Whatsinaname.com

(Note: All domains rendered in bold are all real names registered at one time by someone. Source: Whois.Net.)

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.” So wrote Shakespeare around the year 1595.

The question is still a good one. It is also increasingly important due to the shortage of available domain names. According to some sources, roughly 26 million domain names (almost half of which are .com domains) have been registered, and new ones are being taken at a 60,000-per-day clip.

It is possible to get your dream domain, though. Now that the initial furor has subsided, many folks who grabbed domains because “they were there” are letting their registrations lapse, and some words have never been taken.

Some general Web naming rules might make your life easier and enhance your users’ ability to find you.

If you can, make the name a single word or combination of a couple words.

Amazon.com, Yahoo, Google, Cher, and eBay are all prime examples of this principle. If the list of words gets too long, you may have trouble getting something memorable. For example, 1-800christmasshopping.com or 1abovethebesttravel.com are a little long to easily roll off the tongue. Blue Mountain Arts and national brands such as Salomon Smith Barney are obvious exceptions to this rule, but even so Blue Mountain has changed its URL to bluemountain.com.

The new maximum length for domain names is 67 characters (including the “.com” portion); it is not necessarily best to use all of them.

If at all possible, use easy-to-spell words.

A URL such as memoiersandmiscellany.com is just begging for trouble (note that whoever registered this domain misspelled “memoirs”). If you cannot use plain English words — and no one ever said all plain English words were easy to spell — made-up words with English, Latin, or Greek roots at least make aural and visual sense to most U.S. Internet users (witness Diageo, Intel, and Accenture). Something like reykjaviklive.com or akubacudjoe.com would be a bit tricky to type in after one hearing on the radio.

Non-alphabet characters should be used with much care.

You cannot register a domain name with any characters other than the 26 standard English alphabet letters, numerals 0-9, and the hyphen (-). Still, enough confusion can arise from the use of these.

Take, for example, the domain name 4-web-guide.com. If a friend told you about the site and said “four web guide dot com,” what would you type in? Probably “forwebguide.com” or “fourwebguide.com.” Unless you’ve seen the name in print, you’re not likely to pick up on the numeral “4” and the hyphens. Granted, your friend could have said, “the number four dash web dash guide dot com,” but then you’d pretty much be lost anyway.

Abbreviations carry their own hidden dangers, for many of the same reasons.

Southwest Washington Medical Center can be found at the cryptic address of www.swmedctr.com. This simple URL is astounding in its complexity, especially because “sw” typically stands for “southwest,” but in this case it stands for “Southwest Washington.” Imagine trying to find that one through guesswork.

One problem with abbreviations is that you’re never sure how to use them, since in everyday speech we tend to unabbreviate them. This is a tricky ploy for a Web site, unless you’re IBM or as clever as Procter & Gamble, which uses both pg.com and pandg.com. (Incidentally, procterandgamble.com is registered to someone else.)

Sometimes, in the end, it all comes down to money.

If you have the financial resources to brand the name lxqljs.com on the national consumer mind, you can do it. You’ll just be fighting an uphill battle.

All that said, it’s not impossible to find the perfect name that makes sense online and describes what you do in a nutshell. Just remember that users in the real world will rarely hear your name as clearly or in as appropriate a context as your friends or colleagues, and they rarely get to hear the neat story behind what it means. They will hear it on the radio, read it in a wrinkled newspaper over someone’s shoulder, or overhear it at a cocktail party — and have to remember it well enough to type it in when they get to their computer.

Now, what was your name again?

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