Updated 12/27/2016: Conduent: The name for the business services company spun off by Xerox in 2017.
A&P: from Atlantic & Pacific in Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, a US-based supermarket chain. Once the largest grocer in the United States, A&P filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2010. The 151-year old company operates 395 stores around the Northeast under the brands A&P, Waldbaum’s, The Food Emporium, Super Fresh, Pathmark and Food Basics.
Accenture: derived from “Accent on the future”. The name was proposed by Kim Petersen, an Andersen Consulting employee in Norway, as part of an internal process to find a new name on the company’s forced split from Arthur Andersen, one of the “Big Five” accounting firms. Petersen explained his submission: “When trying to to come up with a new name for the firm, I thought of things like bold growth, operational excellence and a great place to work. Accenture rhymes with adventure and it seemed to capture all of this things”. Arthur Andersen was dissolved two years later following it’s complicity in the Enron fraud. (See BearingPoint; Braxton).
Acer: born as Multitech International in 1976, the Taiwanese computer company changed its name to Acer in 1987. The Latin word for “sharp, acute, able and facile”.
Adidas: from the name of German founder Adolf (Adi) Dassler. His partner and brother, Rudolf, departed after the Second World War following a bitter disagreement. He set up a rival company he called Ruda (Rudolf Dassler). Rudolf changed its name to PUMA Schuhfabrik Rudolf Dassler in 1948. It became PUMA, a public company, in 1986.
Adient: The name for Johnson Controls’ car seat manufacturing business to be spun of on October 3, 2016 with the ticker symbol ADNT. The name, according to Johnson Controls Vice Chairman Bruce McDonald, who will be CEO of Adient, is “a made-up word, but the company found that a Latin version of the word carries the meaning ‘to move positively toward a situation or a stimulus’.” (Automotive News, February 16, 2016).
Adobe: from Adobe Systems, named after the Adobe Creek that ran behind the house of co-founder John Warnock.
Aflac: the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the United States,founded in 1955 as American Family Life Insurance Company of Columbus. It became American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus a few years later, and from there very quickly to AFLAC in popular usage. The wretched Aflac duck of advertising fame was regrettably incorporated into the company logo in 2005.
Agere Systems: A spin-off of a spin-off. In 2001 Lucent Technologies spun-off its wholly-owned microelectronics subsidiary, naming it Agere Systems. The name came from a Lucent acquisition in 2000 of Agere, a small microelectronics company based in Texas. The name (pronounced a-GEAR) supposedly has its roots in the Latin verb ‘ago’ that means “to lead, to drive, to act”. Agere Systems was acquired by LSI Logic in 2007 after a short and rocky life. See: LSI
Agilent Technologies: name for Hewlett-Packard‘s test and measurement spin-off in 1999. Explaining the name, CEO Ned Barnholt said it is based on the word “agile”, a quality he wanted to build the new company around. It also owes a lot to Lucent Technologies, the high-profile AT&T spin-off a few years earlier. “Give us a Lucent” was the order to Landor, the naming company that came up with both names. Employees were more sentimental. They suggested Addison Technologies, a tribute to 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, the location of the original H-P garage.
Agility Logistics: formed in 2001 in Liverpool, UK. It was previously the logistics operation for ICI, the multinational chemical manufacturer. Owned by its management team, Agility provided logistics advice and solutions to a range of customers as well as its former parent. In May 2006 Agility was acquired by PWC* Logistics of Kuwait, which assumed the Agility name for a new global logistics company, formed by the merger of PWC Logistics with GeoLogistics of the US. Nice identity by Sven Seger at Siegelgale.
AirTouch: created by Addison of San Francisco for the spin-off of Pacific Telesis’ wireless division in 1994. This name broke the mold of the ‘com, tel, cell’ telecommunications names that were pervasive in the industry at the time. Acquired by Vodafone (see below) in 1998, the company become known as Vodafone-AirTouch PLC. Bell Atlantic, it’s wireless partner in the US, decided that it needed a new name other than AirTouch, claiming that it was difficult to pronounce, and so came up with the tongue-twister Verizon. Lucent, the AT&T spin-off, borrowed heavily from the AirTouch playbook upon its launch in 1996.
Akai: a consumer electronics company founded in 1929 in Tokyo, Japan. Named for its founder, Masukichi Akai.
Akamai: from the Hawaiian word akamai meaning smart or clever;the Internet company defines it as “intelligent, clever and cool”. Akamai provides a distributed computing platform for global Internet content and application delivery. The company was founded in 1998 by then-MIT graduate student Daniel Lewin, along with MIT Applied Mathematics professor Tom Leighton and MIT Sloan School of Management students Jonathan Seelig, Randall Kaplan and Preetish Nijhawan. Lewin was killed aboard American Airlines flight 11 which crashed in the September 11 attacks of 2001.
Alcatel-Lucent: from the merger between Alcatel of France and Lucent Tchnologies of the US in 2006. Alcatel derives its name from Société Alsacienne de Constructions Atomiques, de Télécomunications et d’Electronique. Lucent is a word that means, literally, “luminous, shining”. (See: Lucent).
Alfa Romeo: the Italian company was originally known as ALFA, an acronym for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili. When Nicola Romeo bought ALFA in 1915, his surname was appended.
Allegis: Short-lived name for the fly-drive-sleep travel enterprise created out of UAL Inc., the parent company of United Airlines in 1987. Lippincott and Margulies, the firm that came up with the name, said Allegis “conveys the central corporate mission of service and guardianship … through its relation to the word allegiant, meaning loyal or faithful, and aegis, meaning protection and sponsorship.” See blog post: Allegis, the name that died of shame.
Alphabet: Name for new holding company created by Google, August 2015. Alphabet CEO Larry Page wrote on the company website: “For Sergey and me this is a very exciting new chapter in the life of Google—the birth of Alphabet. We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!” See: The ABC of creative destruction
Altria: The explanation given for Philip Morris’s corporate name change to Altria Group in 2003 was that the tobacco name did not accurately represent the group’s evolving diversity that included Kraft Foods. It was argued that Altria, – based on the Latin word Altus meaning “high” – was sufficiently broad and non-specific to allow the company to diversify into different businesses in the future. Altria spun-off its majority stake in Kraft Foods in 2007, and with it went the rationale for the name change. Altria today is predominantly a tobacco-marketing business. Its NYSE ticker symbol remains MO – a reference to the Philip Morris name.
The feeble post-rationalization for the name choice was that Altria will aim high to reach peak performance. Something of an old chestnut of a name candidate, but beside the other finalist candidates of Marcade, Consumarc and Encordus, Altria is the best of the bunch.
Amazon.com: founder Jeff Bezos named the company Amazon after the world’s most voluminous river, the Amazon. He saw the potential for a larger volume of sales in an online (as opposed to a bricks and mortar) bookstore. An earlier candidate, Cadabra (from abra-cadabra) was abandoned after a lawyer suggested it might sound too much like cadaver. He was wrong.
AMD: Advanced Micro Devices.
Amgen: from the original company name, Applied Molecular Genetics. Amgen pioneered the development of novel products based on advances in recombinant DNA and molecular biology, and launched the biotechnology industry’s first blockbuster medicines.
AMN Healthcare: derived from American Mobile Nurses, the original name of the company.
Amoco: AMerican Oil COmpany – now part of BP. Survived for a while as BP Amoco after the 1998 merger. Billed as an “alliance of equals” it was anything but. The joke in the industry at the time went: how do you pronounce BP Amoco? Just BP, the Amoco is silent. Now it is, permanently.
AOL: from America On Line. The company was founded in 1983 as Quantum Computer Services. It now wishes to be known as Aol since its ejection from Time Warner in 2009 after their disastrous (really) merger in 2000.
Apple: “Executek,” “Matrix,” “Personal Computers Inc.” were among the names Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak considered for their company, according to Walter Isaacson in his newly-published biography of Steve Jobs. Jobs proposed “Apple” after returning from a visit to All One Farm in Chimacum, WA where he had helped tend for the apple trees. “I was on one of my fruitarian diets,” Jobs told Isaacson. “I had just come back from the apple farm. It sounded fun, spirited, and not intimidating. Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’”
Applied Industrial Technologies: Founded 1923 in Cleveland, Ohio, as The Ohio Ball Bearing Company. In 1953 the company changed its name to Bearings, Inc. By 1997 the company had diversified beyond bearings and was looking for a new name. After an unfortunate encounter with a naming company, Bearings held an employee contest. Applied Industrial Technologies was the winner, a name too long by at least six syllables. The company defaults to “Applied” in reference to itself. The company’s URL is applied .com. Applied Materials has reason to be irritated.
