What’s in a (company’s) name?

James Joyce

Today, I was reading the blog for RockMelt, a cool new social browser that makes Google’s chrome look, feel, and act a lot slicker.  I came across a post:

Behind the $12 Name – How RockMelt Came to be RockMelt

I remembered, fondly, how we came up with the name for Plumtree Software, a company I started with a few friends in 1997.   I have been asked about the name quite a few times over the years.  After explaining, inevitably, I got either blank stares, or saw heads shaking in disbelief.  

The name came from James Joyce’s epic, Ulysses.  Two of the original founders were Joyce fans, one was an English major from Berkeley with a passion for Ezra Pound.  So, why not?  In one of the early chapters of the book, Bloom, the main character walks into a shop to buy a kidney that he is planning on cooking for breakfast.  He buys it, and notices that the kidney is wrapped in a newspaper that features an advertisement for George Plumtree’s potted meat.  Think of it as an Irish corned-beef hash…  The ad reads:

What is a home without Plumtree’s Potted Meat?
Incomplete.
With it an abode of bliss.
Manufactured by George Plumtree, 23 Merchants’ quay, Dublin, put up in 4 oz pots, and inserted by Councillor Joseph P. Nannetti, M.P., Rotunda Ward, 19 Hardwicke street, under the obituary notices and anniversaries of deceases. The name on the label is Plumtree. A plumtree in a meatpot, registered trade mark. Beware of imitations. Peatmot. Trumplee. Moutpat. Plamtroo.

And that’s that… the real story of the company’s name.  How can one not want a home that’s an “abode of bliss” while being keenly aware of cheap imitations?  The guys at Sequoia knew the name’s origin and didn’t seem to mind.  And I don’t think that George Plumtree (or James Joyce) ever expected this whimsical entity to be trading on NASDAQ under the ticker: “PLUM”.

Moral:  when naming your company, make it meaningful to you, and special to you.  It’s sort of like naming a child… and a company is your child, after all.  It’s your choice, but, remember, the child will have to live with the name for the rest of his life.  

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About Kirill Sheynkman

I am the Senior Managing Director of RTP Ventures. I am a three-time founder of software startups including Stanford Technology Group, Plumtree Software and Elastra (an acquisition, an IPO, and a failure): spent most of my life building companies and working with VCs. Now a VC myself. Still not 100% sure I like it.

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