Pinterest.  Skinput.  Shutterfly.  Bioneers.

These four names involve a similar type of sound-and-word play, changing in the initial sound of an existing word to form a new word. Two different strategies are in play here, however.  One strategy is successful.  The other … painful.

Pinterest and Skinput both take a word that begins in a vowel and add one or more consonants.  (In technical terms, both add an onset to an onset-less syllable.  English syllables consist of:  (optional onset +) nucleus (+ optional coda).)



The addition of the consonants allows for a second word to be parsed out amidst the original word:   Pinterest: pin + interest.   Skinput: skin + input.

That’s the problem.  Every time your brain encounters one of these names it has to parse once, then redo the parse in a different way. Moreover, these parsings spit out meaningless items:  What is a p- ? What is a -terest?  What does sk- mean?   Word formation and word processing in natural language doesn’t work like this.  A word is stored as a whole unit in the brain the first time it is encountered.  We don’t parse them apart to understand them.  When forced to do this twice with a fabricated name, our language processors revolt.  Names like Pinterest and Skinput feel awkward every time we encounter them.

In contrast, the names Shutterfly and Bioneers are formed by changing the first consonant of a word to a different consonant (i.e. substituting one onset for another;  the digraph ‘sh’ represents a single consonant sound).  The result is a new word, but one that passes the test as a possible word of English.  That’s because we recognize that the names Shutterfly and Bioneers, wholesale, echo similar, already existing words of English.  We are not forced into an unnatural piecemeal double reparsing with these names.  And the echo of recognition adds an extra layer of evocative association to the name.

Shutterfly            Bioneers
^                         ^
butterfly               pioneers

We see this over and over again in fabricated names.  Names that require parsing against the rules of natural language don’t work.  Novel names that follow the rules of natural language are names that sound good and feel good.