Aquila: from Aquila Energy, the once high-flying energy-trading arm of UtiliCorp United. In 2001, the Kansas City-based energy company spun off part of Aquila Energy (Aquila is Spanish for eagle) with an eye to divesting the rest sometime in the future. In the wake of the Enron flame-out the market for shares of unregulated power marketers crashed. In 2002, less than a year later, UtiliCorp repurchased all the shares it had sold and for some reason decided to renamed the entire company Aquila, Inc., even though it was back to basics for the energy company. After five years of restructuring Aquila was finally sold off in pieces to Great Plains Energy and Black Hills Corp in 2007.
ARAMARK: Like every business, ARAMARK started small. The year was 1936.The business vision of Davre Davidson was to put vending machines in factories and offices, then a novel concept. In 1959 the company became Automatic Retailers of America, or ARA for short. It continued to diversify and expand and in 1968 ARA was selected to serve over one million meals to thousands of athletes at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. To reflect its growing range of services, the company changed its name to ARA Services in 1976 and then to ARAMARK in 1994.
Arby’s: the enunciation of the initials of its founders, the Raffel Brothers. The partners wanted to use the name Big Tex, but were unsuccessful in negotiating with the Akron businessman who was already using the name.
ArcelorMittal: created by the merger of Arcelor and Mittal steel companies. Arcelor itself was the product of a merger in 2001 between Arbed (Luxembourg), Aceralia (Spain) and Usinor (France). Mittal is the surname of the charismatic CEO, Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, a British Asian steel magnate.
AREVA: created in 2001 in a three-way merger, the French energy company says its name comes from the town of Arévalo in northern Spain. The little town lies in the north of Ávila province at the junction of the Río Arevalillo with the Río Adaja. Arévalo was shorted to AREVA. The significance of the town to the French company is not clear.
Arm & Hammer: based on the arm and hammer of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking. It was previously the logo of the Vulcan Spice Mills in Brooklyn. When James Church, the son of Church & Dwight founder Austin Church, came to Church and Dwight from Vulcan Spice Mills, he brought the logo with him.
ASICS: athletic footwear company founded 1949 in Kobe, Japan by Kihachiro Onitsuka. He chose the name ASICS for his company in 1977, based on the Latin phrase “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano”, which expresses the ancient ideal of “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body”. Take a look at this remarkable video of the ASICS story.
Ask.com: formerly Ask Jeeves, search engine named after Jeeves, the resourceful valet in P. G. Wodehouse’ s series of books. Ask Jeeves was shortened to Ask in 2006.
Aston Martin: from the “Aston Hill” races (near Aston Clinton, a town in Buckinghamshire, England) where the company was founded, and the surname of Lionel Martin, the company’s founder.
AT&T: the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation officially changed its name to AT&T in the 1990s. 10
Atari: named from the board game Go. “Atari” is a Japanese word to describe a position where an opponent’s stones are in danger of being captured. It is similar, though not identical, to “check” in chess. The original games company was American but wanted a Japanese-sounding name.
Audi: Latin translation of the German name “Horch”, after founder August Horch. In English it is: “hark!”.
Avaya: On Oct. 2, 2000, the corporate telecommunications division of Lucent was spun off as Avaya Communication. Like Agere Systems, Avaya is a spinoff from a spinoff — a grandchild for Grandma Bell. “You will not find this name in the dictionary,” said CEO Donald Peterson. “It’s up to us to fill in with meaning.” Landor’s fingerprints are all over that carefully prepared ’empty vessel’ statement. In fact, Avaya is straight out of the Jain dictionary – it is a Sanskrit word meaning “perceptual judgment”.
Aviva: international bland name selected by British insurance group CGNU. CGNU itself was created by the 2000 merger between Norwich Union and CGU (which, in turn, was created by the 1998 merger of Commercial Union and General Accident). This collision of letters came to an end in 2002 when CGNU decided to unify its 50 trading names around the world under the Aviva name. The spire of Norwich cathedral contained in the Norwich Union identity designed by Wolff Olins lives on anachronistically in the Aviva symbol, a curious historical vestige to carry forward into a new international brand. As utterly generic as the name is, a nice summary of its rationale appears on the company’s website. In Consignia-spooked Britain they handled the name change well.
BASF: from Badische Anilin und Soda Fabriken. Anilin and Soda were the first products. Badisch refers to the location in the state of Baden, Germany (Black Forest region).
BEA Systems: specialized in enterprise infrastructure software products known as “middleware”, which connect software applications to databases. Founded in 1995, the company was acquired by Oracle in 2008. The name was derived from the first initial of each of the company’s three founders: Bill Coleman, Ed Scott and Alfred Chuang.
BearingPoint: rename of KPMG Consulting. The KPMG unit was formally spun off on February 8, 2001 and went went public on the NASDAQ market at $18 a share under the ticker “KCIN.” On October 2, 2002, the company was re-named BearingPoint, chosen out of around 550 names, some suggested by employees. A bearing point is a nautical term for setting directions to a specific destination. “In BearingPoint we created a brand that reflects what our clients say they value most: a business partner who helps them set direction, gain access to the right information, transfer knowledge, and achieve results for long term success”, said Linda Rebrovick, CMO. Given the interesting nautical origin of the name and the nice proposition of precision and direction, the company then junked it by sponsoring a golfer —and the erratic, shambling Phil Mickelson at that (OK, so he won the Masters in 2010). BearingPoint had absolutely no brand direction. The company sailed into bankruptcy and was broken up in 2009. See Accenture; Braxton.
BHP Billiton: a mining and natural resource company created by the merger of Broken Hill Proprietary, named after the Australian town of Broken Hill, and Billiton, a mining company.
Black & Decker: named after founders S. Duncan Black and Alonzo G. Decker.
Blackberry: Research in Motion struck gold when it developed a portable wireless device that allows users to get and send e-mail, phone and browse the Internet. Why Blackberry? David Placek, president of Lexicon Branding, says he steered away from names that were directly linked to the word “e-mail,” since consumer research shows that word can increase clients’ blood pressure. Instead, his team looked for something “more natural, more entertaining and more joyful that might decrease blood pressure.” Someone (who?) pointed out that the tiny buttons on the device keyboard looked like a collection of seeds, Lexicon began exploring different fruity names: strawberry, melon and an assortment of vegetables were all bandied about, with no success. The company finally settled on blackberry because the word is pleasing to most ears and the device, at the time, was black.
BlackBerry sticks better than something like ProMail or MegaMail. If you want to get attention, you don’t describe something, you create a new concept.
Blaupunkt: the German company Blaupunkt (“Blue dot”) was founded in 1923 under the name “Ideal”. Its core business was the manufacturing of headphones. If the headphones came through quality tests, the company would give the headphones a blue dot. The headphones quickly became known as the blue dots or blaue Punkte. The quality symbol would become a trademark and the trademark would become the company name in 1938.
BMW: Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Factories).
Boeing: named after founder William E. Boeing. It was originally called Pacific Aero Products Co.
Bosch: named after founder Robert Bosch. Robert Bosch GmbH (full company name) is a German diversified technology-based corporation.
BP: formerly British Petroleum, now BP. (The slogan “Beyond Petroleum” has incorrectly been taken to refer to the company’s new name following its rebranding in 2000).
Braxton: In 2002 Deloitte Consulting announced it would become Braxton after its planned separation from parent company Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. The name was taken from Braxton Associates, a firm Deloitte acquired in 1984. The split was canceled in 2003 because of adverse conditions in the capital markets and the Braxton name went back into the vault. See Accenture; BearingPoint.
Bridgestone: named after founder Shojiro Ishibashi. The surname Ishibashi means “stone bridge”, or “bridge of stone”.
Broadview Security: short-lived name for Brink’s Home Security business that was spun off from its parent, The Brinks Company, on October 31, 2008. As a condition of the spin-off, Brink’s Home Security was required to change its name within three years. Eight months later, on July 2nd, 2009, the company changed its name with Landor’s help to Broadview Security. “Broadview Security provides a strong platform to continue our growth through the expansion of our security offerings,” said CEO Bob Allen at the time. Six months later his company was swallowed up by Tyco and folded into competitor ADT. Not a top notch name.
Broadwing: Cincinnati Bell, the onetime Baby Bell, joined the ‘new economy’ in 1999 by acquiring broadband provider IXC. CEO Richard Ellenberger said the new entity, renamed Broadwing, had “the capability to transform our industry.” Then, well, you’ve heard it all before. The economy took a dive, the company’s debt piled up, its stock plunged from $41 a share to just over $1, and suddenly bankruptcy was looming. In September 2002 the board pushed out the CEO, sold off the broadband assets and became plain old-fashioned Cincinnati Bell again. Four years after Broadwing’s birth, it was almost as though the company had never existed.
CA Technologies: from the initials of Computer Associates, founded in 1976 as Computer Associates International, Inc. by Charles Wang. The company legally changed its corporate name to CA, Inc., in February 2006. It tweaked its name again in May 2010 to CA Technologies, an acknowledgement that it moved too quickly to shed the taint of an accounting scandal and picked a name that doesn’t say enough about what the company does. Although it isn’t changing its name legally, the company said it will use CA Technologies as the brand for all of its products and marketing. Marianne Budnik, CA’s chief marketing officer, said the old name “wasn’t descriptive enough.” (see: CA’s initial name mistake).
