Start-Up Lexicon

Jack Dorsey’s Secret to Naming Start-Ups: The Dictionary

jack dorsey Jack Dorseys Secret to Naming Start Ups: The Dictionary

Mr. Dorsey. Source: Crunchbase

Naming a start-up is hugely important. If you are creating the next big thing, you want it to have a name you like. It’s tough to change branding in the middle of a cultural revolution. WNYC posted an extended interview with Jack Dorsey about agonizing over the naming of his companies, Twitter and Square. It took about two months to come up with the name for Twitter, he said.

DORSEY: We wanted a name that evoked what we did. We wanted something that was tangible. And we looked at what we were doing and when you received a tweet over SMS, your phone would buzz. It would jitter. It would twitch. And those were the early names, Jitter and Twitch. And neither one of them really inspired the best sort of imagery.

COLGAN: They were the names of the company?

DORSEY: They were the names we were considering for Twitter at the time.

COLGAN: So we could all be talking about Jitter.

DORSEY: Exactly. One of the guys who was helping us build and create the system, Noah Glass, took the word Twitch, and he went down the dictionary. And we all looked at the Oxford English dictionary at the T-W’s, and we found the word Twitter. And Twitter means a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds. And we were like, that describes exactly what we’re doing here. So it was an easy choice, and we got twitter.com for some very low price, and we named the company Twitter.

Mr. Dorsey was concerned that the word “twitter” sounded too much like the pejorative “twit” and he hated the word “tweet”–”We’re like, ‘No it’s a status update.’” But users were saying “tweet” and eventually the company gave in. “I thought it was a little bit too cute for such a serious utility,” Mr. Dorsey said. “But it’s very approachable. It’s very usable, and it inspires great feelings around the service.”

Square was originally called “Squirrel,” until Mr. Dorsey found out there was a cash register operating system with the same name. The other names they considered seriously were Jane and Seashell. Then Mr. Dorsey remembered his dictionary trick and started in the “sq” section until he hit upon “square.”

“It feels solid. It feels inspiring. It feels trustworthy and conceptually it’s just gorgeous. It’s one of my favorite names, even more so than Twitter. It wraps up all the concepts that I want to see in the world,” he said.

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