Stories Brand Names

25 Fascinating Stories Behind Your Favorite Brand Names

by Nicholas Tart on August 29, 2011 · 24 comments

Did you know that Hitler helped found Volkswagen?

According to the Hitler Museum, Hitler wanted to create a “people’s car” because, at the time, only one in fifty German families was able to afford an automobile. So while sitting in a Munich restaurant in 1932, he sketched the first design for what became the Volkswagen Beetle.

Then Hitler recruited renowned engineer, Ferdinand Porsche (yep, founder of Porsche), to manufacture an affordable car for the people of Germany. Porsche agreed and created the People’s Car, which, in German translates to Volkswagen.

If you thought that was interesting, here are 24 other fascinating stories behind your favorite brand names.

Top Brand Name Origins

  1. Amazon.com – Originally named Cadabra but people got it confused with cadaver. Jeff Bezos chose Amazon.com after the world’s largest river and also in part because it starts with A and will come up at the top of alphabetical lists.
  2. Apple – It’s speculative but at the time, Steve Jobs worked on an apple farm. Also, some say Jobs wanted it to be in front of Atari in the phone book. While others claim that Jobs wanted it to be a tribute to Apple Records, the music label for the Beatles.
  3. Atari – Derived from the Japanese word ataru, meaning to hit the target or to receive something fortuitously.
  4. BlackBerry – They wanted to steer clear of the term email because that word increased clients’ blood pressure. So they chose BlackBerry because the device’s buttons looked like seeds, the word is pleasing to the ear, and the device was black.
  5. Cisco – Short for San Francisco where the company was founded.
  6. eBay – eBay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, owned a consulting company named Echo Bay Technology Group before he started eBay. He originally wanted to call it EchoBay but echobay.com was taken so he shortened it to eBay.com.
  7. Facebook – A facebook is a directory with photos and basic information. Changed from TheFacebook.com to Facebook.com after they acquired the domain in 2005 for $200,000.
  8. GE – In 1890, Thomas Edison needed to sell his inventions as a company so he created Edison General Electric. Two years later, after merging with Thomson-Houston Electric Company, it became General Electric.
  9. Google – A googol is equivalent to a 1 followed by 100 zeros. When Larry Page and Sean Anderson came up with the name, Sean misspelled it as Google when seeing if the domain was available. Another report claims that Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and Google’s first investor, misspelled the name on his $100,000 investment check.
  10. Hotmail – Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith wanted a name that included mail. They settled on Hotmail because it included the letters HTML which is the programming language they used to create the site.
  11. HP – Named after their founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. They tossed a coin to determine if the company would be named Hewlett-Packard or Packard-Hewlett. Packard won the coin toss but chose to leave it as Hewlett-Packard.
  12. IBM – Coined in 1924, IBM is an acronym for International Business Machines.
  13. IKEA – An acronym from the founder’s name and the Swedish village in which he grew up: Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd Agunnaryd.
  14. Lego – A combination of the Danish phrase leg godt, which means play well. Lego also happens to mean I put together in Latin, but the company claims that it’s merely coincidence.
  15. Nike – Founded as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 to represent the blue ribbon you get for first place. 14 years later it was renamed to Nike after the Greek goddess of victory.
  16. Reebok – An alternate spelling of rhebok, which is an African antelope. They found the name in a South African version of a dictionary.
  17. Sony – Derived from sonus, the Latin word for sound. Also, sonny is short for sonny boys which was slang for smart and presentable young men.
  18. Sharp – The consumer electronics company is named after its first product, an ever-sharp pencil that was created in 1915.
  19. Skype – Originally Sky-Peer-to Peer, then Skyper, and finally Skype.
  20. Starbucks – The first name they ended up rejecting was Pequod, the whaleship in Moby-Dick. So they went with the name of the first mate, Starbuck.
  21. Toyota – Originally Toyoda, after the company’s founder Sakichi Toyoda, but renamed to Toyota because it took eight brush strokes to write it in Japanese and eight was a lucky number.
  22. Verizon – A combination of the words veritas, the Latin word for truth, and horizon, signifying forward-looking and visionary.
  23. Visa –Dee Hock, Visa’s founder, believed that the word would be instantly recognizable by many languages and universally accepted by many countries.
  24. Volkswagen – Literally means people’s car. Adolf Hitler developed the idea for a “cars for the masses” program that later became Volkswagen.
  25. Yahoo! –Coined by Jonathan Swift in his book Gulliver’s Travels, a yahoo (short for yahooligan) is a repulsive, filthy creature. Yahoo! founders, Jerry Yang and David Filo thought the word described them well and it was much better than their original name, David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web.