Cadillac: named after the 18th century French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, founder of Detroit, Michigan.
Canon: originally Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory the new name (1935) derived from the name of the company’s first camera, the Kwanon, in turn named after the Japanese name of the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy.
Castrol: Castrol motor oil gets its name from a blend of castor and oil. Castor oil was a common base for engine lubricant in the opening decades of the 20th century. Castrol was first produced by the Wakefield Motor Oil Company of London in 1909. The company changed its name to that of its product in 1960. Burmah Oil Company bought Castrol in 1966, and BP bought Burmah-Castrol in 2000.
Caterpillar: originally Holt Tractor Co, merged with Best Tractor Co. in 1925. A company photographer is said to have exclaimed aloud of a Holt tractor that the tracks’ movement resembled a caterpillar moving along the ground. Sounds an unlikely explanation.
Casio: from the name of its founder, Kashio Tadao, who had set up the company Kashio Seisakujo as a subcontractor factory.
CenterPoint Energy: the Houston-based regulated energy delivery business that remained when Reliant Energy spun off its retail electric sales business as Reliant Resources in 2002. The Reliant Energy name went with Reliant Resources as a marketing brand. What was left was renamed CenterPoint Energy (see: GenOn).
Chase: the banking division of JPMorgan Chase, Chase is named after Salmon P. Chase who served as US Treasury secretary and chief justice under President Abraham Lincoln. Founded as Chase National Bank in 1877, it merged with The Manhattan Company in 1955 to create Chase Manhattan Bank. In 1996, Chemical Bank of New York acquired Chase Manhattan Bank, retaining the Chase Manhattan name. The corporation merged with J.P. Morgan & Co in 2000 to form JPMorgan Chase. The blue Chase brand has become highly visible in California and the West following its acquisition of Washington Mutual in 2008, all 822 former WaMu branches having been converted to Chase.
Chemours: Name for DuPont’s performance chemicals spinoff. It’s a play on ‘Nemours’, part of the DuPont company’s original name – I. E. du Pont de Nemours and Company. See “DuPont misfires with Chemours”.
Chevrolet: named after company co-founder Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-born auto racer. The company was merged into General Motors in 1917 and survives only as a brand name.
Chrysler: named after the company founder, Walter P. Chrysler.
Cigna: Cigna (NYSE: CI) is a global health service company and the fourth-largest health insurer in the U.S. market based on enrollment. Cigna, formerly CIGNA, was formed by the 1982 merger of Connecticut General and Insurance Company of North America (INA) The letter CG and INA were artfully rearranged as CIGNA. Founded in 1792 in Philadelphia, INA was the first marine insurance company in the United States.
Cingular: as in singular – one-of-a-kind, unique; late lamented name for the combined wireless properties of BellSouth and SBC Communications created in 2000. When SBC acquired AT&T in 2005 it was the beginning of the end for Cingular.
Cisco: short for San Francisco. It has also been suggested that it was “CIS-co”: Computer Information Services was the department at Stanford University where the founders worked.
Coca-Cola: derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the ‘K’ of kola to ‘C’ to make the name look better.
Coleco: began as the Connecticut Leather Company in 1932, it became a highly successful toy company in the 1980s, known for its mass-produced version of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and its video game consoles, the Coleco Telstar and ColecoVision. Assets acquired by Hasbro.
Colgate-Palmolive: formed from a merger of soap manufacturers Colgate & Company and Palmolive-Peet. Peet was dropped in 1953. Colgate was named after William Colgate, an English immigrant, who set up a starch, soap and candle business in New York City in 1806. Palmolive was named for the two oils (Palm and Olive) used in its manufacture.
Comcast: from communications and broadcast.
Compaq: variously, from computer and “pack” to denote a small integral object; or: Compatibility And Quality; or: from the company’s first product, the very compact Compaq Portable.
Conduent: The name for the business services company spun off by Xerox in 2017.
John Kennedy, Xerox vice president and chief marketing officer, explained on the Xerox website: “The name Conduent is what we call a “coined” name, meaning it is a name we’ve derived with inspiration from several places. First, our BPO company connects our clients with their constituents – their consumers, employees, patients, commuters or citizens. It works as an extension of businesses and governments to process millions of interactions securely on an individualized basis. Increasingly these are conducted anywhere and anytime to meet constituent demand for seamless, flowing digital interactions. The result is higher customer and citizen satisfaction, creating value for our clients.
So when it came time to encapsulate all of this into a name, words like conduit, confluence and constituent come to mind. We explored nearly 6,000 options before landing on our final choice, and through that work, Conduent emerged as a name that seemed perfect for our new BPO Company.”
Consignia: Short-lived and controversial name for Britain’s Post Office Group. What began as an ostensibly routine rebranding of a government-owned enterprise in 2001 was transformed by a noxious mix of ingredients into what one newspaper called “one of the most disastrous corporate rebrandings ever undertaken”. Consignia was scrapped in 2002 and renamed Royal Mail Group. See ‘A seasonal recipe for Consignia – a naming stew’.
CVS: The CVS name once stood for Consumer Value Stores; though Thomas Ryan, former CEO, has said he considers it to stand for “Convenience, Value and Service”. The US pharmacy chain is now part of CVS Caremark.
Daewoo: Daewoo means “Great House” or “Great Universe” in Korean. Prior to the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998, Daewoo was the second largest conglomerate in Korea after Hyundai Group. There were about 20 divisions under the Daewoo Group, some of which survive today as independent companies. Daewoo was forced to sell off its automotive arm, Daewoo Motor, to General Motors in 2001. The Daewoo nameplate was kept for South Korean and Vietnamese markets until 2011, when it was discontinued.
Danone: Greek-born Isaac Carraso founded a yoghurt business named Danone in Barcelona, Spain in 1919. The name is a variation on the Catalan nickname for his son, Daniel. His son took over the family business and established Groupe Danone in France and the US, where it is known as Dannon.
Datsun: the Japanese vehicle manufacture was first called DAT, from the initials of financiers Den, Aoyama and Takeuchi. Changed to DATSON to imply a smaller version of their original car, then (as SON can mean “loss” in Japanese) again to DATSUN when they were acquired by Nissan Motor Corporation. In 1981 Nissan changed the car brand to Nissan in pursuit of a global strategy. See Nissan.
DEC: Digital Equipment Corporation, a pioneering American minicomputer manufacturer founded by Ken Olsen Ken who became noted for his short-sighted observation about personal computers: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” The company was universally referred as DEC (“deck”), but it stubbornly insisted on calling itself Digital. It was taken over by Compaq in 1998. Compaq merged with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 2001.
Dell: named after its founder, Michael Dell. The company changed its name from Dell Computer in 2003.
DHL: A global leader in international express and logistics, DHL was founded in San Francisco in 1969 by Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn.
Diageo: Diageo PLC, a UK-based alcoholic drinks company, was formed by the merger of Guinness PLC with Grand Metropolitan PLC (GrandMet), a hotel chain with brewing interests, in 1997. Guinness had already absorbed a number of other companies, including Distillers PLC. The neutral-sounding and fairly meaningless name ‘Diageo’ was chosen is explained as follows by the company: ‘the name “Diageo” combines the Latin word for “day” and the Greek word for “earth”. Together, the two words mean celebrating life every day, everywhere.’
DotComGuy: Remember DotComGuy? Probably not. Mitch Maddox was a former computing systems manager who legally changed his name to DotComGuy on January 1, 2000. His project was to live for one year without leaving his house in Dallas, Texas, ordering all food and necessities off the Internet and having them delivered. The house was monitored 24/7 and several video feeds were streamed online. United Parcel Service, 3Com, Network Solutions, Piper Jaffray, Travelocity and Peapod were among the sponsors. His email address was email@example.com. Despite attracting a lot of media attention initially, interest faded and the project was abandoned. DotComGuy changed his name back to Mitch Maddox and auctioned off the domain name DotComGuy.com, now an IT services company.
Duane Reade: named after Duane and Reade Streets in lower Manhattan, where the chain’s first warehouse was located. Acquired by Walgreens in February 2010.
Dynegy: the Natural Gas Clearinghouse changed its name to Dynegy in 1998 to reflect its self-proclaimed positioning as a dynamic energy company.
eBay: Pierre Omidyar, who had created the Auction Web trading website, had formed a web consulting concern called Echo Bay Technology Group. “Echo Bay” didn’t refer to the town in Nevada, “It just sounded cool”, Omidyar reportedly said. Echo Bay Mines Limited, a gold mining company, had already taken EchoBay.com, so Omidyar registered what (at the time) he thought was the second best name: eBay.com.
EDS: Electronic Data Systems, founded in 1962 by former IBM salesman Ross Perot. Acquired by HP and now known as HP Enterprise Services. RIP.
