The Second-Biggest* Brand-Naming Myth

Nancy Friedman
4 min readApr 6, 2023

“We have to own the pure dot-com domain.”

If I’ve heard it once in my career as a name developer, I’ve heard it a hundred times. It’s a zombie rule — a holdover from the late-1990s dot-com gold rush — that, sadly, has many founders and executives in its thrall. The rule’s been dead for years, but it still nibbles away at brains.

Instead of a truism, how about the truth: You don’t need to own YourCompanyName dot com. You may even have a stronger brand if you choose something other than com after the period.

In the beginning, back in the 1990s, dot-com was pretty much the only generic top-level domain (gTLD) available if you wanted to plant your business on the internet. (“Com” is short for “commercial.”) The alternatives — .edu, .net, .org, .gov, .mil — identified specific types of entities: schools, computer networks, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, the armed forces. If your business didn’t fit one of those categories, you were limited to dot-com.

But the options expanded dramatically beginning around 2010, when a registry called Donuts set up shop to offer “the newest and most creative online naming options.” Donuts practiced what it preached: its own domain was Donuts.domains. And after a 2020 acquisition it rebranded as Identity.digital. That’s right: dot-digital, not dot-com.

Today, there are more than 1,500 top-level domains to choose from. Your domain can be a country code (.ee for Estonia; .id for Indonesia). It can be a profession or interest marker (.art, .dental, .bank). It can be sort of metaphysical (.life, .now, .cool, .today). There’s even a domain — .sky — that could work for pilots, astronomers, meteorologists, or certain Polish-surnamed people.

Choosing an alternative to .com is not necessarily an act of desperation. It can be a shrewd branding move.

I used the Iceland country code, .is, when I named Post + Beam, which calls itself an innovation agency. Not only is a nontraditional domain a good fit for an innovator, but .is also lends itself to sentence creation: Post + Beam is communication. Post + Beam is design.

When Google picked Alphabet as the name of its holding company, in 2015, it didn’t use Alphabet.com for the domain. (That domain was already taken by BMW.) It opted instead for abc.xyz — a shorter, wittier, and more memorable choice. To borrow an old Apple ad slogan, abc.xyz said “Think Different.”

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.