When we started Kudos, we thought the name we had chosen was pretty much “does what it says on the tin” – we wanted to increase the visibility of research, and help researchers build their reputation, i.e., gain more kudos for their work. But it has become apparent over the years that the name and its intended meaning are not understood by everyone. For some, it was a case of “lost in translation” – did you know that, in Finnish, “kudos” means “tissue” (or “layer of the skin” as someone at a conference once memorably announced to me)? It also appears not to be a familiar word to many for whom English is their first language; very commonly people will refer to us as Kudo (and, on looking it up, I have now learned that you actually can have one “kudo” and two “kudos”, though “kudos” also functions as a singular noun.)
Being asked the story behind the name again recently – by a new member of our team – got me thinking about other companies in our sector with interesting names. So I contacted a few other organizations and asked if they had a story to tell. Here are the fascinating insights I’m able to share with you as a consequence!
- Ripeta – thanks to CEO Leslie McIntosh for explaining “Ripeta means a polite form of ‘repeat’ in Italian. For example, Ripeta la domanda is a polite way of asking someone to repeat the question. While in Italian the word is pronounced ‘Ree – pay – tuh’, many people say ‘Ree – peh – tuh’ So, our name came to be Ripeta as this is such a nice word to represent our company mission of improving the reproducibility and rigor of science. Also, the Ripeta.com domain was available 🙂
- ResearchFish – CEO Sean Newell: “I sometimes do tell prospective customers the story of how we got our name, but not because it’s an amusing story — in fact I start by saying “I wish I could tell you an interesting story about how Researchfish got its name” and then tell the very uninteresting story, and finish with “told you it wasn’t interesting”, which usually gets a laugh or two. The story goes that we wanted to call the product something hip, relevant, edgy, on the money, and so on and because of the nature of business, gathering together vast and nebulous quantities of disparate research outcome data, we thought of “Research Net”. We all felt good about this and no doubt did a few high fives, or the British equivalent of missing each others’ palms and then looking a bit awkward, but then one eagle-eyed techie spotted that Research Net was taken already (or at least the domain name was taken). He then joked “well, if we can’t have net, how about fish?”. We all laughed resoundingly. Oh, what a wit! Isn’t he terribly clever?! How droll indeed! There may have been wine. I am somewhat vague on what precisely happened next.”
- Publons – Managing Director Andrew Preston (also now Product Director of Web of Science): “I did a PhD in physics. In physics you get to know the fundamental (quasi)particles like photons, phonons, electrons, etc. You also get to know the pressure to publish and the resulting temptation to salami slice your results into more and more smaller papers. The joke was always that at some point you’d slice the salami so fine you’d get to the minimal unit of publishable material — the “publon”. For us what we set out to do was always about incentives and we thought of researcher outputs — whether articles, reviews, or anything else — as being made up of publons. I’d joke about this all the time with a professor I got to know well — Pablo Etchegoin. He died shortly before we started the company so in some way it could be thought of as a tribute for him too.” Co-founder Daniel Johnston adds “within two weeks of the first discussions we had the name, first pitched as:photon – quanta of light
electron – quanta of charge
publon – quanta of publication”
- Morressier – CEO Sami Benchekroun actually already shared the Morressier story with the Kitchen, in this 2018 post by Alice Meadows: “I’m an avid sailor and have always greatly admired Bernard Moitessier who, in 1968, was on track to win a round-the-world yacht race, but elected to opt out of it as he did not want to be part of the commercialization of sailing. Moitessier’s determination, passion for his craft, and ethos of going against the grain appealed to me. So, when we were brainstorming names for our company, I was inspired to combine part of Moitessier’s name with “more research”, which is how Morressier was born.”
- Quartzy – Derek Gregg, Director, Marketing and Sales: “Our founders like to say that Quartzy came about because it’s the highest scoring first word you can play in Scrabble.”
- Zanran – Director Jon Goldhill: “Zanran is an easy case. We were looking for a 6-character word that was free as a dot-com. Nothing obscene in any known language. And my wife came up with this. Works!”
- Quertle – Andy Friedheim, Head, Business Development: “Our founders, Vicki Burnett and Jeff Saffer are adventurers, explorers, and birders, who, in their travels to Costa Rica, came upon the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). In Mayan culture, the quetzal was believed to bring wisdom to mankind, so it was natural to adopt this vibrant bird as our company mascot. Playing off the alliteration, our company name ‘Quertle’ is a combination of the words ‘Query’ and ‘Article’. Our main product offering, Qinsight – is an AI-based biomedical literature discovery platform; helping answer questions about published biomedical literature.”
- Citavi – Managing Director Hans Siem Schweiger: “The idea was to create a program for knowledge organization for students and researchers, and the first implementation was already in the mid-1990s at the University of Düsseldorf under the direction of Hartmut Steuber. The name of the program at that time was still LiteRat, which had several references. First, the obvious reference to literature, second, the English bookworm is a “Leseratte” in German, a “reading rat”, and finally, it is a reference to a packrat, which was also the name of a PIM program at that time. However, the funding for the project ran out, and no new funding sources could be found, so the project became quiet for a while. But in the mid-2000s the right people were found to bring it back to life, this time as a commercial product. Hartmut Steuber was on his way back to Germany from Zurich. In Zurich he had just made a toast to the founding of the company with Peter Meurer and Thomas Schempp. Only one thing was still missing: a new name for the program. They had talked their heads off and agreed that LiteRat should be replaced, but they hadn’t come up with a brilliant idea yet. Sitting in the train, Hartmut conjugated the Latin verb citare – and lo and behold it had a past tense form that was a perfect fit: Citavi – “I cited”.”
- Writefull – Co-founder Juan Castro: “Being language enthusiasts building a language tool, we wanted a play with words. We wanted the name to cover the concept of writing, and the idea of a complete, full language check. ‘Write’ + ‘full’ gave Writefull. This name had a ring to it thanks to ‘rightful’, and we liked how it played with the English morphology; a nice language twist.”
- Gigantum – CEO Tyler Whitehouse: “When we started the company we were really focused on how to improve the “upward spiral” of science, the idea being that individual results in general build on previous ones and the main problem is in having the proper edifice for this kind of construction. This is especially true around code and data, and the product was built to provide a kind of edifice. We also knew that people working together is a crucial component to scientific progress. Finally, we are all big fans of Isaac Newton and he has a well known and attributed quote about his own accomplishments which is “If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants”. The idea of his quote is far older though, and goes back to a latin phrase which is nanos gigantum humeris insidentes, which refers to dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants. So, we decided to call the company Gigantum, which has gone fairly well except for a few things:
– Pronunciation varies wildly.
– Almost nobody gets the connection to the origin story without us telling it
– The most common misspelling is gignatum
(These last points resonate with me – the distinction between the UK pronunciation of Kudos, “queue-doss”, and the US “coo-doze”, often causes confusion. I sometimes find myself adopting a sort of transatlantic pronunciation, “queue-dose”. And in addition to the misspelling I mention above, Kudo, we also often get the antelope treatment – Kudus! Maybe we should have picked some spiralling antlers for our logo rather than our butterfly – which, incidentally, signifies the butterfly effect and the idea that small actions can have a big impact.)
Is there a good story behind your organization or project’s name? Please share it in the comments if so!