Let's Bid a Fond Farewell

To Off-Beat Corporate Names

Another little bit of the tech bubble vanished last week when Wam!Net laid its name to rest. Exclamation points, apparently, are no longer in vogue.

Washington area companies never had a monopoly on over-the-top corporate names -- Blue Martini Software and ZoomZoom Ltd. are based elsewhere, after all. But some of the local start-ups that came of age during the late 1990s really got into the spirit of the thing.

"It was kind of a creative, cool name at that time. And it worked very well," said John Heller, president of what is now called Netco, the private Herndon company that was Wam!Net.

But that was a different chapter in the company's evolution, he said. The name no longer fits with its buttoned-down focus on providing network services, such as designing complex communications systems for federal agencies. (Officially the name was changed from Wam!Net Government Services Inc. to Netco Government Services Inc.)

In the sober daylight of a recession and then a wayward recovery, some companies didn't have to change their names. They went out of business or were bought first.

E.spire Communications Inc. jokingly became known as Expire Communications before the Herndon telecom company's assets were liquidated two years ago. PF.Net Communications Inc., a Reston fiber-optics company, changed its name to the equally weird Velocita before seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2002. The name OneMain.com never shed much light on that company's purpose. (For the record, it was an Internet service provider that was sold to EarthLink in 2000.) And PlanetGov Inc. lost its wacky cachet earlier this month when the Chantilly technology services firm became Apptis Inc.

"During the boom, 1 million domain names were being registered a day, so people just started registering whatever they could," said Naseem Javed, president of ABC Namebank International, a New York corporate brand consulting firm. "People said 'Wow, let's go with dumb and dumber names,' and the dumber it was the better it was."

As for Wam!Net, all is not lost. The company's 600 employees felt some nostalgia, "but beyond that, I don't think there's a lot of attachment" to the name, Heller said. Besides, part of it will live on. The company's non-government business was sold to Internet company Savvis Communication Corp., which has kept the name -- and the exclamation point.

-- Ellen McCarthy