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What’s In A Name: 18 Popular Brands

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Number two in our miniseries of “What’s In A Name” deals with popular brand names and their etymology. While some names are easy to figure out—Ford cars are named after Henry Ford—other brand name origins are a bit more complex, or in some cases, convoluted.

Nike

Nike refers to the Greek winged goddess of victory as well as a tactical missile of the 1940s. As far as your feet are concerned, the story goes like this. When the shoes were about to go to production, the brand name was “Dimension 6.” Nike employee number one Jeff Johnson literally woke up from a dream with the word Nike in his head, and that’s what they went with. You’d have to agree at this point the name was a good choice.

Sometimes a quirky twist of fate is a lot more productive than an expensive focus group! As an aside, a college student designed the Nike Swoosh, and was paid the princely sum of $35. Nike took care of her later on, but imagine what’s like to look at people’s feet and know that’s your work.

Adidas

The German sports company’s name is a portmanteau of their founder Adi Dassler’s name. That’s their original logo at left, known as the trefoil. Talk about sibling rivalries—his brother Horst started a rival shoe company and named it Puma.

Volkswagen

The German automaker’s name translates to “people’s car.” Autoblog adds the prototype’s name was “Work Through Joy” which wouldn’t fit on the hood as a badge. And let’s not forget that nutty Fahrvergnügen campaign. (That translates to “driving enjoyment.”)

GE

General Electric. Nothing special here, just wanted to throw you a curve.

Lexus

When it came time to name the new Toyota high-end brand, an ad agency came up with names that included “Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis,” according to Wikipedia. Alexis was the apparent front-runner but was scrapped over concerns “it applied to people more than cars,” with “Alexis Carrington” of the then-popular TV show Dynasty as an example. Famous Logos says the name Alexis morphed to Lexis, and finally to its present form.

Xerox, Band-Aid, and Kleenex

Xerox, Band-Aid and Kleenex are brand names with interesting histories. The key point here is that all have become synonymous with the thing they’re used for. If you need a copy made, you Xerox it, despite having a Canon or Toshiba copier. Xerox is derived from the word xerography, which is “a photographic reduplication without liquids.”

The same thing goes with Kleenex. Got a runny nose? No problem, where’s that box of Kleenex? Dictionary.com says “The creators came up with the name, ‘an arbitrary alteration of ‘clean’ plus brand-name suffix -ex.’”

Now, if you’ve got a cut, you need a Band-Aid. There are many different products that serve the same purpose, but this is the name that has stuck. So to speak. According to Dictionary.com, “this trademark was registered by Johnson & Johnson for a stick-on gauze pad or strip. It can also be used in the context of applying a makeshift solution to a problem, as in ‘the proposed reform isn’t thorough enough to be more than just a band-aid.’”

Comcast

A portmanteau of the words communication and broadcast.

Cisco

The tech giant’s name is merely a shortening of “San Francisco,” and you can see the Golden Gate in its logo. They were founded in The City in 1984, but are now in San Jose.

CNN

An easy one, the Cable News Network. But in the early days when they struggled, others would refer to them as the “Chicken Noodle Network.” CNN has managed to prosper in spite of that early nickname, it would seem.

IKEA

Right, this is a tough one. According to Wikipedia, the store name is “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.” Great, now let’s head to their cafeteria for some of those terrific meatballs.

Sharp

The electronics giant created an ever-sharp pencil as its first product. The name stuck, but they’ve moved on from pencils.

Samsung

The word means “three stars” in Korean.

Pringles

Pringles, the quirky potato chip in a can. Wikipedia has several thoughts on the name origination. One is that a fellow named Mark Pringle filed a patent on how to process potatoes. Another possibility is that a pair of Procter and Gamble employees lived on Pringle Drive in Finneytown (north of Cincinnati) and the name paired well with the word potato. Yet another theory suggests the name was pulled out of a local phone book. It’s interesting to ponder these possibilities, especially when you consider the creative resources of a giant like P&G. Once again, some of the most popular names are derived from the least likely sources.

Sony

Adweek equates the brand name Sony to the Latin word for sound, which is sonus. They say that the word also comes from the founders considering themselves to be “‘sonny boys,’ a borrowed word in Japanese that suggests smart young men.”

Volvo

Wikipedia cites the Swedish car company’s name as coming “from the Latin word volvo, which means ‘I roll.’ It was originally a name for a ball bearing being developed by SKF.”

7-Eleven

The convenience store chain was known as “Tote’m” but changed the name in 1946 to reflect, you guessed it, the store hours.

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