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Some of the best-known nationwide companies got their names for strange, unusual reasons

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

A long time ago, we were trying to agree on a name for a weekly paper we planned to start. It was just an idea back then. The paper would later be printed and the first issue dated July 4, 1994.

We went back and forth, listing all the fancy newspaper names we could think of. We didn’t have access to the Internet back in those days because we didn’t know what that was, so we could not just push a few buttons and come up with thousands of examples.

“Why don’t we just call it The Bulletin?” asked Sharon, my wife, partner and co-publisher.

“Sounds good to me,” I said, and that’s how The Bulletin started.

I admit, it is not all that exciting. We just agreed that that’s what the paper would be called.

Since we made that decision, this fancy new thing called the Internet has come along, making looking up stuff really easy. So, since last week I promised that I would look into how some of the more well-known companies got their names, I did a little research and came up with a few.

3M: It stands for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. The company started out selling products to manufacturers of grinding wheels (you have to start somewhere). The name was changed to 3M when the company expanded its focus on innovative new products.

7-Eleven: It used to be U-Tote’m until 1946. This was kind of awkward with the capital letters, hyphen and apostrophe. When it comes to company names, simple is better - like The Bulletin. Then someone probably asked: “Why don’t we change the name to reflect our new hours, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.?” Wallah, 7-Eleven. Then some people probably asked: “Why are they only open for four hours?”

Adidas: Adolf Adi Dassler was facing a problem when he decided to manufacture athletic shoes and was looking for a name. Adolf was out of the question, considering the events a few decades earlier in Europe. That left Adi Dassler, which would have been a horrible choice for a company name. Wallah, Adidas. Problem solved.

His brother, Rudolf Rudi Dassler then went on to form his own shoe company, and also needed a name. He called his company Ruda, which later was changed to Puma. Good choice. What’s a Ruda, anyway? We all know what a Puma is.

Adobe: Founder John Warnock came up with an incredible software thingy that, as it turns out, revolutionized the printing and graphics industries. Now he needed a company name to market it. Adobe Creek just happened to run behind his house, so he named the company Adobe. Had he been living by Oyster Creek, we’d be publishing this paper using Oyster, rather than Adobe programs.

Arby’s: The Raffell Brothers came up with an amazing roast beef sandwich, and named the company after their initials, R.B., so their eatery became Arby’s. It makes sense.

Bridgestone: Founder Shojiro Ishibashi asked someone to translate his name to English. It means bridge of stone. That’s why some of us are not driving today on Ishibashi tires.

eBay: This start-up was part of the Echo Bay Technology Group, but the URL EchoBay was already owned by a mining company based in Echo Bay, Nevada. eBay was still available.

Coca-Cola: This was a no-brainer in more ways than one. Originally, coca leaves and kola nuts were used as flavoring. There was a side effect, though. The company switched to sugar cane, but kept the original name. Btw, Pepsi was named after the digestive enzyme pepsin.

Starbucks: Named after a character in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

Taco Bell: Named after its founder, Taco. Just kidding -- Glen Bell.

Wendy’s: Founder Dave Thomas named the company after his daughter, Melinda, who was nicknamed Wendy.

Lisa (personal computer): This is not a company, but it is interesting. Steve Jobs in the early 1980s developed and marketed a personal computer using “local integrated software architecture,” or LISA. But his daughter’s name also was Lisa. At first he said it was a coincidence, and he wasn’t the father. But then he became a good dad and stopped explaining it.