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What’s in a name?

Some of my regular readers (hey Mum!) may be wondering what’s with the name zizee? Well about six years ago1 I was wanting to build a software startup and was racking my brain for a good name. All I was coming up with was nada, bubkis, zip – but all these domains were taken. Zing! See what I did there? If you missed it you’d better go back and check it out cause it was awesome! Ok, back with me? Good, please do try and keep up!

It was around this time my girlfriend Nellie had a vivid dream about me and in this dream she was calling me Zi-Zi.

Anyways3… , I thought to myself “Jimmy, you are looking for a name for your startup” and I was like “Yeah…”, and then I responded “what about ZiZi?”, “What about it?” I replied.  “Well, you could use ZiZi as the name” and I was like “huh?”…

…several minutes of inane banter later…

So, I checked out the domain and was already good and occupied :-( But in a classic internet twist I misspelt the word and found that was available. So I grabbed it, knocked up a logo, stuck it up on the web with a “coming soon…” teaser page. It was at that point that things stalled a bit. But you know what? I think this could have been a good thing as I’m guessing the whole web has been sitting on the edge of their seats for the past six years, and are all teased up real good by now. And now I’m read to pounce, like a tiger!

With all the recent excitement of rebooting my start-up adventure, I found myself beginning to question this name. I was wondering if this name is something I should build upon, or should I go for something a little more serious/sensible. I mean, I have had this domain for years, always intending to use it to stake my place out on the net, but I have been thinking (obsessing?) about this for the last six years. During that time I had grown quite attached to it, but I’d had some lukewarm responses about it. So was it really a good name? Or was I so close to it that I was suffering from some faux Stockholm syndrome like mental state. Could that dream have been just a dream and not a omen from the gods as I originally thought? Was it important anyway? Didn’t Will Shakespeare write “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet“?

It might smell as sweet, but if it was called the "Festering Pustule" bloom, would you really rush to smell it?

Where can one turn to for sage advice? From people who won’t just tell me what I want to hear? From people who I respect? From people I don’t have to pay? Turns out, there is a great place on the web where these sort of questions can be posted – The Business of Software forum.

Now, I suspect that many (most?) people who are interested in software start-ups have heard of Joel. He’s sort of the poster boy of small startups and he’s been blogging about the people side of software development for a lot longer than you could use the word “blogging” in a sentence and not have people look at you funny. He’s also seems like a good guy and from what I can tell he gives a lot back by helping others who are attempting to start their own start-ups. Anyway, one of the things Joel has done is to set up a online discussion forum called “The Business of Software” which is basically a great place for those of us trying to make a living from software to post questions to others who are in the same boat. It’s a community really, for software developers talking about businessy things like marketing, people management, accounting etc. So I made my first post to BoS the other day to get some opinions on the name ZiZee.

The feedback was all pretty positive, which that made me pretty happy. For those interested the full discussion can be read here. For those who skipped reading the discussion the results can be summarised thusly:

Positives (Yay!) :-)

  • It’s short a pronounceable five letter domain which are hard to come by because of all the domain squatters5;
  • It’s a cool name“;
  • It’s suitably web 2.0ish :-P ;

Negatives (boo!) :-(

  • When people hear it spoken people might assume it is spelt ZiZi, and not be able to find it on the web;
  • It’s apparently a childish French word for penis. Score! (wait, what is this doing in the negative pile?);

The first negative can be addressed with trying to make sure that when ZiZi is typed into a search engine, that comes up. How does one do this? I have some ideas4, but they deserve exploration in their own post some time down the track.

That leaves us with one other negative. The penile issue. I can just about hear you all say “why is this a negative, it’s pure gold!”. And normally it wouldn’t bother me that ZiZi is a French slang word for Penis, normally that sort of news would just make me smile. But there is one potential drawback that I’m seeing at the moment. ZiZee’s first product is of course Zimmersion, an online vocabulary builder. It is designed to be suitable for learning any vocab from any other language so naturally I want to tap the French market (and every other one at that). Tempted much? Tempted much?

What does this mean to the future of in France? I’ll have to do some research further into this. I’m thinking that If it is equivalent of childish English words for penis like doodle, dicky etc I think it could be passed off as endearing, maybe even a talking point. If it is more offensive then I may have a problem as I’m keen for school children to be using Zimmersion, and it might be difficult to get parents / schools to pay for something from a company named after a euphemism for Penis. Mind you, it wasn’t the name that did Wang Laboratories in, so I’m not going to let it keep me up at night.


Jimmy McGrath.

1 I’ve had a few false starts :-)
2 What happened to no. 2?
3 I’m sure those astute viewers are going to connect the dots, but I’m going to ram it down your throat like they do CSI so no one gets left behind.
4 one way is to write the word zizi on this site a number of times. How many can you spot children?
5 I know it’s sort of ironic as I sort of squatted on the name ZiZee for the past five years without using it, but I always knew I’d be back!
6 Whilst on the topics of names I’d point out that this blog has nothing to do with the book that I haven’t read called “The Startup Garden” which has an annoyingly (and coincidentally) similar name. And here I was thinking how original I was being. Meh, can’t win ‘em all7.
7members of the audience may have noticed that there wasn’t really a 6 footnote, but I couldn’t find a good spot to chuck that titbit in. Does anyone know if it’s bad form8 to include a footnote reference inside another footnote?
8Probably not as bad as making a recursive footnote reference8

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  1. Carolyn Gibbons says:

    Hey Jimmy, I googled zizi and was inunadated with “French slang for willy” references. Perhaps your alternative spelling of zizee is actually a saviour. Makes me wonder what Nellie’s dream was really about though…

  2. Jimmy McGrath says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    Yes, I did some googling myself and found the following:
    @ Wikitionary

    It looks like it’s all pretty tame though, with English equivalents like “winkle” and “willy”, so I’m thinking it’s going to be just fine.

    As to what else happened in Nellie’s dream, I’ll be a gentlemen and say no more :-)