HOME ARCHIVE 2017

Why some companies have changed their names, and why we’re glad that they did

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

When we first started The Bulletin, I wasn’t all that infatuated by its name.

We were not really a bulletin. Daily papers tend to choose that title. We are a weekly. Our function is different than that of a daily paper.

But the name stuck, and after a few issues back in 1994, we decided to keep it.

But, companies change their names for a lot of reasons. Sometimes the initial name just is not a good fit. Hindsight being 20-20, we are now glad that some of those companies made those changes. Here are a few examples:

Google

According to mentalfloss.com, Google was initially named BackRub. It lasted less than a year. The name “Google” was trademarked on Sept. 15, 1997.

I cannot imagine “BackRubbing” some subject that we are now “Googling.” Google is actually a misspelling of the mathematical term googol. It is a an expression for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros and reflected Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

They were the founders of the company, and many of us are really glad that they changed the name from BackRub, even though they had a little spelling problem along the way.

Yahoo

During its humble beginnings as a list of websites organized by Stanford graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo, Yahoo! was just named for its creators. By March 2, 1995, the duo changed the name to Yahoo, which, they joked, was an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” That’s better than Jerry and David’s Search Engine, even though the words behind the acronyms are geeky.

Pepsi

In 1893, North Carolina druggist Caleb Davis Bradham invented a concoction of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, kola nuts, and a few other ingredients, and called it Brad’s Drink.

In 1898, Bradham rebranded it “Pepsi-Cola” because he believed it was a health drink that helped with indigestion, also known as dyspepsia.

The medicinal function of Pepsi has not been proven, but at least we’re not drinking Brad’s Drink. That’s a good thing.

Subway

In 1965, 17-year-old Fred DeLuca took a $1000 loan from family friend Dr. Peter Buck to open a sandwich shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and named the shop after him. They sometimes had to shorten the name to fit outdoor signs and radio spots.

“When people heard the name ‘Pete’s Submarines’ over the radio, they often thought they heard the words ‘pizza marine,’” DeLuca wrote in his autobiography.

When customers showed up at his restaurant requesting seafood pizza, he knew they needed a simpler name.

They changed it to “Pete’s Subway,” and eventually just “Subway” as the business grew.

Amazon

If you type “relentless.com” into your Google (or BackRub) browser, you’ll find yourself quickly redirected to Amazon. That’s because founder Jeff Bezos at first named his company Relentless.

Friends felt that the word seemed a bit sinister, so he floated a few other ideas, including Awake, Bookmail, Browse, and Cadabra. The latter name, which referenced “Abracadabra,” was nixed when Bezos’s lawyer overheard it as “Cadaver” instead.

“Amazon” was the winner because it suggested scale — the Amazon is the largest river in the world by volume — and because it started with “A,” which was valuable in an era when websites were often listed alphabetically.

There are many more of these interesting anecdotes of why companies have changed names. All you have to do is BackRub it - I mean Google it.