Mispelling a common word is one of the biggest naming trends at the moment. The rationale is often based on making the name ownable and sometimes it is just about being a bit quirky.
Last week, we saw another one hit the market with Chhirp the talk of the startup world. Is this a clever naming strategy or is misspelling a word just not enough to differentiate?
There a plenty of brands that have taken the deliberate misspelling naming approach, such as Tumblr, Lyft, Digg and flickr. Sometimes it was to secure a URL, standout or just to be a bit quirky. Regardless of the rationale, if you take this naming approach, you need to ensure the name you choose is ownable and defendable.
The brains behind Chhirp is The Chord Project Inc, a New York based startup founded by former Googlers Jeff Baxter and Thomas Gayno. Chord has also released Shhout – there definitely seems to be a strategy to own the naming convention of doubling the ‘h’.
But is doubling the ‘h’ enough to distinguish ‘Chhirp’?
There are several brand usages on ‘Chirp’ including an open-source amateur radio programming tool, Internet provider, and a sonar technology/product from Garmin. However, the one that is perhaps the closest is an app called ‘Chirp’.
Chirp describes their product as “an incredible new way to share your stuff — using sound. Chirp sings information from one phone to another.”
Chhirp says their app “lets you upload 12-sec sound clips on Twitter instead of just the traditional 140 characters.”
A quick search on the app store reveals ever more variations of chirp, some just using explanation points as their differentiation.
Naming is one of the most challenging steps in creating a brand. You need a strong criteria that explores what types of names will engage your audience, connect with your brand proposition, be short and catchy and most of all, will get agreement amongst stakeholders. This is never easy!
Once you settle on a name that ticks all your criteria, you need check to do a thorough check of its usage, and ability to trademark, especially in your category.
Changing or dropping a letter alone won’t help you achieve ownership. In fact, under trademark laws in most countries, businesses cannot adopt a name or logo that is ‘confusingly similar’ to an existing trademark. Ultimately, the law is designed to so that consumers can easily identify the producers of goods and services and avoid confusion.
Chhirp vs Chirp vs Chirp!!! or any other variation of this, certainly doesn’t avoid consumer confusion – especially in the app store.
If you’re creating a name for your product or service you can do some simple checks for usage. Start with a web search for the name and try different spellings and combine it with words associated to your product or service. Also check relevant sites where your audience will search for your brand, for example the app store if you are creating an app. Then check the trademark database – in Australia it is ATMOSS. You can log in as a guest and do some simple searching of current trademarks and see relevant categories.
Once you’ve done some initial searching, take your short list of 2-3 names to a specialist IP lawyer to do a thorough search. It might cost a bit more upfront, but it will potentially save you significant legal costs, as well as wasted brand investment and potential future brand damage.
Managing Partner, Strategy