Famous Brand Name Origins

Startup_name_ideasHave you ever noticed how many famous brand names do not directly describe the product or company? After all, why not? A name is not a brand. A name is merely shorthand nomenclature for the brand. Similarly for a logo. See article on how a brand is a promise of an experience.

Test your naming knowledge right here – and send us others you may know about.

Name Origin
Starbucks Not as abstract as many people think. In the classic book Moby Dick, Capt. Starbuck liked his coffee.
Kinkos The founder’s nickname from school, because of his kinky red hair.
Motorola From Motor and Vitrola – since they originally made car radios.
Xerox An abbreviation of the word xerography – their underlying original
technology
eBay
Official story now differs, but we still think it was from the strong
East Bay connotations. For years their logo was even in the same colors as East Bay Transit Authority.
Volkswagen Literally “the people’s car” – a term supposedly coined by Adolf Hitler.
Nike Round about evolution from Phil Knight – the founder – as proposed
by one of his employees. The name was drawn out of a hat full of other submissions. That particular employee apparently awoke in middle of the night and said it had to be Nike – Greek for Victory.
Hitachi The two characters used to write it mean “sun” + “stand.” By extension, it also could be translated “land of the rising sun.”
Nobel Prize The famous peace and science prizes, named after Alfred E. Nobel – who invented dynamite!
Google A variation on the mathematical term googol – a very, very, very big number.
Sony Not a Japanese word at all. From the Latin sonnus for sound and the English word sonny – my little boy.
Fandango Founder struggled and struggled to find a new name until deciding Fandango was the perfect name for fans to buy tickets to go to the movies. Problem was a pizza parlor in Monterey had the .com domain name – and an online ticket broker needs a matching domain. So founder drove to Monterey and gave them $100,000 for the domain (they simply switched to FandangoPizza.com and are still serving them up today).
Cisco Named after San Francisco.  Ever notice the logo is half a Golden Gate Bridge (cut lengthwise)?
Unisys Back in the late ’70s Sperry Univac had already told their employees that the Uni- name space was getting very crowded and should be avoided in the future. Then in their merger with Burroughs they can’t find any good name and settle for the almost generic Unisys. Today they are a shell of their former great parents.
Apple One day, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were working on the startup of their new little computer company, Jobs told his staff (apparently in some frustration), “If you don’t come up with a name by 5 o’clock I am calling it Apple“. And so it was until they launched their Mac line – as they had an agreement with Apple Records to never use the name for music. The legal case went to High Court in London where Apple lost and had to pay a $48 million fine – to keep their own name. They also lost the insurance lawsuit back in USA which cost another $8million or so. Can you afford $54 million to keep your own brand name?
Netscape When Marc Andreesen founded Mosaic Systems he was adamant to keep this name. Unfortunately for him there had already been trademark fights over the name for software usage – right down the street in Silicon Valley no less. Luckily Jim Clark persuaded him to embrace their name of Netscape – a powerful product concept with a powerful name as history has shown.
Pentium When Intel lost the legal battle to own the numbers 386, 486 etc because they had never properly claimed or used them, they switched to their new coined classical style of names. Penta of course is Greek for five. So the next in the series should be the Sexium chips!
Accenture When Anderson Consulting split off from the parent, they had to find a new name. Despite the efforts of very expensive international branding agencies, this name was actually submitted by a Scandinavian employee. Did you notice the first three letters are ACC – like in Anderson Consulting Corp.?
Volvo The name Volvo is not a Swedish name, but actually derived from the Latin “I roll” and was first coined and used by the famous SKF Ball Bearing company. A roll over name for a car famous for its safety!
Pringles When the naming team could not find a name for these newly packaged potato chips they looked in the phone book in desperation. Mr. Pringle, or Pringle Street (or both) is where they landed. Today it is such a strong brand that the packaging never even uses the word potato chips.
Java First the software was called Green, then Oak and finally in a stroke of genius by Kim Polese, while she was at Sun Microsystems, it became Java.
Internet Explorer
When Microsoft picked this name they never did their homework. Eventually they settled for $4.8million dollars with SyNET who owned the name originally. Perhaps you should check your product name before launch!
Yahoo From the dictionary (“a slightly crazy cowboy“), when founders were looking for Y names like YACC (Yet Another C Compiler) – a very inside story for Unix hackers.
BMW Of course they are initials. But in this case for words that are almost unpronounceable in English – Bayerische Motoren Werke.
Oracle Code name of their first big government project.
Mercedes Benz
Named after the daughter of Benz’s first auto distributor in the south of Europe.
Big 5 Sporting Goods
Professional and trophy hunters all dream of successfully hunting the biggest, meanest Big 5 animals of the world: Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard. See them also celebrated in safari jewelry on sites like SafariGold.com.
Snapple One of their original flavors: Spice N Apple.
Chevrolet Ironically, one of America’s greatest car companies is named after a man born in Switzerland, who only had a short association with the car company and never lost his French accent.
Tiffany & Co. This famous jewelry brand is not named after a lady, but rather Charles Tiffany, one of the founders. It used to be called Tiffany & Young.
L.A. Lakers
While this name has great alliteration and looks like it was custom made, the real story is different. Originally the Lakers were from Minnesota aka The Land of Lakes. When they moved to L.A. the name fit just as well.

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Naming Articles

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Jul 2014: What roles do copyrights and patents play in protecting names?

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