Stories Brand Names

25 Fascinating Stories Behind Your Favorite Brand Names

by Nicholas Tart on August 29, 2011

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. – Originally named Cadabra but people got it confused with cadaver. Jeff Bezos chose 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 was taken so he shortened it to
  7. Facebook – A facebook is a directory with photos and basic information. Changed from to 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 (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

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