EQT: leading natural gas exploration and production company based in Pittsburg, PA. Renamed in 2009 by RiechesBaird. Formerly known as Equitable Resources, EQT is based on the company’s NYSE ticker symbol.
Embraer: Brazilian manufacturer of small aircraft, its name is an abbreviation of Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Brazilian Aeronautics Company).
EMC: The data storage company derives its name from the initials of the founders, Richard Egan and Roger Marino. It has been suggested that another partner provided the third letter (C). EMC adopted the EMC² notation to refer to Einstein’s equation, E = mc².
Enexus Energy: created by branding company RiechesBaird for Entergy, the New Orlean’s-based energy utility as the name for the planned spin-off of its nuclear power plants. Enexus alludes to energy, the nexus of rising global demand and the need for clean energy, and the US.
Engility: a government services company spun-off by L-3 Communications in July 2012. The name is derived from “engineering” and “agility” says the company (See post: The unbearable lightness of agility).
Entergy: A combination of enterprise and energy, the name created for Middle South Utilities of New Orleans by Addison of San Francisco in 1989.
Enron: contraction of Enteron, the name originally recommended by Lippincott Margulies for an energy holding company formed by the merger of InterNorth and Houston Natural Gas in 1985. Changed hurriedly to Enron for reasons everyone knows by now.
EOG Resources: formerly Enron Oil & Gas Company, EOG is one of the largest independent (non-integrated) oil and natural gas companies in the US. The last reference to Enron in a corporate name.
ESPN: Entertainment and Sports Programming Network
Epson: Epson Seiko Corporation, the Japanese printer and peripheral manufacturer, was named from “Son of Electronic Printer”
Esso: the enunciation of the initials S.O. in Standard Oil of New Jersey.
Eteris: the name for the new company created by Lippincott for the merger of Applied Materials of the US and Tokyo Electron. According to a press release (July 7, 2014), Eteris is derived from the concept of eternal innovation for society. Pronounced eh-TAIR-iss, the name “embodies the spirit of what will drive the new company and speaks to what makes the combination unique.”
Exelis: The name developed by Lippincott for ITT’s defense & information solutions business which manufactures good things such as radar, ejector seats, and “smart” bomb components. It was part of a three-way split by ITT that also included its water treatment unit, which will be named ITT Xylem (ITT will be dropped later). As the company explained, “Exelis is an energetic name that is derived from the word “excel,” which is rooted in “ex,” meaning “out in front” or “beyond.” The name Exelis signifies the expeditionary spirit, exceptional foresight and strong commitment to proactively anticipating and adapting solutions to our customers’ most critical problems.”
Exxon: a name contrived by Esso in the early 1970s to create a neutral but distinctive label for the company. Within days, Exxon was being called the “double cross company” but this eventually subsided. (Esso is a trademark of ExxonMobil.) Esso had to change its name in the U.S. because of restrictions dating to the 1911 Standard Oil antitrust decision.
Fair Isaac: named after founders Bill Fair and Earl Isaac. Fair Isaac Corp., which develops the FICO credit scoring system, changed its name to FICO in 2009 to simplify its brand, according to the company. “By adopting the name FICO for the whole company, we’re following the lead of many of our clients, who have called us FICO for years,” said CEO Mark Greene in a letter to clients and colleagues. The legal name of the corporation remains Fair Isaac Corp.
FCUK: French Connection United Kingdom. Too contrived to be true. What came first, the name or the obnoxious marketing idea?
FedEx: contraction of Federal Express Corporation. The Fedex brand name was introduced in 1994 along with the a new logo (go to the creative source, Lindon Leader, if you want the real story of the arrow in the logo). Federal Express Corp. became FDX Corporation in January 1998 with the acquisition of Caliber System. Caliber enabled FedEx to offer other services besides express shipping. Caliber subsidiaries included RPS, a small-package ground service; Roberts Express, an expedited shipping provider; Viking Freight, a regional freight carrier serving the Western United States; Caribbean Transportation Services, a provider of airfreight forwarding between the United States and the Caribbean; and Caliber Logistics and Caliber Technology, providers of logistics and technology solutions. FDX Corporation was founded to oversee all of the operations of those companies and its original air division, Federal Express. In January 2000, FDX Corporation changed its name to FedEx Corporation and renamed all of its subsidiaries. RPS became FedEx Ground, Roberts Express became FedEx Custom Critical, and Caliber Logistics and Caliber Technology were combined to make up FedEx Global Logistics.
Ferrari: from the name of its founder, Enzo Ferrari.
FICO: Fair Isaac does a Fedex. Fair Isaac Corp., which develops the FICO credit scoring system, changed its name to FICO in 2009. “By adopting the name FICO for the whole company, we’re following the lead of many of our clients, who have called us FICO for years,” said CEO Mark Greene in a letter to clients and colleagues. See: Fair Isaac.
Fiat: acronym of “Fix it again Tony”, or Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) if your want be more accurate.
Firestone: Tire company named after its founder, Harvey Firestone.
Fujifilm: Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain, has given named it’s name to hundreds of businesses and organizations. Fujifilm is probably the best know such company outside of Japan.
Garmin: named after its founders, Gary Burrell and Dr. Min Kao.
Gartner: named after its founder, Gideon Gartner, who left the firm in 1992 to start Giga (named from Gideon Gartner).
GE: It is thanks to financier J.P.Morgan that the company founded on the inventive genius of Thomas Edison does not bear his name today. Edison’s original company, Edison General Electric, was controlled by Morgan. In 1892 he merged it with a rival, the Thomson-Houston Electric Co., without Edison’s consent and installed Charles Coffin, Thomson-Houston president, as CEO. To add insult to injury, the new company was named plain General Electric, minus Edison. General Electric was one of the original 12 companies listed on the newly formed Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896 and still remains after 114 years, the only one remaining on the Dow. The U.S. trademark for “GE” was first filed on July 24, 1899.
Genetech: from Genetic Engineering Technology.
GEICO: acronym from Government Employees Insurance Company.
GenOn: GenOn Energy (NYSE: GEN), one of the largest competitive generators of wholesale electricity in the United States, was created out of the 2010 merger between Mirant Corporation of Atlanta and RRI Energy of Houston.
The two partners in this ‘merger of equals’ have vastly different origins. Mirant’s history stems back to Jan. 19, 2001, when Southern Company, the Atlanta-based producer and distributor of electricity, spun off its independent power producer and energy marketing business as Mirant (see: Mirant).
RRI Energy has a long but messy history. It traces its origins back to Houston Electric Light and Power, founded in 1882. For nearly a century nothing much of note happened. Then in 1976 HL & P formed a holding company, Houston Industries, to give HL & P and its affiliates greater financial and organizational flexibility.
In 1997 Houston Industries merged with NorAm Energy to become one of the United States’ largest integrated energy companies. In 1999 the company was renamed Reliant Energy, Inc.
With the restructuring of the electric market in Texas in 2002, the company spun off its retail electric sales business (with other unregulated energy services) as Reliant Resources. The Reliant Energy name was retained by Reliant Resources as a marketing brand. The remaining regulated energy delivery business adopted the name CenterPoint Energy.
In 2004, Reliant Resources decided to change its name to Reliant Energy to ‘align’ the company’s corporate name with its Texas retail brand name.
In 2009, Reliant Energy’s retail electricity business was purchased by NRG Energy along with the Reliant Energy name. The surviving wholesale business was renamed RRI Energy, Inc, which brings us to 2010 and the merger with Mirant.
Glaxo: a dried milk company set up in Bunnythorpe, New Zealand, by Joseph Edward Nathan. The company wanted to use the name “Lacto” but it was similar to some already in use. Glaxo evolved and was registered on 27 October 1906. GlaxoSmithKline was a 2000 merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham.
Goodyear: named after the founder of vulcanization, Charles Goodyear, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber company was founded by Frank Seiberling in 1898.
Google: accidental misspelling of the mathematical term googol, proposed to reflect the company’s mission to organize the immense amount of information available online. BackRub was the working name before Google was decided on.
Gulfstream Aerospace: named after the Gulf Stream current that starts in the Gulf of Mexico and crosses the Atlantic.
Häagen-Dazs: Name was invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus of the Bronx “to convey an aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship”.
H&M: popular chain of fashion stores named from Hennes & Mauritz. In 1947, Swedish businessman Erling Persson established Hennes, a ladies’ clothing store, in Västerås, Sweden. “Hennes” is Swedish for “hers”. In 1968, Persson bought the Stockholm premises and inventory of a hunting equipment store called Mauritz Widforss. The inventory included a collection of men’s clothing, which prompted Persson to expand into menswear.
Harpo Productions: production company founded by Oprah Winfrey. Harpo is Oprah backwards.
Hewlett-Packard: founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard allegedly tossed a coin to decide whether the company they founded would be called Hewlett-Packard or Packard-Hewlett. Dave Packard lost.