3 Most Common Ways to Name a Brand

From this list, here are the three most common ways that the world’s top brands got their names.

  1. Shortened or abbreviated over time.
    Seven of these 25 brand names are shortened from their original names including eBay, Facebook, GE, HP, IBM, Skype, and Yahoo! This tells us that good brands have short names.
  2. Derived from Latin or other languages.
    Six brand names are derived from other languages including Atari, Lego, Reebok, Sony, Verizon, and Volkswagen. The most common language being Latin.
  3. Metaphor to represent mission.
    Six of these brands are metaphors for the brand message that they want to communicate including Amazon.com (big like the Amazon River), BlackBerry (seed-like buttons), Facebook (a universal directory), Google (lots of information), Nike (victory), and Reebok (fast like an antelope).

These brands were also named based on their standing alphabetically, founders’ names, puns, random situations, and classical literature.

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Post image by: italianjob17

{ 22 comments }

Daniel Hoang August 29, 2011 at 6:39 am

That is very interesting, I was just planning to use my last name as the my corporation’s name. What’s latin for quality?

Nicholas Tart August 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

Yeah, this was a fun one to research! Three of those used their last name as at least part of their business name, but it’s old-fashioned. If you’re looking for more practical help naming a company, check out this post: http://14clicks.com/checklist-name-business-company/

Qualitas is Latin for quality. As far as I know, there aren’t any companies named that.

Daniel Hoang August 29, 2011 at 11:00 am

Let’s hope it stays like that for at least 8 more years

Nicholas Tart August 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

You could always use a combination of a few words, like Verizon. Or you could register it now and pick up the domains for a measly $5,000: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Qualitas-com-biz-and-us-Domain-Names-Sale-/180712896507?pt=Domain_Names&hash=item2a1353f7fb

Extreme John August 29, 2011 at 7:27 am

Very interesting article. I didn’t know a lot about these brand names until I’ve read this article. Thanks for sharing.

Nicholas Tart August 29, 2011 at 10:33 am

Thanks, John. Some of them, like Volkswagen, are hard to believe. So I had to dig in to a bunch of different sites to make sure that was the case.

Extreme John September 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm

You’ve got great research skills Nick. I’m a fan. :)

Daniel Hoang August 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

Nick, I have many plans for the internet to make me money, but need a credit card or something pay for my own domain and other stuff. any suggestions.

Nicholas Tart September 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Hey Daniel… Your best option is to buy them through a parent or another adult who trusts you. Then pay them back immediately.

Daniel Hoang August 29, 2011 at 11:30 am

Also what website hosting service do you use?

Nicholas Tart August 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I use GoDaddy’s hosting but I’ve been meaning to switch to Hostgator. Here are a few coupons:

Hostgator: 14clicks25 (25% off)
GoDaddy: cjc749fat ($7.49 domains)

As for your previous question, could you get a parent or other adult to pay with their card and pay them back?

Daniel Hoang August 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Perfect, thank you Nick.

Daniel Hoang August 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm

If I use hostgator and 6 months-11.96mo*, is that when I own a hostgator domain for 6 months or just pay for 6 months and own the domain forever.

Nicholas Tart August 29, 2011 at 5:08 pm

No, you need to get the domain as well. I typically recommend getting the domain on GoDaddy and hosting it on Hostgator. Then pointing the domain nameservers over to your hosting account. This will explain and detail the whole process: http://juniorbiz.com/make-a-website/purchase-domain-and-hosting

Daniel Hoang September 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

how do i get my name in the comment

Daniel Hoang September 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm

no wait, i meant how do i get my picture in the comment

Nicholas Tart September 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm

You nee to register an account at WordPress.com (don’t need to create the blog). Then go to: http://dashboard.wordpress.com/wp-admin/ and click “Profile” and you’ll see an area to upload/change your gravatar on the right.

Daniel Hoang September 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm

sure, i am going to need the account anyways

chloe keating November 15, 2012 at 11:21 am

hi i m writing to say thats some things people say one this are really boring but daniel hoang is amazing i love him xxx

AimBin March 14, 2012 at 1:34 am

I have read this article….. a good one… but I have also found some interesting material at

http://freefeast.info/history-of-it-companies/how-apple-was-named-apple/

regarding history behind naming brands… Thought you people might like it…

Nicholas Tart March 14, 2012 at 10:41 am

That’s a good one, Aim. I remember reading that when I was doing research for this post. Thanks for sharing.

rohit October 9, 2013 at 10:46 am

nice atticle

thnks

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