Name It and It's Yours


You probably wouldn't order grilled Patagonian Toothfish at your favorite restaurant.

That's why a wholesaler named Lee Lantz renamed it "Chilean Sea Bass" nearly 30 years ago to give it more cachet.

Google was originally called BackRub because it determines the value of a site by checking the links that refer back to it, get it?

Ever heard of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing? The engineers who founded it back in 1902 thought the name was so dull that they started using the moniker 3-M instead.

Nike was originally called Blue Ribbon Sports, then renamed after the Greek goddess of victory. Good move. Somehow a "Blue Ribbon" swoosh wouldn't cut it.

Then there's Sir Richard Branson. He was just 20 when he started a mail order records business. He was wondering what to call it and his associate came to the rescule: "What about Virgin? We're complete virgins at business."

Verizon? A combination of the Latin word veritas (truth) and horizon. Cisco? An abbreviated version of San Francisco, where it was founded. In fact, the logo is based on the Golden Gate Bridge:


Ikea represents the first letters of the founder's name (Ingvar Kamprad), the farm where he was raised (Elmtaryd) and his hometown in Sweden (Agunnaryd), which has a population of just 220.

If you're trying to figure out what to name a business or a product here are some guidelines:

  • Color it (literally): Red Hat or Green Giant
  • Combine words: Laserjet or Dreamworks
  • Add alliteration: Dunkin' Donuts
  • Rhyme it: Reese's Pieces
  • Evoke a concept: Amazon
  • Describe the product: Whole Foods or Burger King
  • Abbreviate: AOL, AT&T, FedEx
  • Go sci-fi: Quark or Quasar
  • Wax abstract: Akamai, Acura
  • Add whimsy: Yahoo
  • Invent words: Wii, Häagen-Dazs
Then again, sometimes the founder's name(s) work best: Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Disney. I first called my business Greg Stone Productions, and I was doing, as you might have guessed, video production. (I had been a TV reporter so I was capitalizing on those who knew me in Boston.) As the company grew, I migrated into media strategy consulting and changed the name to Stone Communications. If nothing else, it's descriptive. Should I have chosen something more trendy? Maybe. Yet Johnson & Johnson, Ford and Steinway are still with us. I guess I'm in good company.