Hitachi: Japanese electronics company; the name is based on two Chinese characters hi, meaning “sun” and tachi, meaning “rise”. 10
Honda: from the name of its founder, Soichiro Honda.
Honeywell: from the name of Mark Honeywell, founder of Honeywell Heating Specialty Co. It later merged with Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company and was finally called Honeywell Inc. in 1963.
Hospira: a global specialty pharmaceutical and medication delivery company. The name is derived from the words hospital, spirit, inspire and the Latin word spero, which means hope. Apparently selected by the company’s employees.
Hotmail: internet email service; named based on the letters “HTML” – the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing. 10
HSBC: international financial services company founded in Hongkong; from Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.
HTC: Taiwanese manufacturer of mobile handsets for companies such as Verizon and Orange, HTC a contraction of its original corporate name, High-Tech Computer. (See: Get over it-initials can be names, too).
Hulu: The word ‘hulu’ means many things to many people. To some, it’s a great online resource for watching their favorite TV shows and movies. But to a native Hawaiian, it means “hair.” To someone who speaks Swahili, it means “cease.” To an Indonesian, it means “butt.” While these translations are accurate, the folks behind naming hulu.com were inspired by a couple of Mandarin Chinese definitions instead – “interactive recording” and “a hollowed-out gourd used to hold precious things.” Despite this often misunderstood word, the website is rapidly becoming one of the biggest names in streaming video. Well, except in Indonesia…[With thanks to Mental Floss]
Hyundai: a Korean chaebol. The name connotes the sense of “the present age” or “modernity” in Korean.
IBM: named by Tom (Thomas John) Watson Sr, an ex-employee of National Cash Register (NCR Corporation). To one-up them in all respects, he called his company International Business Machines.
IKEA: a composite of the first letters in the Swedish founder Ingvar Kamprad’s name in addition to the first letters of the names of the property and the village in which he grew up — Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd. The whole brand is wrapped in the Swedish flag and the Hobbit-like language. See: Have you met my new chair? His name’s Martin.
Impiric: In 2000 Wunderman Cato Johnson changed its name to Impiric in an attempt to escape its direct-marketing heritage and attract new lines of business. Sixteen months later it changed its name to Wunderman, acknowledging the name change ended up confusing clients and hurting — rather than helping — brand-recognition. Impiric was based on the word empiric – derived from experiment and observation rather than theory; it also means a medical quack or charlatan.
Infineon Technologies: derived fromInfinity and Aeon. The name was given to Siemens’s Semiconductor branch (called Siemens HL or Siemens SC/SSC) when it was spun off.
Infosys: an Indian software company, the name is derived from Information Systems.
Insperity: Administaff, the Houston-based business that provides human resources services for client companies, changed its name to Insperity in February 2011. According to CEO Paul Savardi the change was precipitated because prospective clients mistakenly assumed the company was involved with temporary staffing and not professional employment. Created by Addison Whitney from the fusion of the words “inspire” and “prosperity.”
Integrys: the name for the energy company created out of the 2007 merger between Peoples Energy and WPS Resources. Green Bay, Wis.-based WPS agreed to pay $1.5 billion in stock for Peoples, which supplies natural gas to Chicago and the northern suburbs. “In Integrys, we have a name that reflects our commitment to open and honest business practices, prudent decision-making and a strong financial foundation,” said Larry L. Weyers, 61, CEO of the new company in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Intel: from Integrated Electronics. Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore initially incorporated their company as N M Electronics. Intel purchased the name rights for $15,000 from a company called Intelco. (Source: Intel 15 Years Corporate Anniversary Brochure).
Intelsat: a communications satellite services provider based in Washington DC. Originally formed as International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT), it was an intergovernmental consortium owning and managing a constellation of communications satellites providing international broadcast services. As of 2007, Intelsat owns and operates a fleet of 51 communications satellites. In June 2007 BC Partners announced it had acquired 76 percent of Intelsat for about 3.75 billion euros.
Johnson & Johnson: Originally a partnership between brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson in 1885, the addition of brother Robert Wood Johnson I led to formal incorporation as Johnson & Johnson in 1887.
JVC: Japanese electronics company; from Japan Victor Company (Victor Company of Japan, Ltd) was founded in 1927 as a US subsidiary, The Victor Talking Machine Company of Japan, Limited. JVC developed the VHS video cassette format.
Kaleida: Kaleida Labs, a multimedia software company, was one of two joint ventures formed between IBM and Apple Computer as part of a broad technology alliance established in 1991. The other JV was Taligent (see reference below), founded to develop a microcomputer operating system to run on any hardware platform. Both ventures were created as part of a broad effort to break the stranglehold on the personal computer business enjoyed by software powerhouse Microsoft Corp. and chip giant Intel Corp. Kaleida was closed in 1995. Taligent was absorbed by IBM in 1998. The Kaleida name (from kaleidoscope) lives on as Kaleida Healthcare.
Kawasaki: from the name of its founder, Shozo Kawasaki.
Keysight Technologies: Another spinoff of a spinoff – Keysight Technologies is the name accredited to Catchword for Agilent Technologies’ electronic measurement business it expects to spin off in early November 2014. “Keysight reflects our rich heritage — a direct line from both Hewlett-Packard’s standards of integrity and innovation and Agilent’s premier measurement business,” said Ron Nersesian, president and chief executive officer of Keysight. Agilent was spun off by Hewlett-Packard in 1999 (See: The old, old story of a new corporate name).
KFC: short for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is popularly believed that the company adopted the abbreviated name in 1991 to avoid the unhealthy connotations of the word ‘fried’. Commercials in the early 2000s tried to imply that the abbreviation stands for “Kitchen Fresh Chicken”, but in 2007 KFC decided to return to the original “Kentucky Fried Chicken” branding (although the corporate name remained KFC). In short, totally confused.
Kinko’s: from the college nickname of founder, Paul Orfalea. He was called Kinko because he had curly red hair. The company was bought by FedEx for $2.4 billion in 2004. For a transitional period it was known as Fedex Kinko’s until it became Fedex Office in June 2008.
Kodak: both the Kodak camera and the name were the invention of founder George Eastman. The letter “K” was a favorite with Eastman; he felt it a strong and incisive letter. He tried out various combinations of words starting and ending with “K”. He saw three advantages in the name. It had the merits of a trademark word, would not be mis-pronounced and the name did not resemble anything in the art.
Komatsu: Japanese construction vehicle manufacturer named from the city of Komatsu, Ishikawa, where it was founded in 1917.
Konica: it was earlier known as Konishiroku Kogaku. Konishiroku in turn is the short for Konishiya Rokubeiten which was the first name of the company established by Rokusaburo Sugiura in the 1850s.
KPMG: from the last names of the founders of the firms which combined to form the accountancy cooperative: Piet Klijnveld, William Barclay Peat, James Marwick, and Reinhard Goerdeler.
Kyocera: from Kyoto Ceramics, after Kyoto in Japan.
Lego: combination of the Danish “leg godt”, which means to “play well”.[Lego also means “I put together” in Latin, but Lego Group claims this is only a coincidence and the etymology of the word is entirely Danish.
Leidos: the name for the national security, health and engineering business of SAIC, the government services company, to be spun off in 2013. Leidos was extracted from kaleidoscope by Interbrand. It means nothing.
Lenovo: from Legend, a former name, and “novo”, pseudo-Latin for “new”. This Chinese company acquired IBM’s PC division in 2006.
Level 3 Communications: “Level 3” is a reference to the network layer of the OSI model.
LG: a Korean chaebol; the name is a contraction of Lucky Goldstar, from the combination of two Korean electronic brands, Lucky and Goldstar.
Lexmark: IBM spin off of its printer and typewriter businesses. The code name was Lexington Marketing based on the location of its production facility in Lexington.
Lockheed Martin: Aerospace manufacturer, a combination of Lockheed Corporation and Martin Marietta, which is a combination of Glenn L. Martin Company and American-Marietta Corporation.
LifeGift: formerly Gulf Coast Independent Organ Procurement Organization, or GCIOPO. LifeGift name developed in 1987 by NameBank, a division of S&O Consultants of San Francisco.
Lonsdale: boxing equipment manufacturer named after the Lonsdale belt, a boxing trophy donated by the English Lord Lonsdale.
Lucent Technologies: the name AT&T’s spin-off of its fabled Bell Labs division in 1996. Created by Landor, the word has a beautiful literal meaning (luminous, shining) that helped management get over its Bell fixation and accept a name outside of its engineering comfort zone. The $100m advertising campaign helped to ensure shareholder uptake. The logo, however, seemed to come from a different place altogether. It was sadly prophetic of the company’s financial fortunes. Lucent merged with Alcatel of Paris in 2006. See Alcatel-Lucent.
