How Companies Got Their Names

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By Hank Moore, Corporate Strategist

Companies are named for the simplest of purposes, often for ease and recognition factors.  Companies should create monikers that let customers clearly know what they do or at least make the public curious to learn more.

Good company names ring true to company values, offer something for the marketplace to aspire, and differentiate each company from the others.

The best company names are clear, direct, and without trite jargon.  Business is a mirror of life and offers opportunities to free enterprise.  Many of the most respected corporate names have clarity and long shelf lives.  Often, the great names ring new meanings into old words, phrases, and ideas.

Here are examples of how memorable company names (and thus strategies) evolved

7-Eleven, originally called Totem, was renamed in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Amazon.com, Inc. was originally named Cadabra, Inc. but was changed when it was discovered that people sometimes heard the name as “cadaver”.  Since the Amazon River is one of the largest in the world, the name suggests large size and was also selected because it begins with “A” and therefore would show up near the beginning of alphabetical lists.

Arm and Hammer’s logo represents Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metal working, adopted from the Vulcan Spice Mills owned by co-founder James A. Church.

Bridgestone was taken from the last name of founder Sojiro Ishibashi.  Translating his last name from Japanese into English, Ishi means Stone and Bashi means Bridge but translates to “bridge of stone”.

Comcast comes from the words “commercial” and “broadcast”.

CVS originally stood for customer value stores.

Ebay was originally part of the Echo Bay Technology Group.  The domain name EchoBay.com was taken by Echo Bay Mines, a gold mining company so it was shortened to founder Pierre Omidyar’s second choice, Ebay.com.

IBM stems from the company’s original name, International Business Machines.

Lego comes from the Danish phrase, “leg godt” which means “play well”.

Nabisco was shortened from the original name, National Biscuit Company.

QVC stands for quality, value, and convenience.

Pepsi Cola was first introduced as “Brad’s Drink” in New Bern, N. Carolina in 1892 by Caleb Bradham who made it at his drugstore where the drink was sold.  In 1898, it was renamed after the digestive enzyme pepsin and kola nuts used in the recipe.

Reebok is Afrikaans for the grey rhebok, a type of African antelope.

Sharp was named for one of its founder’s first inventions, the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil.

Skype, a telecommunications application software product was originally named Sky peer-to-peer, which was then abbreviated as “Skyper”.  However, some of the domain names associated with “Skyper” were already taken.  By dropping the “r”, domain names for Skype were available.

Sony came from the Latin word for sound, “sonus”.  It was also chosen for the English slang word “sonny” since the founders, Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, considered themselves to be “sonny boys”, a loan word used in Japan which was connoted as smart and presentable young men.

Starbuck’s was originally was to be called Pequod, after the whaling ship in the novel, “Moby-Dick” but some of the co-founders rejected the name.  Instead, the name of the chief mate on the Pequod was chosen instead:  Starbuck.

Verizon is a combination of the Latin word veritas (truth) and horizon.

Virgin Records was the name suggested to founder Richard Branson because they were new at the record business.

Volkswagen, the German words for “people’s car” in English was originally created in 1937 by the German Labour Front and designed by Ferdinand Porsche who had been trying for years to get a manufacturer interested in a small car suitable for a family.  Prototypes of the car were called the “KdF-Wagen”, the abbreviation for the German words, Kraft durch Freude, which is “strength through joy” in English.

Here are the characteristics and philosophies of good company names:

  • Focuses upon the customer.
  • Honors the employees.
  • Shows business as a process not a quick fix.
  • Portrays their company as a contributor not a savior.
  • Clearly defines their niche.
  • Says things that inspire you to think.
  • Compatible with other communications.
  • Remains consistent with their products, services, and track record.

Hank Moore has advised over 5,000 client organizations including public sector agencies, small businesses, non-profit organizations, and 100 of the Fortune 500.  Contact Hank by phone at 713-668-0664, by email at hankmoore4218@sbcglobal.net, or visit his website at www.hankmoore.com.  Hank’s new book “Houston Legends” can be ordered at www.houstonlegends.net.

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