The company behind the best file replicator of the modern age is now known as IO Bureau.

This change took an excruciatingly long time, so here's a bit of background along with some field notes and takeaways.

7 years ago

The original company name - Pipemetrics - was picked in 2012, when the company was formed.

The plan back then was to make a distributed network profiling and monitoring system, tentatively called Notwerk. As quirky as it was, the name quite accurately predicted what happened next - the project did not werk out.

So not few months later we ended up switching to another idea - a proper, production rewrite of the original Bvckup. It was a file backup program that I wrote over a weekend few years prior and that was getting an unexpected amount of traction despite all my efforts to ignore it.

The company name remained though and according to it we were still knee-deep in the pipe measurement business. Even had a logo to match - That's an undersea network cable cross-section... or at least an artist's impression of the same.

In any case, all this was around 7 years ago.

4 years ago

The discrepancy between the product and the company name was one concern. Another concern surfaced a bit later on, when Windows 10 with its pervasive telemetry was released and more people started paying closer attention to the tracking and privacy matters.

And there we were, making an offline software for handling one's private data, and yet we were called ...metrics. What was it that we were merticsing exactly?

Neither of these concerns required an immediate name change, but they lingered. And so about 3 years in we started looking for a better name.

Naming

There are only two hard things in computer science:
cache invalidation and naming things.
Now, that is just factually wrong.

Naming things is not hard. It is an utterly frustrating and painful, painful process that drains all fun from life and creative juices even from those who didn't have them to begin with.

Sometimes you can stumble upon a great name in a matter of seconds, but more often you don't. Or you just google it up and realize that you are the N-th heir to the throne, ten years too late.

Say, you want to name something that deals with data. Dat should not be hard. Ding - "dat" is taken, and you haven't even considered it yet.

DataWorks?
DataScape?
ProData?

Pfft, lol. Are you kidding? Taken.

How about Datto?

Quirky, weird. No way anyone else would think it up.

You'd think. Taken.

In fact, taken so long ago that people now complain how much better it was in the good old days, whenever that was.

Datrium?

You know - uranium, unobtanium, pinacoladium. No-pe, taken.

Days go by and all that you can come up with are just OK-ayish bland names, each flawed in more ways than one, and most of them even without a matching dot-com domain.

Inevitably, you start looking for a way to make the process more formal, structured, predictable. To keep track of the "progress" and not to cover the same ground twice.

The good news is that it is doable. The bad news is that genuinely great names are still a matter of luck and random insipiration.

Part 1 - Keywords and associations

The name needs to be unique and memorable, obviously.

The shorter the better. There are exceptions, of course, but the rule of thumb is that it should be 3-4 syllables max.

It needs to be pronounceable and it should not have any negative connotations. Yes, I know, there's an irony in here somewhere.

In fact, looking back this is probably the most important property of a good name - it needs to roll off the tongue and leave a good impression behind.

That impression should be strong and memorable, even more so than the name itself. While people tend to forget specific names, the concepts and feelings stick around for much longer.

To that end good names often have an unusual, but an otherwise obvious association with whatever they are attached to.

An excellent example of this is a distributed database called...

    Ready?...

    Voldemort!

Distributed storage indeed. How ridiculously good.

Naturally, there are great names that don't have any explicit associations.

For example, Akamai does have a very good explanation behind it, but it's not obvious. However the name is simple and it sounds nice, so it is easy to remember just because of that.

Same goes for Skype, originally standing for Sky Peer-to-Peer.

Kodak is yet another example, except that it's a completely made up word. George Eastman, the founder of the company, liked the impression the sound of the letter K made, so he went on to find a name that was "short, easy to pronounce, and not resemble any other name."

The year was 1888.

Finding a good association is a matter of certain luck, but the chances can be improved by formalizing the process.

By brute-forcing it basically.

Start by defining what it is that the company (product, gadget, whatever) does and what it is about. Compile a list of relevant keywords. Then for each keyword add several more - synonyms, related concepts, ideas, references.

Repeat several times.

The end result will be a list comprising both very specific and very abstract things that can be used as latches for an association.

For us, being in a data preservation domain, it went something like this: The list was over 50 entries long, stretching as far as "bastion", "marmalade" and "formaldehyde".

The problem, of course, is that a keyword alone usually doesn't make for an unique name.

Part 2 - Prefixes and suffixes

Lots and lots of names follow certain patterns. These patterns can be identified, distilled and formalized.

