology company.
- Qoobox is a folder inside the Combofix tool to quarantine infected files.
- Qriosity is a streaming media service.
At first glance, you can immediately see that these names contain the letter Q, which (in a fun fact that only a trivia nerd would love) is the second-least common letter in English, after Z.
Despite the fact that these names are, at first glance, unpronounceable (but at second glance, are easy enough to figure out), I suspect I know the reason these words were named the way they were: Because they look qool.
Names that shamelessly cash-in on someone else’s branding.
iSmell doesn’t work—and not just because the smell-o-rama feature didn’t make it past the prototype stage. iSmell is shorthand for “I stink.” But the name stinks on ice for another reason.
Apple Inc. doesn’t have the sole rights to the letter “I”—and wouldn’t i®t be funny i®f they did—but they’ve pretty much earned squatter’s rights to the use of the lowercased i before a noun. So when iSmell came around, it looked like it was cruising for a trademark bruising.
Had it actually gone to market, we might have been witness to an epic legal battle, where Apple could argue (rightfully, as it turns out) that iSmell was trying to make Apple Inc. look bad.
Names that are painfully obvious
Motorola Charm. Samsung Fascinate. HTC Desire. None of the names of these cell phones are bad, per se. However, the fact that they all are synonyms of the word “bewitching” looks like products that were named after reading the same marketing study.
These names seem to target gullible people who want products based on how they want to view themselves. “Ooo, it’s called Desire. If I have it, it must make me desirable!”
I would tell these people that there are better ways to choose a cell phone—that tech specs are more important than any name that elicits envy—but I can’t seem to tear myself away from my iPhone.
And speaking of envy, HP has its Envy brand of premium, high-performance laptops. I have to tell you, no mere name is going to make me crave a product enough to purchase it. Unless it’s called Daniel Craig.
When I first heard the word “kindle,” I thought of starting a fire. Then I found out the Kindle was for books. The name suddenly put in mind mass libricide, a whole society where Fahrenheit 451 could have been the most important book, if only they hadn’t burned it.
Moments later, as my panic was reaching an apex, I learned that the Kindle was an eReader. Does that mean Amazon wants me to burn my tech toy after using? Stupid misleading name. It’s almost as bad as my stupid gullibility.
But it’s not the only misleading name I found. A shout-out to the 2007 search engine, Ex.plode.us. It sounds like we’re asking to be suicide bombed.
Names that only a marketer could love
The Nintendo gaming platform Wii is homophone of “we,” (or “oui,” if you’re either French or pretentious), which can turn any conversation with an elderly relative into an Abbott and Costello sketch: “I’m playing the Wii.” “We are not playing. You’re playing.” Etc.
I can picture the meeting that took place over the name Wii:
Marketer: “Whee! It’s about fun!”
Unconvinced guy with the purse strings: “Wee. It’s about urine.”
Marketer: “Wee! It’s about something small and cute!”
Unconvinced guy: “Wee. Urine.”
Marketer furrows his shallow brow. “Wii! Spell it with two I’s and we can trademark the name!”
Unconvinced guy: “I’m convinced!”
Only a marketer could love a name like Wii. But only an infant could love names like JooJoo, Bebo, and Ookle. I feel myself regressing just by typing them.
Names that try too hard to sound impressive
When you hear the words "death adder," you think of a serpentine nightmare, ready to slither itself into your office and bite you in the neck. And as the poison surges through your body, you think, "At least I've died in the most macho way possible."
Sadly, the Death Adder is a mouse. And we can see why Razer would come up with the name: the Death Adder silently glides across your mouse pad—nope, sorry. I can't think of one good reason to call it a "Death Adder." It's an even more ridiculous name for a mouse than at first glance: Mice are what adders eat.
Accidentally suggestive/foul names
If you can read the English language, have heard English spoken, or once slept with an English speaker, you’d know there are some very incorrect words out there. Products that contain these incorrect words include:
- Mate ME
But these names pale in comparison to a product that almost but not quite made it to market: Panasonic’s Touch Woody: The Internet Pecker…which is what happens when Woody Woodpecker is licensed for a web browser by people who don’t natively speak English.
Fortunately, it was pulled before it became the world’s first browser targeted at autoeroticists.
As with Touch Woody, many terrible names in the world of marketing seem to come from poor English translations; if you’ve ever worked with multinational companies, you know translation errors are a very real headache.
But even that can’t excuse I.Beat Blaxx.
It’s an MP3 player. It’s black. It’s…horrific. Even a formal apology from TrekStor, plus a rapid renaming, can’t prevent my urge to name my fists I.beat AnyoneWho Hasn’t Hired.a NATIVE ENGLISH-SPEAKING copyeditorrr Whenever Selling a Product That Uses English Words.
Names that lie
Microsoft’s Plays for Sure sure doesn’t. This DRM solution was meant to reassure you that any music you bought from a Microsoft partner would play on every Microsoft-supported player. Then Microsoft bought out the Zune, which introduced a whole new DRM system that for sure didn’t play any of your music at all.
I have to assume this was some very obscure reverse psychology marketing gimmick to give Apple more of a share of the digital music market because… nope, can’t think of a reason. Perhaps it’s something to do with Jerry Seinfeld.
And for that matter, the name “Microsoft,” which I imagine can only be a poor sexual rating, has bugged me for some time now. Also a bit like Jerry Seinfeld.
Just plain bad names
Skunk Juice – obviously, this refers to earphones. Which, apparently, stink.
Eee PC – “Aieee!” you scream as Asus then went on to name around one zillion products (we may have missed a few) “eee”-something.
The Gimp – The GNU Image Manipulation Program developers still can’t see what the fuss is about.
Some actual good names
Apple Peel is a case for iPod Touch’s with a multitude of features, which includes the ability to turn it into an iPhone. The name’s descriptive, and easy to remember. Best of all, all the vowels are present and in the right place.
Yummly is a search engine dedicated to recipes. It’s about food and it’s a play on the word “yummy” in it. It’s the best name ever.
ThinkPad is a brand of laptops, a name that, at first glance, evokes quiet contemplation or perhaps concentration. It’s also a callback to IBM’s slogan in the 1920s.
What other bad names have I missed? A whole bunch, I’m sure. Tell me in the comments, below, because shared pain is a great excuse for a piña colada.