Most  startups look for a name with catchy sound and catchy meaning.  Twitter is often mentioned as a name to emulate.

There are times when catchy sound is enough.  An opaque name, a name that is not a quick get, can often be the best choice.  One successful name in this class is Bluetooth.

Why is Bluetooth opaque if it consists of two recognizable English words?  Putting two words together performs linguistic magic.  The result:  a third, entirely new, word entitled to its own meaning in our mental dictionary.  Technically speaking, we’re not stitching the meanings {blue} and {tooth} together, we’re stitching the sounds.  Meaning then follows its own whim, drawing on {blue} and/or {tooth} if it wants but, as with the coining of ANY new word, entirely free to pluck another meaning out of thin air.  Our mental dictionaries are more like chalkboards than assembly lines or train yards;  a newly coined word is written there as a single pre-packaged symbol at the moment it comes into being.  And it’s importantly to note that ‘Bluetooth’ doesn’t violate rules of English word formation, violations that are the fingernails to that mental chalkboard.

At its launch, all we knew was that Bluetooth was a new type of wireless technology.  The meaning of ‘Bluetooth’ became that company and the set of experiences consumers had with its products and service, i.e. the brand.  It turns out ‘Bluetooth’ is the English translation of the nickname of 10th century king of Denmark Harald Blåtand.  This obscure fact plays no role in the modern meaning – but it does make for a nice story, another way to engage consumers in the brand name.

So why does Bluetooth make for a great name?  You can probably answer that question yourself.  It’s fun to say.  It has the strong stress pattern that English speakers love.  It has the euphonic u … u  repetition of a high back rounded vowel (diphthong actually, for the phonetically sophisticated) that speakers intuitively like for its resonance.  Interestingly, a string of names with strong brand recognition all happen to share this same pleasing sound.  Google, YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo.

Sound alone won’t turn a startup into the next ‘it’.  But a name that resonates in the mind is a pretty good asset for a new company seeking instant name recognition.