One such pattern is adding a trailer qualifier:

  • ... technologies
  • ... software
  • ... systems
  • ... project
  • ... group
  • ... labs
  • ... associates

Similar, but with more "edge":

  • ... initiative
  • ... innovations
  • ... engineering
  • ... committee
  • ... society
  • ... masters
  • ... theory
  • ... method
  • ... logic
  • ... works
  • ... matters

Alternatively, the keyword itself can be equipped with a suffix:

  • -com
  • -sys
  • -ware
  • -soft
  • -tec
  • -tech
  • -tronic
  • -mark
  • -craft

This tends to result in a rather pompous and boring enterprise-y names, which sometimes may actually be desirable:

Infocom, Unisys, Commware, Microsoft, Symantec, Datamark, Netcraft, etc.

Prepending prefix to the word is yet another option:

  • Para-...
  • Meta-...
  • Vari-...
  • Poly-...
  • Inter-...
  • Super-...
  • Hyper-...

InterPlay (of the Descent game fame), ParaData, HyperLoop, etc.

One other option I feel I must mention is that mixing Maxwell into any technical name tends to make it dramatically better.

The association here is that with Maxwell's equations that carry an incredible mix of mathematical elegance and complexity.

"Maxwell" also sounds nice, and it is just 2 syllables long.

As a result, we had Maxwell Storent on the short list. In the end it lost to other options, but I still think it was a great name, full of technical competence and credibility at no extra charge :)

Part 3 - Word mangling

Mangling a keyword is yet another way of turning it into an unique name.

If we were back in the .com era, prepending an e to everything would've sounded like an excellent idea. Still have fond memories working in a place called eTunnels.

Dropping a vowel was an equally acceptable option with a great following - Flickr, Tumblr, etc.

Duplicating letters also worked, e.g. Dribbble or FFFFound.

In fact, there was also Forrst, which boldly went where nobody dared, both dropping and duplicating like there's no tomorrow.

Replacing c's with k's and dropping trailing vowels tends to make words sound vaguely Scandinavian.

Objective becomes Objektiv, which can pass for a noun.
Accurate - Akkurat, etc.

Technik can help adding some German flavor to the name. We would've gone this route except that we are in a French-speaking canton and it didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Replacing trailing -e with an -a tends to create Latin-sounding words, e.g. Apertura, Machina, Textura, etc.

Similarly, tweaking the word to end with -ium or -eum results in a Latin-scientific feel.

The yield

Fast forward 4 years of episodic search spurts and we had a list of names with quite a few candidates on it. Here it is, with just few entries trimmed:

  • Data Mechanics - really liked this one, actually, a good pun
  • Data Matters - similar, also double-meaning
  • Data Associates - only if in hopes of being acquired by CA
  • Data Committee - implied that we don't get any real work done

  • Swiss Data Works
  • Swiss Data Reserve - implied that we are a storage provider

  • Datori
  • Datamata
  • Datamation
  • DataTechnik
  • SuperData
  • Redata

  • Storewell
  • Storent
  • Prestor
  • ByteMasters
  • MetaByters
  • Keepwell

  • Keep Systems
  • Parity Works
  • Zeroloss Systems
  • Data & Loss - the barristers

  • Stray neutrino
    * As per the theory that the bitrot is caused by neutrinos

  • Ashwell
  • Waltron
  • Corelion - as in Coreli-on, not Core-lion
  • Hyper - with "Hyper Abc" as product names
  • Variance
  • Wellmade
  • Struktura - also liked this one a lot, but the .com is squatted

And the winner is...

It's reasonably short.

It rhymes when pronounced.

It's generic enough to cover more than just backup software.

The iobureau.com and @iobureau were available.

It also can be made to look both like IO and 10 when rasterized down to a small size. Not terribly important, but having a simple symbol to go with the name is always a plus. So, ladies and gentlemen, until we decide to rename ourselves again we shall be known as the IO Bureau.

Bonus material

In case you want to try your hand at finding a good sounding, but otherwise random name, here are some pointers:

1. Reverse dictionary
To search for words with specific ending.

2. List of last names
To make your own Bang & Olufsen.

3. Lists of gods
Quite a few solid leads there.

4. List of Intel project codenames
Skylake, Ice Lake, etc. Mostly geographical landmarks.

5. List of Microsoft project codenames
Not as consistent as Intel's, but still worth a read.

6. List of Solar System objects
Including a handy list of moons.

7. List of planets in science fiction
Examples of names made up by other people.

8. List of fantasy worlds
Same here.

Samples

Longer reads

The Weird Science of Naming New Products
An NYT article that follows the naming of a very high-profile project. Perhaps with no directly actionable insight, but really interesting nonetheless.

Brand Names
This is a really really deep dive into scientific aspects behind naming and name perception. Fantastic resource... though a bit like trying to learn how to fry a steak by studying metallurgy and proteins :) Be warned that you may end up being even more confused than before.

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