Lotus Software: founder Mitch Kapor named his company after the Lotus Position or ‘Padmasana’. Kapor used to be a teacher of Transcendental Meditation technique as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
LSI: LSI Corporation is an electronics company based in Milpitas, California, that designs ASICs, host bus adapters, RAID adapters, storage systems, and computer networking products. LSI, stands for Large Scale Integration. It was founded as LSI Logic in 1981 and changed its name to LSI Corporation on its merger with Agere Systems in 2007. See: Agere Systems.
Mazda Motor Corporation: the company was founded as Toyo Kogyo, started manufacturing Mazda brand cars in 1931, and changed its name to Mazda in 1984. The cars were supposedly named after Ahura Mazda, the chief deity of the Zoroastrians, though many think this explanation was created after the fact, to cover up what is simply an anglicized version of the founders name, Jujiro Matsuda. This theory is supported by the fact that the company is referred to only as “Matsuda” in Japan.
MCI Communications: Microwave Communications, Inc. The company merged with Worldcom to create MCI Worldcom. The MCI name was dropped in 2000 and resurrected after Worldcom emerged from bankruptcy in 2003.
Mercedes: from the first name of the daughter of Emil Jellinek, who distributed cars of the early Daimler company around 1900.
MG Cars: from Morris Garages after co-founder William Morris. Under Chinese ownership, the company says: “We want Chinese consumers to know this brand as ‘Modern Gentleman’.” (see:what-word-comes-to-mind-when-you-think-of-volvo).
MGM: the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film studio formed from the merger of Metro Picture Corporation, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. Goldwyn Picture Corporation was named after the last names of Samuel Goldfish (Gelbfisz), and Archibald Selwyn. Posterity does not record whether the alternative combination of their names, Selfish, was ever considered. Seeing an opportunity to rid himself of his awkward immigrant name, Samuel Gelbfisz had his name legally changed to Samuel Goldwyn, which he used for the rest of his life.
Microsoft: coined by Bill Gates to represent the company that was devoted to microcomputer software. Originally christened Micro-Soft, the hyphen disappeared in 1987 with the introduction of a new corporate logo.
Mitel: this must go down as one of the most unlikely name origins of all time. Mitel, as the name might seem to suggest, is a global telecommunications company based in Canada. In fact, the name is derived from Mike and Terry’s Lawnmowers, after the English founders Michael Cowpland and Terry Matthews, and their original business plan.
Mirant: the independent power producer and energy marketing business of Southern Company, spun off as Mirant in 2001. Mirant is a Siegelgale concoction derived from the Latin root “mira,” which means “to see” or “to envision.” During its nine-year run, it weathered SEC investigations, restated earnings and a bankruptcy before merging with RRI Energy in 2010 to create GenOn Energy: See GenOn.
Mitsubishi: the name has two parts: mitsu means three and hishi (changing to bishi in the middle of the word) means diamond (the shape).
Monsanto: although it describes itself as an agricultural company, Monsanto was a chemical giant for most of its history. Founded as the Monsanto Chemical Company in 1901 by John F. Queeny, the company was named after his wife, Olga Monsanto. Its first product was saccharine. Queeny’s son Edgar built the company into a global industrial powerhouse, extending its reach into plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides (including the notorious Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles in the
Vietnam War) and pesticides. During the 1970s, the company shifted its resources into biotechnology and “life sciences”. By 1997 Monsanto had reached a strategic crossroads. Chairman Robert Shapiro decided to jettison the original chemicals business and focus the company’s future on life sciences. Ignoring all advice to shed the Monsanto name along with the chemicals business and its liabilities, he decided in his wisdom to retain the chemicals legacy name for the new life sciences company. The chemicals business was spun off as Solutia. The Monsanto name survived a series of mergers involving Pharmacia and Pfizer, and re-emerged in 2002 as an independent agriculture company. Although an entirely different company it awkwardly explains itself as the “new Monsanto” as opposed to what it refers to as the “original Monsanto” (I.E: chemicals), and in doing so it keeps alive the problematic legacy of the Monsanto name that should have gone with the chemicals business.
Motorola: founded in 1928 Galvin Manufacturing Company, the company started manufacturing radios for cars. Many audio equipment makers of the era used the “ola” ending for their products, most famously the “Victrola” phonograph made by the Victor Talking Machine Company (later JVC). The name was meant to convey the idea of “sound” and “motion”. It became so widely recognized that the company adopted it as the company name in 1930.
Nabisco: formerly The National Biscuit Company, changed in 1971 to Nabisco.
NCR Corporation: from National Cash Register.
NEC: from Nippon Electric Company.
Nestlé: named after its founder, Henri Nestlé, who was born in Germany under the name “Nestle”, “bird’s nest”. The company logo is a bird’s nest with a mother bird and two chicks.
Netscape: originally the product name of the company’s web browser (“Mosaic Communications Netscape Web Navigator”). The company adopted the product name after the University of Illinois threatened to sue for trademark infringement over the use of the Mosaic name.
Nike: named for the Greek goddess of victory.
Nikon: original name was Nippon Kogaku, meaning “Japanese Optical”.
Nintendo: the transliteration of the company’s Japanese name, nintendou. The first two (nin-ten) can be translated to “entrusted to heaven”; dou is a common ending meaning “hall” or “store”.
Nissan: the company was earlier known by the name Nippon Sangyo which means “Japan Industries”.
Nokia: started as a wood-pulp mill in the Finnish city of Nokia, the company transformed itself in early 1990s from an unwieldy conglomerate into the world’s leading provider of cell phones. See: Nokia, a downwardly mobile brand.
Nortel Networks: named from Nortel (Northern Telecom) and Bay Networks. The company was originally spun off from the Bell Telephone Company of Canada Ltd in 1895 as Northern Electric and Manufacturing, and traded as Northern Electric from 1914 to 1976.
Novartis: created in 1996 through the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz. A Siegel & Gale effort, the name is derived from “novae artes” which means something like “new skills”. When asked about the name on CNBC, Alan Siegel announced that he fired the employee responsible.
Novell: co-founded by George Canova as Novell Data Systens. The name was allegedly suggested by his wife who thought that “Novell” meant new in French. (Nouvelle is the feminine form of the French adjective ‘Nouveau’. Nouvelle as a noun in French is ‘news’.)
O2: (officially Telefónica UK Limited, branded as O2) is a telecommunications and broadband internet access company in the United Kingdom owned by Telefónica of Spain.
O2 started life in 1985 as Cellnet, a 60:40 joint venture between BT Group and Securicor, a security firm. In 1999 BT Group acquired Securicor’s 40 percent share of Cellnet and renamed it BT Cellnet. In September 2001, in the face of aggressive competition from Orange and declining call revenues, the company announced it was getting rid of the name in favor of a unifying brand strategy foe all markets. BT Cellnet was rebranded as O2 in 2002, along with BT Group’s mobile telecommunications businesses in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Why O2? It’s the chemical symbol for oxygen. ‘Oxygen is the key thing to life and you don’t have to teach people to spell it,’ explained Peter Erskine, Managing Director. ‘There were hundreds of names to start with and O2 leapt off the pages fairly early. It’s a universal term. We wanted something that was easy, clean and fresh.’ In 2005 Telefónica agreed to acquire BT Group’s European mobile telecommunications businesses for £18 billion as part of the company’s expansion into Europe. As part of the terms of the acquisition Telefónica agreed to retain the “O2” brand and the company’s UK headquarters.
Oracle: Larry Ellison, Ed Oates and Bob Miner were working on a consulting project for the CIA. The code name for the project was Oracle. The project was designed to use the newly written SQL database language from IBM. The project was eventually terminated but they decided to finish what they started and bring it to the world. Later they changed the name of the company, Relational Software Inc., to the name of the product.
Orange: brilliant breakthrough brand created in 1994 for Hutchison Telecom’s UK mobile phone network, Microtel. Orange quickly gained market share and became a familiar name on Britain’s high streets through its retail stores. Advertising agency WCRS created the Orange slogan “The Future’s bright, the Future’s Orange” campaign. The square logo was developed by Wolff Olins to de-emphasize the association with fruit and to establish the brand as the color Orange, regarded as a strong Feng Shui color (the parent at the time, Hutchison Whampoa, is a Hongkong-based corporation). Acquired by France Telecom in 2000 and is now the brand used for all its mobile and Internet services.
Pennzoil: formed by a merger of South Penn Oil (Penn), a former Standard Oil subsidiary, and Zapata Oil (zoil).
Pepsi: named from the digestive enzyme pepsin.
Petrobras: An abbreviation of the Brazilian company’s full name, Petróleo Brasileiro (Portuguese for Brazilian Petroleum).
Philco: from the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company. The pioneering U.S. radio and television manufacturer was taken over by Ford and later by Philips.
Philips: Royal Philips Electronics was founded in 1891 by brothers Gerard (the engineer) and Anton (the entrepreneur) Philips.
Pixar: Pixar Animation Studios is named for a piece of technological hardware, the Pixar Image Computer, developed by the computer division of George Lucas’s film studio, according to Walter Isaacson’s new biography “Steve Jobs.” The computer’s name is generally believed to be a play on “pixel,” the smallest element of computer graphics. According to the biography “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs” by Alan Deutschman, the ‘el’ in pixel was changed to ‘ar’ because ‘ar’ is frequently used in Spanish verbs, implying the name means “To Pix”.
Porsche: car company named after founder Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian automotive engineer.
Prada: an Italian high fashion house named after the founder Mario Prada, who founded Prada in Milan 1914.
Q8: pronounced kew-eight (Kuwait), a Wolff Olins homophonic conceit for the retail operations of Kuwait Petroleum International.
Qantas: the Australian airline; from its original name, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.
Qualcomm: Quality Communication
QVC: Quality, Value and Convenience.
RAND Corporation: a think tank; Research ANd Development.
Raytheon: “Light of the gods”. Maker of missiles such as Patriot, Maverick, Sidewinder and Tomahawk, among other military technology,
Reebok: alternate spelling of rhebok (Pelea capreolus), an African antelope.
Reliant Energy: Created out of the merger of Houston Industries and NorAm Energy in 1997. In 2002 Reliant Energy spun off its retail electric sales business as Reliant Resources (the Reliant Energy name went with it as a marketing brand). The remaining regulated energy delivery company adopted the name CenterPoint Energy. In 2004, Reliant Resources decided to change its name to Reliant Energy. In 2009, Reliant Energy’s retail electricity business was purchased by NRG Energy along with the Reliant Energy name. The surviving wholesale business was renamed RRI Energy which was merged with Mirant in 2010 to become GenOn. See: GenOn.
Research In Motion: manufacturer of the Blackberry; from the phrase “poetry in motion”.
Rolls-Royce: Frederick Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business, making his first car, a Royce, in 1904. He was introduced to Charles Stewart Rolls on 4 May that year. The pair entered into a partnership in which Royce would manufacture cars to be sold exclusively by Rolls, and the cars would be called Rolls-Royce.
SAAB: founded in 1937 in Sweden as Svenska Aeroplan aktiebolaget (Swedish Aeroplane Company); the last word is typically abbreviated as AB, hence SAAB.
Samsonite: named from the Biblical character Samson, renowned for his strength.
Samsung: South Korea’s largest corporation. Samsung means three stars in Korean. The three stars disappeared form Samsung’s identity in March 1993 when Chairman Kun Hee Lee unveiled a new logotype by Lippincott Marguelies to mark the initiation of a new global identity system intended to position the company as a global electronics leader in the 21st century.
Santander: The Spanish-owned financial group is the fourth largest bank in the world by profits and eighth by stock market capitalisation. Its name (originally Banco de Santander) is taken from the port city of Santander on the northern coast of Spain where the bank was established in 1857. The name of the city is derived from that of a 3rd century Catholic martyr, Saint Emeterio (Santemter – Santenter – Santander). See: Santander – a name to bank on, if not to love.
Serutan: an early fiber-type laxative product which was widely promoted on US radio and television from the 1930s through the 1960s. It was manufactured by the J. B. Williams Co., which was founded in 1885 and bought out by Nabisco in 1971. Serutan is “natures” spelled backwards. “Read it backwards” was the product’s advertising slogan. Tish.
Shinola: an American shoe polish brand (shine+ola). Wikipedia reliably informs us that it was introduced in 1907 by Shinola-Bixby Corporation of Rochester, NY. The -ola suffix for product names was all the fashion thanks to the popularity of the Pianola at the time, a player piano that possibly derived its name from the violin-viola relationship. In 1906 the Victor Talking Machine Company launched the Victrola gramophone. Galvin Manufacturing later introduced the Motorola car radio, a ‘Victrola’ for your motor. Shinola went out of business in 1960 but has been reborn as a luxury brand (see: This is Shinola).
Sony: The company we now know as Sony Corporation was originally called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company). Founded in 1946, its primary business was the manufacture and sale of tape recorders and magnetic tape.
When co-founder Akio Morita returned from his first trip to the United States in 1953 he was convinced the company needed a name that was recognizable, and pronounceable, outside of Japan.
“Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo” was an unwieldy name and had no particular meaning to the rest of the world and its three-letter abbreviation (TTK) had already been claimed by the Japanese national telephone company.
The inspiration for the new company name came from a brand of tape TTK had been marketing since 1950: Soni-tape.
The “Soni” in “Soni-tape” was derived from the Latin sonus (“sound”), and Morita created Sony from a combination of sonus and the English phrase sonny boy, which “conveyed to him the youthful energy and irreverence he wanted at the heart of the company.”
The name Sony was first used as a trademark on the company’s TR-55 transistor radio in 1955, and Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo officially changed its name to the Sony Corporation in 1958.
Spanx: pantyhose company founded by Sara Blakely. She explains the name thus: “I knew that Kodak and Coca-Cola are the two most recognized names in the world, and they both have a predominant “K” sound in them. Also, from doing stand-up comedy, it is a known secret that the “K” sound makes people laugh. So for good luck, I wanted my product’s name to have the “K” sound in it, and SPANKS hit me like a lightning bolt. I immediately knew it was perfect! At the last minute I changed the “KS” to an “X” after doing research that made-up words do better for products than real words (and are easier to trademark). Spanx is edgy, fun, extremely catchy, and for a moment it makes your mind wander (admit it). Plus it’s all about making women’s butts look better, so why not?”
Sprint: from its parent company, Southern Pacific Railroad INTernal Communications. At the time, pipelines and railroad tracks were the cheapest place to lay communications lines, as the right-of-way was already leased or owned.
Starbucks: named after Starbuck, the young first mate of the Pequod, the name of Captain Ahab’s ship in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. Contrary to popular belief, there is no reference at all in the novel to Starbuck drinking or liking coffee. It has been suggested that Starbuck was chosen as the name of the coffee chain after a co-founder rejected Pequod. As Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford write in a footnote to their edition of Moby-Dick, “In a triumph of modern marketing, the name of the ascetic Starbuck has become associated with exotic coffees and voluptuous additives, as well as baked goods that shame the nautical ‘duff’ or hardtack of Melville’s whale ships.”
Subaru: the name of a star cluster in the Taurus constellation much loved by the Japanese from ancient times. Six of its stars are visible to the naked eye, but about 250 bluish stars can be seen if one uses a telescope. In the West the cluster is called Pleiades. In China and Japan, it is known as Subaru (“to govern” or gather together”). In Japan, it also goes by the name Mutsuraboshi (“Six Stars”). Coincidentally, Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industry, was created by the merger of six companies.
Sun Microsystem: its founders designed their first workstation in their dorm at Stanford University, and chose the name Stanford University Network for their product, hoping to sell it to the college.
Suzuki: from the name of its founder, Michio Suzuki.
Syngenta is a large global Swiss specialized chemicals company which markets seeds and pesticides. The company was formed in 2000 by the merger of Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals. The name Syngenta is said to be derived from Greek and Latin origins: together with people.
Taligent: Taligent (talent+intelligent) was founded in 1992 as part of an agreement between IBM and Apple Computer to develop a microcomputer operating system to run on any hardware platform. The core team of 150 software engineers came from the original “Pink” project started by Apple in 1988 to develop the next generation Macintosh operating system. Taligent became a wholly-owned subsidiary of IBM in 1996. The company was dissolved in January 1998 and the Taligent engineering teams became IBM employees, continuing their development of object technologies and products for IBM. The Taligent name lives on as a recruitment and placement company.
TDK Corporation: from Tokyo Denki Kagaku (Tokyo Electronics and Chemicals).
Tesco: British supermarket institution founded by Jack Cohen, who sold groceries in the markets of the London East End from 1919. On acquirin a shipment of tea from T. E. Stockwell he made new labels by using the first three letters of the supplier’s name and the first two letters of his surname.
Texaco: from The Texas Company U.S.A.
Textron: founded as the Special Yarns Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts in 1923. Business boomed during the war years for the company, which had by that time changed its name to Atlantic Rayon Corporation. Post-war, the company moved quickly from producing parachutes to making lingerie, blouses, bed linens and other consumer goods. This new operation needed a brand name. Atlantic Rayon’s advertising agency suggested “Señorita Creations.” It was rejected in favor of Textron, a far-sighted decision. The “Tex” was derived from textiles and the “tron” from names of synthetics such as “Lustron. ” In 2008, Textron was recognized by FORTUNE as the “Most Admired” company in its category – Aerospace & Defense, although its businesses also includes golf carts, lawnmowers and professional tools.
TIBCO: The Information Bus Company. The company was founded by Vivek Ranadive as Teknekron Software Systems in 1985.
Toshiba: named from the merger of consumer goods company Tokyo Denki (Tokyo Electric Co) and electrical firm Shibaura Seisaku-sho (Shibaura Engineering Works). 10
Toyota: from the name of the founder, Sakichi Toyoda. Initially called Toyeda, it was changed after a contest for a better-sounding name. The new name was written in katakana with eight strokes, a number that is considered lucky in Japan.
