How Seven Classic Companies Found Their Iconic Business Names

business names

A lot of cool business names have become household words. These are names and sounds that have become an integral part of our daily routine and everyday vocabulary.  Many are global brands that have been around for decades yet most of us have no idea how and why they came to be.  In this edition of our continuing series on “How They Got Their Business Name” we’re going to shine a light on several companies and their process for conceiving, what have now become, iconic American brands.

The mother of invention
Invented names like Weebly, Google and Yahoo aren’t a new concept and the made-up name format didn’t originate with San Francisco startups. In fact, it’s been around since well before the dot com revolution and includes names like Zippo, Colgate and Nabisco. Despite their lack of dictionary words, invented brands often conjure up a favorable feeling and a strong mental impression.

B.F. Goodrich tried testing many of its proposed names on housewives who comprised their core, target demographic. At the time they were looking for a name for a synthetic fiber they were about to bring to market.  The original proposal was for the name Merex.  However, their test group said it sounded like a soap product. That wasn’t good. So the company pivoted to the name, Darlan, which housewives told them created a mental image of luxurious fiber.

Standard deviation
The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey was looking for a simpler and shorter brand.  One of their early choices was, Enco.  But upon further research company execs found that Enco meant “stalled car” in Japanese.   Yikes!  So the process started over and they came up with the name, Exxon, instead.

When George Eastman tasked his staff with deciding on a suitable name for his company, he gave them three requirements. First, he said, it should be short. Second, it should be vigorous.  Third it should be easy to spell and lastly it should have no meaning.  This was the basis for the development of the five letter brand Kodak.

Uncontested success
The Curtis Candy Company was looking for a name for their latest confectionary offering. They decided to have a naming contest.  As a result, one of their employees suggested the name Baby Ruth which went on to be become a classic American candy bar.  Although many of us assume the name was a tribute to the home-run slugger, Babe Ruth, its origin was actually the nickname of Grover Cleveland’s daughter during the time he was US President.

Other companies that have used contests to select a name include the supermarket chain, Safeway, and the Chemstrand Corporation which decided to call its new clothing fiber, Acrilan.  Planters Peanuts took things a step further when they used the contest format for their logo design.  The original version of their logo was submitted by a school boy and later became the internationally recognized Mr. Peanut image we see in stores today.

In current times, brand suggestions can be obtained for a price at a variety of online venues and, in addition, BrandBucket offers a free naming service at its Name My Company platform.  Give it try and see if it provides you with some fresh ideas and engaging options.

Meanwhile, we hope this brief look into the methodology and success of past industry giants has created some new insights as you identify and procure your perfect company brand.

Source:  Naming Your Business and Its Products and Services by Phillip G. Williams (1991)

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