How 16 Great Companies Picked Their Unique Names

by Glen Stansberry on 9 July 2010 5 comments
Photo: Don Bayley

Anyone who's ever had to form a company can sympathize with how difficult it can be to create a company name that is descriptive yet unique. However, some companies have gone a less-traditional route and used some pretty unique naming conventions. Here are some examples of interesting company names and the backstories behind them.

Google

The name started as a joke about the amount of information the search engine could search, or a "Googol" of information. (A googol is the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.) When founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin gave a presentation to an angel investor, they received a check made out to "Google."

Hotmail

Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith had the idea of checking their email via a web interface, and tried to find a name that ended in "mail." They finally settled on hotmail because it had the letters "html," referencing the HTML programming language used to help create the product.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen literally means "people's car." Adolf Hitler initially came up with the idea for "cars for the masses," which would be a state-sponsored "Volkswagen" program. Hitler wanted to create a more affordable car that was able to transport two adults and three children at speeds of 62 mph. He choose the car manufacturer Porsche to carry out the project, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yahoo

The word "yahoo" was coined by Jonathan Swift in the the book Gulliver's Travels. The term represented a repulsive, filthy creatures that resembled humans (think: Neanderthal). Yahoo! founders Jerry Yang and David Filo considered themselves yahoos, and thought the term would be appropriate for their joint venture.

Asus

The consumer electronic company is named after Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. The founders dropped the first three letters for the high position in alphabetical listings. In 1998 Asus created a spinoff company named Pegatron, using the other unused letters of Pegasus.

Cisco

Contrary to popular belief and theories, Cisco is simply short for San Francisco. Their logo resembles the suspension cables found on the Golden Gate bridge.

Canon

When Canon was founded in 1933 under the name Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory. Two years later they adopted "Canon" after the company's first camera, the Kwanon. Kwanon is the Japanese name of the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola's name comes from the the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring in the soft drink. Eventually Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the 'K' of kola to "C" to create a more fluid name.

FranklinCovey

The planning product line was named after Benjamin Franklin and Stephen Covey. The company was formed in 1997 from the combining of the two companies FranklinQuest and the Covey Leadership Center.

IKEA

IKEA is simply a random collection of letters, based from the first letters of founder Ingvar Kamprad's name in addition to the first letters of the names of the Swedish property and the village in which he grew up: Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd.

Lego

Lego is a combination of the Danish phrase "leg godt," which translates to "play well." Initially the company built wooden toys, and later switched to making plastic bricks. Lego also means "I put together" in Latin, but the Lego Group claims this merely coincidence and the origin of the word is strictly Danish.

Reebok

Reebok is simply an alternate spelling of "rhebok," an African antelope. The company founders found the word in a South African edition of a dictionary won by the Joe Foster, son of the Reebok founder J.W. Foster.

Sharp

The Japanese consumer electronics company is named after its first product, an ever-sharp pencil that was created in 1915.

Six Apart

Six Apart's name has one of the most interesting origins. The web company's co-founders Ben and Mena Trott were born six days apart.

Skype

The original prototype of the company's flagship product had the name "Sky-Peer-to-Peer," which was shrunk down to Skyper, then finally Skype.

Verizon

Verizon is a combination of the words veritas, which is Latin for "truth," and horizon.

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Guest

"They finally settled on hotmail because it had the letters "html," referencing [b]the[/b] HTML [b]programming language[/b] used to help create the product."

HTML is not a programming language; it's a markup language. And I guarantee it wasn't *the* language used to create Hotmail because that would be impossible. (HTML just does not have those capabilities, nor is it meant to.) I know you're just paraphrasing the WP article, and what I'm saying might sound like split hairs or irrelevant technobabble, but it does put a different spin on the story. Why name Hotmail after HTML instead of CGI, Perl or whichever backend language was REALLY doing the heavy lifting? My guess is because HTML is and was more easily-recognizable, to the point where many people consider(ed) it synonymous with the web. There's a huge difference between naming your product after an arbitrary internal component (usually just confusing or meaningless from your user's POV), and naming it after something that will create a positive and meaningful mental connection. My $0.02.

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Kodak - Selected because those were the only characters consistently recognized and pronounced across the globe.

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Guest

That selection was ingenious!

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Robert Wise

Starbucks: It is the name of one of the main characters in the Novel Mobey Dick by Herman Melville. Mr. Starbuck was first mate to Captain Ahab.

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Guest

Wrong on Hotmail. It was supposed to appeal to gays, as 'hot male."