Twitter: The name Twitter was picked out of a hat. A small group of employees from Odeo, the San Francisco podcasting startup where Twitter initially began, had a brainstorming session. They were trying to come up with names that fit with the theme of a mobile phone buzzing an update in your pocket. After narrowing down the options (which included Jitter and Twitter), they wrote them down, put them in a hat, and let fate decide. Fate decided on Twitter.
Unisys: from United Information Systems, the name for the company that resulted from the merging of two old mainframe computer companies, Burroughs and Sperry [Sperry Univac/Sperry Rand]. It united two incompatible ranges. The new-born Unisys was briefly the world’s second-largest computer company, after IBM.
Unocal Corporation: the Union Oil Company of California, founded in 1890.
UUNET: one of the industry’s oldest and largest Internet Service Providers, named from UNIX-to-UNIX Network.
Varig: Largest international Brazilian airline, its name is an abbreviation of Viação Aérea Rio-Grandense, because it was founded in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Vectrus: Provides services to the US military in the areas of infrastructure asset management, IT and network communication, and logistics and supply chain management. Vectrus was spun-off in 2010 by Exelis, itself a spinoff from ITT. The company explained the name, thus: “Vectrus is a blended name derived from the words Vector and Trust. Vector represents strong forward direction, while Trust represents the essence of the new company’s commitment to its customers.”
Venator Group: A case of one dinosaur name being replaced with another. Venator Group was the short-lived name of what was the Woolworth Corporation, parent company of F.W. Woolworth, originator of the famous department stores. The Woolworth Corporation was also responsible for the operations of the Foot Locker stores, among the other specialty chains.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the F.W. Woolworth department store chain fell into decline, culminating in the closure of the last stores operating under the name of Woolworth’s in the United States in 1997. The Woolworth Corporation changed its name to Venator Group in 1998 while continuing aggressive expansion into the athletic business.
As the Foot Locker brand became the company’s top performing line, Venator Group shed its unloved name and became Foot Locker, Inc. on November 2, 2001. Venator, Latin for ‘hunter’, is also the name of a dinosaur. Created by Futurebrand.
Verizon: Bell Atlantic changed its name to Verizon following the 2000 federal approval for its merger with GTE. The company rolled out the name earlier that year as the brand name for its wireless venture with Vodafone-AirTouch Plc. With telecommunications moving well beyond the telephone into wireless and datatransfer products, Bell Atlantic felt the combination of the Latin word for truth, “veritas,” and “horizon” would better reflect a progressive 21st-century company than would the name of a 19th-century inventor and an ocean. “The company needs an image for all its markets,” said a spokesperson.
Virgin: founder Richard Branson states in his autobiography, Losing My Virginity, that when he was starting a business to sell records by mail order, “one of the girls suggested: ‘What about Virgin? We’re complete virgins at business.”
Vodafone: UK-based telecommunications group. The name Vodafone is derived from “Voice, Data and Fone”, which reflects the provision of voice and data over mobile phones. Today the largest mobile telecommunications network in the world, Vodafone, was founded in 1984 as Racal Telecom, a subsidiary of Racal Electronics’ Plc. Racal (from the partners RAymond Brown and George CALder Cunningham) was a British radar and electronics firm founded in 1950. In 1991 Racal Telecom was demerged from Racal Electronics Plc, to become an independent company, Vodafone Group Plc. After its merger with AirTouch Communications of San Francisco in 1999 the company changed its name for a brief period to Vodafone AirTouch, reverting back to Vodafone in 2001. In the United States Vodafone operates as a joint venture with Verizon wireless.
Volkswagen: from the German for people’s car. The original vehicle (today known as the Beetle) was designed by Ferdinand Porsche.
Volvo: The name Volvo was originally registered in May 1911 as a separate company within SKF AB, the Swedish manufacturing company (Svenska Kullagerfabriken — Swedish ball bearing factory) as a trademark with the intention of using it for a special series of ball bearing. Volvo means “I roll” in Latin, conjugated from “volvere”. It became the name of a car when an SKF Sales Manager convinced the company to start construction of a Swedish car to withstand the rigors of Sweden’s rough roads and cold temperatures. That’s why a Volvo looks like it does.
Wachovia: the surviving name from the 2001 merger between Wachovia and First Union. Wachovia was the area settled by Moravians in what is now Forysth County, North Carolina. The awkward name is an Anglicized form of the German ‘Wachau’, a lush green region along the Danube River which the settlers felt the land resembled. Many companies founded in or around Charlotte still have Wachovia in their name. Wachovia was absorbed into Wells Fargo in 2009.
Wells Fargo: from the founders of the original Wells Fargo company, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo. Surviving name in several mergers. When Norwest Corporation merged with Wells Fargo in 1998, it wisely chose to retain the Wells Fargo name.
Wendy’s: Wendy was the nickname of founder Dave Thomas’ daughter Melinda.
Westin: from Western International Hotels. In 1930, hotel owners Severt Thurston and Frank Dupar formed a partnership to manage their hotels more efficiently. Together with Peter and Adolph Schmidt they formed Western Hotels which had seventeen properties, all but one in the state of Washington. After more than two decades of rapid growth, the name was changed in 1954 to Western International Hotels. For its 50th anniversary in 1980, it changed its name again to Westin Hotels & Resorts. The exquisite Westin logo was developed by an intern at Landor Associates. In 1970, the chain was acquired by UAL Corporation. In 1987, UAL Chairman Richard Ferris announced a plan to change UAL into Allegis, a travel conglomerate based on United Airlines, Hertz, Hilton Hotels and Westin, but that is another story (see: Allegis, the name that died of shame).
Williams-Sonoma: a cookware and kitchen utensils chain founded by Chuck Williams in Sonoma, CA.
Wipro: from Western India Vegetable Products Limited. The company started as a modest laundry soap producer and is now also an IT services giant.
WWE: World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly World Wrestling Federation (WWF). It changed its name after a court case brought by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is now called the World Wide Fund for Nature, a name evolution suggested by Walter Landor.
WPP: global advertising and marketing company. The name is derived from Wire and Plastic Products, a shell company acquired by Martin Sorrell in 1985 as a vehicle to build his global advertising group. Not to be confused with the Witness Protection Program.
Wyeth: 2002 name change for American Home Products. AHP had suffered from a hazy corporate image for many years. Even its executives acknowledge that the company’s name conjured thoughts of vinyl siding, socket wrenches and lawn furniture rather than life-saving medicines, which are now at its core. The Wyeth name came from John Wyeth & Brother, a company acquired by AHP in 1931. Wyeth was acquired by Pfizer in 2009.
Xerox: named from xerography, a word derived from the Greek xeros (dry) and graphos (writing). The company was founded as The Haloid Company in 1906, launched its first XeroX copier in 1949, and changed its name to Haloid Xerox in 1958 and the Xerox in 1961.
Xylem: The name for ITT’s water treatment, spun-off along with its military business in 2011. According to ITT, Xylem is a Greek-derived word that refers to vascular tissue that carries water and nutrients through plants. (See Exelis).
Yahoo! Welcome to the end of the alphabet. One of the most popular early sites on the Web was “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”, a list of favorite sites maintained by David Filo and Jerry Yang, two graduate students in the Stanford computer science department. Filo and Yang wrote simple software that allowed them to group the sites as they liked. As their site become ever more popular they decided to cover the entire Web and renamed their enhanced guide Yahoo!, a word chosen from the dictionary that was also Filo’s nickname growing up. The exclamation point was pure marketing hype, according to Yang. Yahoo as a word was invented by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels. It represents a person who is repulsive in appearance and barely human.
Zappos: The original name was Shoesite.com. Come back with a better name enterpreneur Tony Hseih told the founder. He came back with Zapos, derived from zapatos, the Spanish word for shoe. Hsieh suggested adding another p so people wouldn mispronounce it as ZAY-pos.
Zeneca: The biosciences company split off from the UK’s ICI in 1993. A meaningless name by design. Sir David Barnes, Zeneca’s first chief executive, asked Interbrand to find a name that was phonetically memorable, of no more than three syllables and didn’t mean anything stupid, funny or rude in other languages.” See: From A to Zeneca: a brief history of corporate naming
Zoetis: the name for Pfizer’s $4.2 billion animal health unit that will be spun-off later this year (2012). Pfizer explains that the name “has its root in zo, which is familiar in commonly known words such as zoo and zoology.” It also derives from the word zoetic, which means “pertaining to life.” Zoetis is pronounced zo-EH-tis, according to Pfizer. (see: Are we running out of names (again)?
5 thoughts on “Name Origins”
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These name origins are fascinating, but why so US-centric? Since your recent entry concerned itself with energy companies you might want to look at E.On of Germany, or however we are supposed to refer to it.
Interesting observation, and thanks for the tip about E.On. Not so far removed from GenOn.
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