A Brand by Any Other Name…The Stories Behind Iconic Business Names

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There are countless brands and company names that are part of our culture. So much so that we often find ourselves referring to them in our everyday conversations. For example, instead of photocopying an important business brief, you may have asked someone to Xerox it instead. Or perhaps you clean your ears with a Q-tip instead of a cotton swab. For some of the biggest brands in the world, it turns out there’s actually a cool story about how the company’s name came into existence. If you’re a new business owner or just a brand afficionado, how a company got its name—or in the case of Google, its long list of names—is pretty interesting. Read on for some good old-fashioned trivia.

Ever heard of a company called BackRub? Hint: It’s a popular search engine that practically redefined online searches. Or how about a beverage brand called Brad’s Drink? Hint: Believe us, you know this drink. Perhaps you know them by their more common names—Google and Pepsi Cola.

Google and Pepsi

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, first called their search engine BackRub and aimed to create a “web crawler designed to traverse the web.” As the Silicon Valley-based service grew bigger the company’s name evolved—out came Googol, in reference to the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes. However, it wasn't until an investor wrote out a check to the founders and mistakenly called the company Google that the name stuck and Google was really born.

Pepsi is a household name now, but it wasn't always. The drink was originally called Brad’s Drink after founder Caleb Bradham and the soda fountain in his drugstore. Brad’s Drink was very popular with customers and included, among other ingredients, pepsin (a digestive enzyme) and cola nuts. Right before the end of the 19th century, the beverage was renamed Pepsi Cola and the name’s stuck all these years.

The Brand Names You Know

Google and Pepsi aren't the only companies with fascinating stories behind their names:

  • Lego – From the Danish phrase leg godt, which means play well.
  • Adidas – The company’s name is a combination of the founder’s nickname and last name Adolf “Adi” Dassler. His brother, Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler, founded his own shoe company called, Ruda, which later was renamed Puma.
  • 7-Eleven – Once known as Tot’em Stores, the convenience store chain changed its name to 7-11 to reflect its extended operating hours (7 a.m. to 11 p.m.). Now, that name is even a bit obsolete since most stores remain open 24 hours a day.
  • Verizon – Name combines the words horizon and veritas, which is Latin for truth.
  • Skype – First it was Sky-Peer-to-Peer (can you imagine saying that over and over?). Then the name was cut to Skyper. Finally, the founders named it Skype and on that day a new verb was born.
  • 3M – The abbreviation stands for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. The company changed its name when it switched its focus to innovation.
  • Arby's – Despite rumors to the contrary, the enunciation of the restaurant R.B. doesn't stand for roast beef. It stands for the initials of its founders—the Raffel Brothers.
  • Bridgestone – Named after founder Shojiro Ishibashi. His last name in English translates to bridge of stone.
  • Yahoo! – The term yahoo was taken from the novel “Gulliver’s Travels,” referring to certain unpleasant creatures that the founders of Yahoo! liked.
  • Lenovo – “Lenovo” combines “le” from the word legend and novo, which is Latin for new.
  • Mattel – The name of the company behind Barbie is derived from the names of its founders: Harold "Matt" Matson and Elliot Handler.
  • Reebok – The athletic brand’s name comes from the Afrikaans spelling of rhebok, a type of African antelope or gazelle.
  • Cisco – The bay area tech giant’s name is a shortened version of San Francisco.
  • Starbucks – Named after a character in “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville.
  • Geico – Shortened from Government Employees Insurance Company.
  • Ikea – This made up name comes from the first letters of founder Ingvar Kamprad's name and the first letters of the Swedish village where he grew up, Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. (Try saying that 3 times fast.)
  • IBM – After leaving National Cash Register, founder Tom Watson, Sr. outdid his former employers by calling his new company International Business Machines.
  • Nabisco – Shortened from the original company name National Biscuit Company.
  • Nike – Named after the Greek goddess of victory. A rather fitting moniker if there ever was one.

 

There you have it, a smattering of some of the biggest brands in the world and how they crafted their famous names. Impress your friends or colleagues at your next social function. Or better yet, the next time you shop or if you're considering starting your own business, you can have a deeper appreciation for what goes into creating a brand name.