Something’s rotten in Startuplandia, and it starts with a dropped vowel and ends with an ly.

As others have noted, the startup landscape is teeming with terrible, how-is-this-real-is-it-even-real-yep names. Many of them bare only the faintest whiff of their etymological root. Some of them don’t have etymological roots. Some of them still think substituting “K” for “C” is cool. Er, kewl. A lot of them think space marks are for codgers, even if their app is aimed at codgers. (Hello PawPawMail!)

Butttt, this post isn’t about shaming the offenders—it’s about celebrating the defenders, the companies who may subscribe to descriptivism but still hold certain linguistic truths to be self evident, eg: thou shalt never append a noun with “zie.”

In summ.ly, before I regress.io into that dark place where wordplay goes to die (take your pick: dead soci.al or departedlife.com), here are 10 startups who played the name game right.

1. Proletariat

  • What it is: A mobile gaming company, started by ex-Zynga Boston employees.
  • What’s in a name: While “proletariat” comes from Latin proletarius, or “citizen of the lowest class,” the word has more recently come into its of the people, for the people own. As such, it is well suited for a young company made up of people laid off from a much bigger company, who aim to make games for gamers like them.

2. Vayable

  • What it is: A vacation activity marketplace.
  • What’s in a name: As it’s spelled, Vayable connotates movement, particularly to speakers of Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese. Used here, the suffix “able” makes perfect sense. Then there’s the homophonic connotation: in English, viable means “feasible”—a comforting thought when entrusting your cash and life to a stranger.

3. Shopify

  • What it is: A platform for building ecommerce sites.
  • What’s in a name: The “ify” suffix  means to cause an increase in the stated quantity, which is exactly what ecommerce business owners hope Shopify’s platform will help them do. And even if users don’t know what “ify” means, they do know what “shop” means.

4. Etsy

  • What it is: An online marketplace for handicrafts.
  • What’s in a name: Co-founder Robert Kalin, who came up with the name, says it doesn’t mean anything, but was inspired by the phrase "etsi" in Fellini’s 8 1/2 (“and yes” in Italian; “although” in Latin). Another possibility, per Quora: In Unix, the miscellaneous folder /etc is pronounced “et-see.” Regardless of orgin or intended meaning, to me, the name implies a friendly hodgepodge, which is exactly what it is.

5. Kickstarter

  • What it is: A crowdfunding platform for creative projects.
  • What’s in a name: There are many synonyms for “to kindle,” but kickstart is the friendliest, and, for those who haven’t heard the word before, the most easily parsed.

6. 37 Signals

  • What it is: A collaboration-focused software company.
  • What’s in a name: Amidst the billions of signals out in the universe, there are 37 which remain unexplained. Or, that was the case in 1999, when 37 Signals co-founder Carlos Segura watched a Nova episode on the SETI project. Is 37 Signal’s suite of collaboration web apps unexplainable? Nope. Proof that a great name need not be rooted in logic.

7. Square

  • What it is: A mobile payments solution for merchants and customers.
  • What’s in a name: Square works on two levels. One: it connotates both fairness “square deal” and simplicity—both very valuable in the oft-murky payments world. Two: the payment technology itself is wrapped in a square card reader.

8. Prismatic

  • What it is: A news reader personalized to your interest graph.
  • What’s in a name: Prisms can have many facets, all of which refract or disperse beams of light. Prismatic is a personalized news reader whose contents depends on editable topic facets gathered from your social networks. The -atic suffix means “pertaining to,” so it isn’t additive to the meaning, but it does make the app more memorable.

9. Groupon

  • What it is: A daily deals site whose offerings are made available after a certain number have been purchased.
  • What’s in a name: Groupon’s spate of fiscal and personnel troubles may have permanently besmirched its name, but as far as portmanteaus go, Mason’s is hard to beat. Why: it blends the two words that best describe what it is (coupons) and who it’s for (groups), and these two words happen to be so phonically similar that the blending is seamless.  

10. Yelp

  •  What it is: a user-submitted review site for local businesses.
  • What’s in a name: Yelp’s meaning—call out in pain/alarm—may not be pleasant, but the word sounds playful. Few words start with “y,” and plosive ends are bouncy fun. It’s a common verb, but not a commonly used one, so the Google test isn’t a problem.

Disagree? Have more to add? Let me know in the comments!

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