Published on October 24, 2022
A well-known brand name can be an extremely important asset for the nation’s most significant companies. The name of a company can make it or break it in many cases. Did you notice that many well-known brands started out as entirely different names?
Changing your company’s name is a big step, so why do so many people do it? Why do businesses rename themselves? Some companies outgrow their names as their business models change, while others may want to remove themselves from negative publicity.
Here’s a list of some of the most well-known brands you may not have known otherwise.
Imagine someone telling you, “Let me just BackRub it for you.” BackRub was the company’s name in 1996, but it only lasted a year before Larry Page and Serge Brin trademarked the name ‘Google.’ The world’s most popular search engine, the name “BackRub,” was launched in 1996. In 1998, founders Larry Page and Serge Brin renamed their company and technology Google.
“It’s a play on the word ‘googol,’ which is a mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.” According to Google, the word reflects their ambition to organize a seemingly unlimited amount of information on the internet.
Even with a name change, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Apple Computers was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Ronald Wayne, and Steve Wozniak but once they began manufacturing a variety of products, it became clear they needed an update. Jobs declared in 2007 that the company would no longer use the term “computer” and instead refer to its products as “Mac, iPod, Apple TV, and iPhone. There is only one computer among them. That’s why we’re changing our name.”
In the early 1960s, Nike was known as Blue Ribbon Sports when they worked as a distributor for the Japanese shoemaker Onitsuka Tiger. Later, the company changed the name “Nike”, after the Greek goddess of victory. The name may be gone, but it’s unforgettable that Nike running has created a special capsule called ‘Blue Ribbon Sports’ as a nod to their early days in track and field.
Caleb Bradham, a North Carolina pharmacist, began experimenting with a few soft drink formulas in 1893. “Brad’s Drink” was the name of one of them. He came up with a recipe that included sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and other natural ingredients, and that’s become hugely popular. Brad’s Drink was renamed Pepsi-Cola in 1898 and became one of the most well-known brands in the world.
When Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger developed their first location-based iPhone app, it went by the name of Burbn. It is said that Systrom was a big fan of Kentucky whiskeys.
When they realized that the most popular feature of the app was photo sharing, they created a fresh design for it, as well as a name that better suited it. On the other hand, Instagram, at a conference in 2012, Systrom noted, “It’s about going through false starts.” And, yes, “Burbn” was a false start.
Starbucks was almost known by the name Cargo House, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in the same way. Co-founder Gordon Bowker told the Seattle Times: “We were thinking about all kinds of names and came very close to naming it Cargo House, which would have been a terrible, awful mistake.” Instead, after realizing they needed something more forceful, they decided on the name “Starbucks”.
eBay was initially known as AuctionWeb when it was launched in 1995. It was one of four sites under founder Pierre Omidyar’s umbrella company, eBay Internet. The three sites include a tourism site, a personal shipper site, and an Ebola virus site. As a result of the media referring to AuctionWeb as eBay, the company changed its name in 1997.
The fast-food sandwich chain that is now known as Subway was created in 1965. Its initial name was Pete’s Super Submarines, or Pete’s Submarines, as it appeared in commercials and on billboards. The shop was previously named after the guy whose the restaurant’s founder, Fred DeLuca, had borrowed money to start the business. However, the term was short-lived because it was frequently misheard as “pizza submarine.” In 1968, the company changed its name to the now-famous Subway.
Kentucky Fried Chicken initiated a subtle rebranding in 1991, focusing on its initials, KFC. There were several urban legends surrounding the switch, such as the (untrue) rumors that it was because KFC’s chicken didn’t actually include chicken or because the firm refused to pay royalties to Kentucky.
The reason was apparently to remove the word “fried” from the name, which management believed gave the brand a negative connotation.
Did you know that Yahoo was initially known as “Jerry’s World Wide Web Guide”? Jerry Yang, the site’s founder, invented the site with David Filo in 1994 while both were graduate students at Stanford. In 1995, they took things a step further and changed the name to Yahoo.
Jeff Bezos decided to rename his book delivery service Cadabra (short for the magical word abracadabra) when a lawyer said ‘cadaver,’ a technical term for a dead body. Recognizing the potential negative impression this may set, Bezos changed the name to Amazon and has also been keen on Relentless. People believe he made the proper decision.
Mozilla’s well-known browser hasn’t always been known by this name. The company found that another open-source project was using the name Firebird and wanted “to be responsive to the concerns of fellow open-source developers.”
Firefox, another name for the red panda, seemed to fit all of the company’s requirements: “It’s similar to Firebird.” It’s simple to recall. It sounds appealing. It is one of a kind. “We like it,” the company said.
Confinity was merged with the name “confidence and infinity”. Back in 1998, initially, it was founded as a Palm Pilot payment and cryptography company. After a Confinity developer created an online demo that allowed people to email payments, the company rebranded as PayPal a year later. eBay was bought by the company for $1.5 billion in July 2002.
After a court judgment severed its links with Andersen Worldwide and Arthur Andersen, Andersen Consulting rebranded as Accenture on Jan. 1, 2001. The renaming ended up being a lucky coincidence, when Accenture’s former sibling company, accountant Arthur Andersen, ended up being revealed as a party to the Enron scandal.
Do you remember when the World Wrestling Federation became WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.? The modification was made as a result of a long-running conflict with the World Wildlife Fund over the abbreviation WWF. To avoid tangles with the WWF’s pandas, the wrestling group changed its name in 2002.
For decades, rebranding a company in the midst of a crisis or marking a shift in focus has been a common corporate tactic. According to the experts, rebranding is frequently used to update a company’s name to reflect cultural changes in consumer behavior or values.
“A company’s ability to educate existing customers about the rationale for the name change in a compelling way is critical to the success of a name change,” said Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who specializes in brand management.