The old, old story of a new corporate name

Keysight LogoThe only interesting thing about the new Keysight Technologies name from Agilent is the weird familiarity of the story surrounding its development.

It’s like a tired, old Agatha Christie plot recycled over and over. Only the names of the characters have changed.

A corporate spinoff is announced: they need a name, one with a message–wait, so what do we stand for? It also has to be easy to pronounce and – watch out for those tricky translation issues – it can’t mean shriveled testicles or anything rude in Japanese!

It sounds easy; it turned out to be very hard, much harder than anyone imagined.

An internal multi-regional, cross-functional team is formed just to complicate things. Once again executives rummage for candidates in the HP heritage bin – Addison Technologies anyone? Lawyers in international markets can’t agree. A private investigator is hired to track down the owner of a domain name.

It finally gets down to a shortlist of candidates…and then the CEO nixes them all on his iPhone.

He doesn’t like anything? Quick, back to the drawing board!

“It’s really hard to just take a bunch of letters and put them together, and have somebody identify with them right away,” says client breathlessly after three months of turmoil. “I would definitely describe it as a wild ride, three months of insanity.” Indeed. Insane.

A new name is finally announced. A happy ending in this case. Phew! But such an unnecessary palaver.

Read the unabridged version here.

Thanks to the EEVBlog, here are a few possible alternative name candidates:

From A to Zeneca, a brief history of corporate naming

I’ve always felt a mild professional antipathy toward Zeneca. For me, it was the coinage that tipped corporate names into the abyss of synthetic anonymity.

It’s got to such a point now that it’s hard to distinguish a pharma company from the drug it makes. Try sorting these out: Actavis, Actos, Advaxis, Alimta, Amalthea, Anavex, Atripla – companies, drugs or the moons of Jupiter?*

Then I found this nugget buried in a Daily Telegraph article raking over of the ashes Accenture, Consignia and other weary corporate naming controversies.

Nothing rude or silly
Nothing stupid, funny, or rude and devoid of meaning

“The company that started the fashion for new, made up names was Zeneca, now AstraZeneca, the biosciences company split off from ICI in 1993. Leading consultants still view it as the best example of a name change.

Sir David Barnes was its first chief executive and is now a non-executive director. His inspiration was Kodak, a name that was memorable phonetically but had no associations with other companies.

Barnes said: “There is an advantage in being alphabetically at the top or bottom of lists, A or Z. I 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. A new name also allowed us to instill a new company culture.”

Barnes paid about £50,000 for the name and did not spend anything on advertising: ‘We just sent out lots and lots of press releases every time the company did anything. Thanks to the press it soon caught on’.”

In truth, Zeneca was a latecomer to the ‘made-up corporate name’ party.

As the reporter would have discovered, had he done his homework, the trend started much earlier. In 1961 The Haloid Photographic Company changed its named to Xerox and gave the world a corporate name that looks totally unpronounceable. Then there’s the Allegis storm that engulfed United Airlines in 1985.

But what is notable about Zeneca is the blithely deliberate meaninglessness of the name.

There is something endearingly Colonel Blimp-ish about Sir David’s no nonsense approach here. Not for him the tenuous, tortuous semantic acrobatics of Syngenta (“derived from Greek and Latin origins: together with people”) or Novartis (“from the Latin words novae artes meaning new skills”). No mucking about, just make one up – nothing stupid or rude in other languages and just three syllables.

Of course, this was in the pre-Internet and SEO days when there was some an advantage to be alphabetically positioned in directories and the media had not yet turned corporate naming in to a blood sport.

Contrast the Daily Telegraph’s coverage above with the recent outraged headlines over Hibu, the new name for the Yell Group: “Chief Executive admits new name is meaningless”.

How times have changed.

*Actavis – a pharmaceutical company; Actos – a diabetes drug; , Advaxis – a biotechnology company;  Alimta – a lung cancer drug; Anavex – a life sciences company;  Atripla – an HIV treatment drug. Amalthea is a moon of Jupiter;

“The name game”. The Daily Telegraph. 14 January 2001

What the Tfark is Kraft Foods up to?

This must go down as the naming quote of the year:

Think what you will of Mondelēz International, the new name that Kraft Foods (KFT) will slap on its global snacks business after the company splits this year, at least it’s not “Tfark.” That was one of the 1,700 names suggested by more than 1,000 Kraft employees during the five-month process of soliciting ideas.

For Kraft spokesman Michael Mitchell, “Tfark” is a personal favorite. “I’m not sure what it means,” says Mitchell. “I just liked the way it sounds.”

As a couple of astute observers have pointed out, Tfark is Kraft spelled backwards.

Kraft, Mondelēz, and the ‘Art’ of Rebranding

A corporate naming story straight out of the movies

Paramount, MGM, Fox, Pixar – iconic studio industry names that invoke all the romance, adventure and thrills of the movies they produce.

How about oil industry – do any of these names spring to mind in association with that unglamorous business?

No, very likely not.

Paramount - the peak of arrogance.

But the disconnect has not deterred Paramount Resources, a Calgary, Alberta oil and gas company that seems to have an odd infatuation with Hollywood. Apart from its corporate name, Paramount has a subsidiary named Fox Drilling and has a significant investment in a Canadian energy company called MGM Energy Corp.

And just to prove the nomenclature strategy is really no coincidence, Paramount recently created a new subsidiary and has named it, quite brazenly, Pixar Petroleum Corp.

This latest piece of naming plagiarism by Paramount crosses the line from the curious to the incomprehensibly bizarre. According to the Wall Street Journal, Paramount’s obsession with Hollywood is a long-running mystery for people who follow the company.

The Journal reports:

Stock analyst Jim Byrne, who covers Paramount Resources for BMO Nesbitt Burns, says he was incredulous when he heard the oil company was naming a new subsidiary Pixar. “How do they get away with it?” Mr. Byrne recalls asking himself.

Intellectual-property lawyers say it isn’t clear that the oil company’s use of the Pixar name could be considered trademark infringement because it is in such a different business, selling such different products.

Disney owns Pixar trademarks, according to filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for “entertainment services in the field of film and television, namely, the creation, production and distribution of films, videos, animation and computer-generated images.”

“In an infringement claim, the issue is whether…the relevant consuming public is likely to be confused,” said Gloria Phares, an attorney with Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP who specializes in intellectual property. “But just because you have a mark in one area, like in animation, doesn’t mean you have a monopoly on a mark.”

Every naming consultant knows this and counts on it. It is getting harder to find good, original names that are not encumbered to some degree, as Blackberry-maker Research In Motion has discovered to its further embarrassment after naming its new operating system BBX.

A good name is a linguistic phenomenon that helps to create the very thing it identifies. Namers labor long and hard to find names that strategically suit the long-term business ambitions of a client company in all relevant USPTO classifications and celebrate when a name candidate appears to be reasonably free and clear.

Yet here is a public company merrily co-opting another company’s name and trading on its recognition in full knowledge of the fact. It is hard to comprehend what can be in the mind of the CEO in condoning this lazy, arrogant and most egregious practice.

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