What's in a name when it comes to business? Well, a lot. Some of the most well-known companies in existence today were originated under very different names. Here's a look at some of the original brandings bestowed on some of the world's most successful businesses. (For a related reading, see 5 Dead Auto Brands And Why They Died.)
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Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web (Yahoo!)
Why the founders of Yahoo! (Nasdaq:YHOO), David Filo and Jerry Yang, weren't completely sold on calling their internet search engine Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web should be self-explanatory. Obviously, having the e-mail address email@example.com is just too long-winded. But the name made perfect sense at the time: In 1994, Filo and Yang began keeping track of their favorite links in the form of a list or a guide. When that list grew, they categorized the links to create a kind of guide. Once the utility and marketability of the project became apparent, the site was re-named Yahoo!, after the noun, which means rude or unsophisticated (e.g. "This cowboy is a real yahoo.") And according to the company's media relations department, the name also serves as an acronym that stands for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle."
Brad's Drink (Pepsi)
Pepsi's (NYSE:PEP) time as Brad's Drink was fairly short in relation to the long history of the product. The soda pop company first introduced the popular, fizzy drink to the public in 1893 under the somewhat crude brand, Brad's Drink. The Brad in the name was Caleb Bradham, the pharmacist who invented the drink in New Bern, North Carolina. The name change came around the same time that the founder stopped bottling the beverage in the drugstore he worked at in 1903, although no theory as to why Bradham chose Pepsi-Cola is definite. Likely, it's related to the entrepreneur's wish that the drink be considered a health food that would improve digestion and be vitalizing. The enzyme pepsin and kola nuts are both ingredients in the soda.
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Philip Morris (Altria)
In 2003, Philip Morris Companies Inc., the tobacco and food conglomerate was renamed. The parent company of Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT), Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) and Philip Morris USA was to be known as Altria Group (NYSE:MO), while the rest of the names would remain the same. The reasons for why the name of the company's founder, Philip Morris, should be replaced with such a radically different title haven't been reconciled. After all, Morris had grown the cigarette company from its English origins in 1847, and had incorporated it in New York City in 1902.
The company's press release says the change was made for clarity's sake, although its stock symbol would remain unchanged. Others believe the board wanted to distance itself from the cigarette manufacturing side of the business, which was tied up with Morris's name. (For more, check out Conglomerates: Cash Cows Or Corporate Chaos?)
This Can't Be Yogurt (TCBY - The Country's Best Yogurt)
TCBY is now the largest American retailer of soft-serve fro-yo, but it hasn't been an easy ride to the top. Originally, the TCBY (which first opened its doors in Little Rock, Arkansas) name stood for "This Can't Be Yogurt," referring of course to it being a lower fat version of ice cream. But just three years later, a competitor out of Dallas, Texas sued the dessert company. Bill and Julie Brice, the founders of "I Can't Believe It's Yogurt!", started their business in 1977 - four years before TCBY's Frank D. Hickingbotham - and won the case. TCBY now stands for The Country's Best Yogurt. Surprisingly, the frozen yogurt war wages on. In 2000, Mrs. Fields Famous Brands acquired TCBY, which now operates more than 800 locations worldwide. I Can't Believe It's Yogurt continues to plug away from its new headquarters in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and is owned by Yogen Früz.
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
Franchised in 1952 by the famous Colonel Harland Sanders, Kentucky Fried Chicken is one of America's most well-known fast food restaurants. Although the menu offers many different items, Louisville's pride was always about its fried chicken. But in 1991, the company switched from their full-length name to the abbreviated KFC (NYSE:YUM). At the time, it was rumored that the reason for the change was because changes in people's attitudes toward health meant that the company wanted to distance itself from the word "fried." In 2007, the company partially abandoned its efforts, and rebranded itself back to the full name. (To learn more, see Sinking Your Teeth Into Restaurant Stocks.)
The Bottom Line
So what's really in a name? When it comes to people, maybe not much. But when it comes to naming a business, it's a different story. A company's name is a brand that most business owners feel is of the utmost importance when conveying the message of the product or service they're selling. Today's entrepreneurs must take note and choose their brand name wisely before introducing themselves to the market. (For more, see In Small Business, Success Is Spelled With 5 "C"s.)
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