Ever wonder how the founders of Google decided on the name … Google? What about Amazon? And Twitter? Or Virgin? Wikipedia to the rescue. It has an entire page devoted to the name origins (otherwise known as etymology) behind hundreds of the world’s biggest brands.
Many of these brand names spring from silly stories – yet these names have led to serious business. With some, such as Google and Xerox, their names have become part of our everyday vernacular. Think about it: How often have you found yourself saying, “I’ll just Google it” or “Would you Xerox me a copy?” Now there’s power in a name.
This roundup goes to show that name inspiration can strike from anywhere, via anything and at anytime. For the extensive list on Wikipedia, click here.
7-Eleven Renamed from “U-Tote’m” in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.
Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos renamed the company Amazon (from the earlier name of Cadabra.com) after the world’s most voluminous river, the Amazon. He saw the potential for a larger volume of sales in an online (as opposed to a bricks and mortar) bookstore.
Arby's The enunciation of the initials of its founders, the Raffel Brothers. The partners wanted to use the name Big Tex, but were unsuccessful in negotiating with the Akron businessman who was already using the name. So, Forrest said, “We came up with Arby’s, which stands for R.B., the initials of Raffel Brothers, although I guess customers might think the initials stand for roast beef.”
Blackberry The BlackBerry name was chosen because of the resemblance between the keyboard buttons and the drupelets that form the blackberry fruit.
Coca-Cola Derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the ‘K’ of kola to ‘C’ to make the name look better.
eBay Pierre Omidyar, who had created the Auction Web trading website, had formed a web consulting concern called Echo Bay Technology Group. “Echo Bay” did not refer to the town in Nevada, “It just sounded cool”, Omidyar reportedly said. Echo Bay Mines Limited, a gold mining company, had already taken EchoBay.com, so Omidyar registered what (at the time) he thought was the second best name: eBay.com.
Five Guys American restaurant chain founded by “five guys” – Jerry Murrell and his four sons. The “five guys” would later become the Murrell sons, after Jerry and his wife Janie had a fifth son two years after opening their first restaurant.
Garmin Named after its founders, Gary Burrell and Dr. Min Kao.
Google Originally an accidental misspelling of the word googol and settled upon because google.com was unregistered. Googol was proposed to reflect the company's mission to organize the immense amount of information available online.
Häagen-Dazs Name was invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus of the Bronx “to convey an aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship”. The name has no meaning.
Harpo Productions Production company founded by Oprah Winfrey. Harpo is Oprah backwards.
IKEA A composite of the first letters in the Swedish founder Ingvar Kamprad's name in addition to the first letters of the names of the property and the village in which he grew up: Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd.
Kinko's From the college nickname of founder, Paul Orfalea. He was called Kinko because he had curly red hair. The company was bought by FedEx for $2.4 billion in 2004.
Lancôme Began in 1935, when its founder, Armand Petitjean, was exploring the ruins of a castle, Le Chateau de Lancôme (Loir-et-Cher) while vacationing in the French countryside. Petitjean’s inspiration for the company’s symbol, a rose, was the many wild roses growing around the castle.
Motorola Founder Paul Galvin came up with this name when his company (at the time, Galvin Manufacturing Company) started manufacturing radios for cars. Many audio equipment makers of the era used the “ola” ending for their products, most famously the “Victrola” phonograph made by the Victor Talking Machine Company. The name was meant to convey the idea of “sound” and “motion”. It became so widely recognized that the company later adopted it as the company name.
Nestlé Named after its founder, Henri Nestlé, who was born in Germany under the name “Nestle”, which is German (actually, Swabian diminutive) for “bird’s nest”. The company logo is a bird’s nest with a mother bird and two chicks.
Nike Named for the Greek goddess of victory.
Nintendo Nintendo is the transliteration of the company’s Japanese name, nintendou (任天堂). The first (nin) can be translated as to “entrusted”; ten-dou means “heaven”.
Pixar From pixel and the co-founder’s name, Alvy Ray Smith. According to the biography “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs” by Alan Deutschman, the ‘el’ in pixel was changed to ‘ar’ because ‘ar’ is frequently used in Spanish verbs, implying the name means “To Pix”. Alternatively, “pixarr” is a common abbreviation for “pixel array,” an often used term in computer graphics programming.
QVC Quality, Value and Convenience
Reebok Alternate spelling of rhebok (Pelea capreolus), an African antelope.
Sony From the Latin word ‘sonus’ meaning sound, and ‘sonny’ a slang word used by Americans to refer to a bright youngster, “since we were sonny boys working in sound and vision”, said Akio Morita. The company was founded as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo KK (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation) in 1946, and changed its name to Sony in 1958. Sony was chosen as it could be pronounced easily in many languages.
Twitter Having rejected the name Twitch for their social networking service, co-founder Jack Dorsey says: “we looked in the dictionary for words around it and we came across the word ‘twitter’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’, and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was XXXXXXXXXXX.
Verizon A portmanteau of veritas (Latin for truth) and horizon.
Virgin Founder Richard Branson started a magazine called Student while still at school. In his autobiography, Losing My Virginity, Branson says that when they were starting a business to sell records by mail order, “one of the girls suggested: ‘What about Virgin? We’re complete virgins at business.’”
Wendy's Wendy was the nickname of founder Dave Thomas' daughter Melinda.
Xerox Named from xerography, a word derived from the Greek xeros (dry) and graphos (writing). The company was founded as The Haloid Company in 1906, launched its first XeroX copier in 1949, and changed its name to Haloid Xerox in 1958.
Yahoo! The word Yahoo was invented by Jonathan Swift and used in his book Gulliver's Travels. It represents a person who is repulsive in appearance and barely human. Yahoo! founders David Filo and Jerry Yang jokingly considered themselves yahoos. It’s also an interjection sometimes associated with United States Southerners’ and Westerners’ expression of joy, as alluded to in Yahoo.com commercials that end with someone singing the word “yahoo”. It is also sometime jokingly referred to by its its backronym: Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.