Lisa Merriam

Brand Name History: How Best Known Brands Were Named

Some of the best known and most valuable brand names have surprising histories and unlikely provenances. Few came from high-priced naming consultants. Here is the brand name history for some well-loved brand:

7-Eleven Named for stores new extended hours from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Adidas Named for nickname of Adolf “Adi” Dassler
Altoids Made up name suggesting a medicinal benefit
Amazon Most voluminous river for a site with hoped for voluminous sales
Apple Steve Job’s favorite fruit, simple and not cold or unapproachable
like IBM
Arby’s Enunciation of founders’ initials Raffel Brothers
Bally Named after Lion Manufacturing’s popular pinball machine: Ballyhoo
Bic Marcel Bich used his own name, but dropped to H so as not to offend
Bridgestone Is translation of Japanese name that means “bridge of stone”
Budweiser Named for famous Bohemian town in Pilsen region now known as Budejovice
Canon Japanese name of Buddhist bodhissatva for mercy Kannon
Caterpillar A photographer said the tractor looked like a creeping caterpillar and
the name stuck
Cisco Short for San Francisco, also the Stanford Department Computer Information Services
Coca-Cola Made from coca leaves and kola nuts—coca-kola
CVS Convenience, Value and Service
Danone Named for nickname of founder’s first son Daniel—Dan + One
eBay Was originally Echo Bay, but that was taken,
so Echo was shortened to e
Fuji Film Named for highest mountain in Japan
Google A misspelling for math term “googol”
Grape Nuts Original formula used grape sugar as an ingredient; product had nutty
Häagen Dazs Completely made up name that sounds Northern European and rich
Harpo Oprah written backwards
Kinko Nickname of founder with wild, curly hair
Marlboro Named after streets in London
M&Ms For partners Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie (son of Hershey president)
Nabisco Short for National Biscuit Company
Pepsi Named for digestive enzyme pepsin
Qantas Short for Queensland & Northern Territories Aerial Service
QVC Quality Value and Convenience (not to be confused with CVS)
Reebok Named for African antelope rhebok
Snapple Named after first flavor Spice N’ Apple
Samsung Korean for three stars
Sun Microsystems Stanford University Networks
Toyota Founder name Toyoda turned out to be hard to spell
Volkswagen German for peoples’ car
Volvo Latin for “I roll”

More naming resources:

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio