As anyone who has launched a product or service can tell you, finding a good brand name for their precious new creation is not straightforward. (The only thing more fraught, perhaps, is logo design.) Sometimes it’s a process of expansive ideation followed by analytic synthesis; sometimes it seems to happen in a flash. Most often, however, it’s a combination of both. After swimming in a thick soup of possibilities, variants, and ridiculous-sounding words, the right option eventually surfaces.
One of my early tasks here at Rebus was to name our in-development digital reading platform—what we now know as Rebus Ink. At that time, our existing ‘brand’ was Rebus Community, itself an amalgam of software, resources, processes, and people. In the case of the reading platform, however, it was going to come into the world in the form of open source software, delivered using a SaaS model. A different naming taxonomy therefore seemed to make sense.
But which one? Should we be literal, evocative, practical, poetic? Should we draw on classical references, or would that be too Western-colonial? Pick a word from another language, or would it smack of cultural appropriation? Riff on “rebus” and come up with a linguistic puzzle, a play on words, a game for the mind? Invent a portmanteau ourselves, or be neo-algorithmic and use Wordoid?
an unfinished shortlist
Ultimately, we went through a lot of these different processes together, and produced many possibilities. The shortlist included Rebus Cora, Rebus Loupe, and Rebus Render, as well as Jot, Impara, and Auger. Each had a specific (and sometimes clever) derivation; each was meant to evoke curiosity and compel prospective users. But none of them grabbed both our heads and our hearts, and none seemed quite Rebus-y enough.
One day, planning some ongoing website development, Hugh and I were looking at the list of top-level Rebus domains that we owned. (Over time, we have purchased several, anticipating various eventualities.) Our two active websites were at rebus.community and rebus.foundation. What about following the same model for our digital reading platform? Our eyes landed on .ink, and after rolling “Rebus Ink” around in our ears and on our tongues, we laid it out as a wordmark. Hmm.
a reading platform for writers
From the beginning, we have imagined our open reading platform as a way to making scholarly reading richer, more enjoyable, and more productive. Rare is the occasion in which a student, researcher, or professor reads an academic text without having in mind an eventual piece of writing. Reading is a creative process—both in the ways we synthesize new ideas and in the ways that it prompts us to write a new text.
In landing on Ink as a product name, we realized we had always had this understanding of reading in the back, middle, and front of our minds. Ink—the liquid stuff—is what links reading and writing. It flows, it makes a mark, it gives shape to meaning. (It can also leave meaning open to interpretation, as Dr. Rorschach and others explored.) Rebus Ink—the coded stuff—does the same, linking the process of reading with the process of creating new written works. It closes a loop, and opens up possibilities. (And, as our open API gets attention from the development community, those possibilities will expand.)
ink that won’t fade
Sure, the liquid kind of ink may eventually become anachronistic (or maybe not). And as e-ink becomes a day-to-day reality, our collective understanding of the word may change. Nonetheless, reading and writing aren’t going anywhere, and the tools of scholarship keep marching towards both digital and openness. As that continues, we’re excited for Rebus Ink to support scholars everywhere. We’ll keep developing the tools for collecting and reading and annotating and citing, and you keep making your own indelible and meaningful marks.