Microsoft's new search engine may not vanquish Google, but it certainly has captured a huge share of attention among everyone interested in brand names.

In case you missed the news reports or the relentless ads, Microsoft launched Bing at the end of May. Almost immediately, there was speculation about what the name was intended to mean or evoke.

Here's what Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said about the name:

A new search product requires a name that clearly signals the arrival of something unique. We chose Bing because it's short, memorable, and symbolic of the moment when information and opportunity come together and a simple search becomes an engine for taking action.

The symbolism is opaque to me, but I do know that bing is hardly unique. Webster's Third New International Dictionary, for example, gives multiple definitions of bing. It's a term from British dialect, derived from Scandinavian languages, meaning "a heap or pile." (The Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms specifies that the pile is usually metallic, as in "a bing of lead ore.") In American slang, a bing is a solitary-confinement cell. There's an archaic sense of bing that means "go." And as an interjection, bing is imitative of "a sharp ringing sound." I could make a case for any of these definitions being appropriate for an Internet search engine.

Urban Dictionary's contributors expand the bing universe. It's a small bong for smoking marijuana; it's cocaine; it's a nickname for Binghamton, New York; it's someone who's rushing a fraternity and hasn't yet been dinged (rejected).

Widen the circle, and you encounter Bing cherries, named for a Chinese orchard foreman, Ah Bing, who worked in Oregon in the 1870s. Or maybe you remember another Northwestern Bing: Harry "Bing" Crosby, the crooner and Bob Hope co-star. Crosby took his nickname at the age of six from a newspaper comic strip, "The Bingville Bugle." (And "bing" as a slang term for cocaine comes from Crosby's hit version of "White Christmas.")

Austrian-born Rudolf Bing (1902-1997) was general manager of New York's Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years; his surname may have derived from the town of Bingen in Germany. Chandler Bing, played by Matthew Perry, was one of the central quartet on the long-running American TV sitcom Friends. (Trivia note: Chandler's middle name was Muriel.) Stanley Bing, the pen name of Gil Schwartz, is a humorist and business columnist for Fortune magazine. When Microsoft launched Bing, Mr. Bing posted a press release on his blog feigning "moderate outrage" and proposing a merger between the Bings, with Mr. Bing serving as "the logo, corporate symbol, and spokesman."

To fans of The Sopranos, Bing has only one possible association: the Bada-Bing go-go bar—often shortened to "the Bing"—operated by Silvio Dante, Tony Soprano's consigliere. The bar took its name from a catchphrase popularized by James Caan as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

There's a Bing energy drink whose Web address is The Bing typewriter, introduced in 1927 by Bing Werke in Germany, was a lightweight "Lehrmittelschreibmaschine" (educational tool) now coveted by collectors.

Tech-savvy observers have noted Bing's family resemblance to Ping (a tool for updating online social networks), Ning (a service for creating a social network), Zing (an online music-delivery service), and Twing (a search tool that launched and flopped within less than a year; a tarp shelter called Twing is still on the market). There seems to be something about the -ing ending that rings a bell with technology startups. Or maybe it's the suggestion of gerundial verbishness that appeals. ("What are you doing?" "I'm Tw-ing!")

By association, Bing may remind you of bingo—the game of chance or the interjection shouted when a game is won or a hunch confirmed. Or perhaps your mind wanders to bling, slang for a bit of sparkling ornamentation.

Or could Bing be an acronym? John C. Dvorak, a columnist for, asked his Twitter followers what "Bing" stood for; answers included "Big Investment, No Goals," "Be Innovative, Not Geeky," and the people's choice: "But It's Not Google."

OK, maybe it's not Google, but Bing is a bang-up name: easy to spell, fun to say, and rich with mostly positive associations. And the negative associations? You can be sure that Microsoft has the cash and the clout to roll right over them.

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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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