What’s in a Name? Trends in Creating Robot and AI Company Names
June 12, 2019      
Margaret Wolfson and Jacqueline Lisk

With the explosion of new robotics and artificial intelligence technology companies comes the emergence of AI naming trends. While professional brand namers know to avoid trends like the plague, familiarity with popular approaches can help fire up creative thinking.

Robotics and AI has yet to crack the hard nut of brand naming. So, thinking that is powered by human intellect, not algorithms, is exactly what is needed. Let’s take a look at some of the trends in naming for robotics and AI companies.

AI at play

How lucky that AI is a versatile vowel pairing. Startups are using “ai” in all corners of their company names — beginning, middle, and end. Doing so is an easy way to communicate your business’s purpose.  Examples include AIbrain (eye brain), Aicumen Technologies (acumen), Clarifai (clarify), Mighty AI (mighty eye) and OpenAI (open eye).

OpenAI and Mighty AI are examples of artful wordplay, as the word eye suggests vision and seeing. OpenAI is especially strong as it embraces a secondary meaning — learning something new and surprising. As these examples show, wordplay, when it works, is magic. But don’t force it. Contrived wordplay will lead to rolling eyeballs 🙄.

Straight up

Likewise, some AI or robotics companies opt to avoid clever wordplay and go for very descriptive names such as Robotiq, iRobot, UBTech Robotics, and Universal Robots. Nothing wrong with being straightforward, though overly descriptive marks cannot be trademarked and have a high probability of trademark refusal.

It’s an allusion

Names, like people, have personalities, or what is known in the verbal identity business as “tone of voice.” When it comes to robotics and AI naming, many companies request “tech tonalities” But that’s not the only tonal choice possible.

AI names can sound techy, but they can also be more allusive. Allusive names—which have no tie to the underlying goods or services—can be great starting points for brands to weave memorable brand stories.

In the AI space, Rainbird is a strong example of an allusive name. A rainbird is a type of bird said to be able to predict rain with its cries. What a name for an AI company. Plus, the word makes you think of peace and nature, which is basically the opposite of computers and robots. There is something appealing about this. As branding guru Marty Neumeier says, when everyone is zigging, zag. In this industry, Rainbird is a real zag of a name.

Or take Sherpa, an AI-powered virtual personal assistant, ready to guide you. Vicarious is thought-provoking, too. It develops artificial general intelligence for robots. This name gives rise to an interesting question: are robots living vicariously through us, or are we living through them?

Natural English names, especially one-word names like Sherpa and Vicarious, have little chance of getting an exact match dot com. Using ai as a domain name extension can be a cost-effective way to snag a URL. For the record, .AI is a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), associated with the country Anguilla. But that hasn’t stopped founders from using it (nor should it).

That’s deep, man

Some names stick closer to the script. CognitiveScale. DataRobot. DeepScale. DeepMap. CloudMinds. DeepMind. You don’t need to be an algorithm to spot these naming patterns.

Robotics and AI company founders are also big fans of numbers. Makes sense. Numbers mean data and science, among other things. Oculus360, Figure Eight, and H20.ai all use numbers to cleverly convey meaning.

A dog named Mike

Tech companies love to give their robots or AI platforms human names like Hank, Alexa, Siri, Watson, Einstein, and Aiden (wordplay noted). Doing so humanizes the technology. On some level, it may make consumers and even company executives more comfortable interfacing with the device or platform. It is also just good branding. You want people to have a personal connection with your product? Name it like a person.

TechCrunch notes that all sorts of startups embrace this trend. You’ve probably heard of Oscar (insurance), Jeeves (question-answering search platform), and Casper (mattress company). One of the pluses for this naming approach — though it is approaching saturation — is people generally know how to pronounce human names. That is in contrast to another, probably accidental AI naming trend: choosing monikers — like NVIDIA, Baidu, and NIRAMAI — that the world is going to say or spell wrong. That reminds us of another trend: CAPITALIZATION.

If Shakespeare can do it, why not me?

A tried-and-true naming strategy is creating a coined word in which you fuse together two real words to create a new one. The clever ones convey obvious meaning, even though you won’t find the word in a dictionary. The master of the neologism is Shakespeare, who reputedly created more than 1,700 — including such wonders as cold-blooded, new-fangled, moonbeam, and eyeball.

And though few can rival Shakespeare in this department, AI technology founders are giving it a go. There is Unbabel, Applitools, and nuTonomy, a clever name for a self-driving car company. For more brand naming tips and techniques on naming an AI or robotic platform, visit here.

Build me, then I will name me

Speaking of brand naming, it would be remiss not to take a cursory look at the existing AI platforms for naming brands, among them Logopony, Namelix, Neuronaming, Namium, and NameMesh. You can be the judge of these names.

In closing, we suggest you ponder this: shouldn’t an AI tool for naming itself just be called Me? Or maybe Me, Myself, and AI?

margaret wolfson namingAbout the authors: Margaret Wolfson is founder and chief creative of River + Wolf, an award-winning New York City naming agency with clients around the globe. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Jacqueline Lisk namingJacqueline Lisk, founder of JR Lisk, Inc., is a writer, marketing strategist, and naming specialist who regularly partners with River + Wolf. She serves as a Technology Board Advisor for Aicumen. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.