A while back I received a series of pitches from startups with ridiculous names, so I decided to share them in an effort to explain why they didn’t work in English, in order to help startups create a better brand identity. Since then, it seems like everyday where someone goes “Oh man, I can’t believe you didn’t add X on that list,” and so, slowly but surely, a small list began to come together. That list has now grown to 20 startups, and a few themes began to emerge – ridiculous misspellings, repetitive sounds, mis-translations, etc. – so without further ado (no pun intended), I present 20 More French startup whose names don’t work in English, grouped by theme:
Stop telling We what to do
It seems like there’s been a lost-in-translation syndrome when it comes to startup names that have pronouns in them. I thought that Eat Your Box was just a rare case of hilarious misuse of a pronoun and a double entendre, but as it turns out, French startups just think that if the name of their startup tells you what to do, you’ll just do it. No questions asked. Here We Style wants you here, where you will style. Flip My Look apparently wants you to change how you look – have you looked at yourself in the mirror? My Gifts & You want you to have my gifts, I think. And We Peek surprisingly has nothing to do with sitting up in a tree with some binoculars. It sounds like the founders sat down and said “OK, what do our users do?” and the first Franglais phrase to come out of their mouths became their startup name. As I hope you will do with all of these examples, ask yourself: “Do I know a startup who’s name tells you exactly what do to?”
The only thing that is “Up” is “What,” as in “What’s up with your startup name?”
I think somewhere in between upgrade, upload, and update, there was a misunderstanding in France that you could just add ‘up’ to something to mean ‘improve.’ Flink Up, which sounds far too similar to ‘f&ck up’ for my tastes, wants you to link up, but with an F (for Facebook, I think). Life Up rewards your actions, like moving up levels in your life; the only problem is I don’t want to life up, ’cause I don’t know what’s one level above ‘life.’ UponJob has gone shakespearian on me, or maybe they want me to get ‘up on’ my job.
If yooouuur dooomaiiinn iiiiss nooottt available, don’t speeeellll it wroonng
Determination is what gets an entrepreneur through the tough times, but it’s also what drives someone who really wishes List.com was available to settle for, I don’t know, Liiist.com. After all, maybe no one will notice the three “i”s – i mean, unless we shove them into our logo. If you’re interested in Leeaarning, then Leeaarn‘s got courses for you. For quick deliveries and long domain names, Weeship will deliver something to you in the time it takes you to say Weeeeeeeeeeeee! Here’s a quick tip: if the name you wanted isn’t available as name.com, go for something else. I guarantee Google would’ve had a lot less traction if they had been called Gooooooogle (they own this domain, too).
Just ask one person “does this name sound sexual?” it’s that simple.
There are a few times where I have to do a double-take on a startup name, just because I honestly can’t tell if there is a sexual undertone to the name or not – they usually aren’t. Jib.li sounds way too close to Giblets for me, and Rentez Vous honestly sounds like online human trafficking – a Craiglists for people (well, I guess Craigslist has that too). Thank god their twitter handle doesn’t say anything that would set off any other alarms, like “Girl-to-Girl…rental.” If you’re into the more S&M-sounding startup names, then you’ll love Twistools - something about “twist” + “tools” just makes certain body parts hurt instinctively, don’t you think?
The letter Z does not mean you are a respectable B2B startup
There seems to me a common misconception that if you add ‘-ize’ to a word associated with your sector of activity, that you will instantly stumble on a subtle English-ish word that will instantly be clear, and will not make you sound like you don’t speak English. This is definitely the case for Fasterize - I believe the grammatically correct term is “more fastize.” Aspectize - I dare you to guess what they do without clicking on the link. I’m pretty sure Loyalizte just stuck a Z (or a T) in the middle of their name, because I honestly can’t pronounce this. Modizy was smart – they used the “-ize” trick and threw in a surprise “-ify” at the end, and just jumbled them together.
Conclusion: There’s one good way to make sure your name is OK in English
Just ask someone. Someone who is from the US, who works in startups, and who will not say Yes to anything. For example, Bookingaroo – I’m constantly going back and forth between whether that works or doesn’t, but that’s the point. I’m thinking about it. I mean, they were going for kangaroo, I get that – but they left the ‘Booking’ in there. It’s like “Hipmunk”- I don’t get it, but I keep thinking about it.
If you have a startup name today, do what I do – tell every person you meet, and your aunt, and your grocery store clerk, and anyone else you run into on the street what the name is, and gauge their reaction. I got quite mixed responses from people about Rude Baguette initially, but the one thing we knew was that people never forgot the name – even if they didn’t read it every day, they knew who we were, and that was good enough for me.