What's in a funky name

Recently, I have seen enough funky names to wonder, can they be successful? There are plenty of funky named companies out there, with things such as the Web 2.0 name generator, I see no shortage appearing on the horizon. However, of all the blog posts I have read on the subject seem to focus on esoteric startups, especially prominent was the Mint vs Wesabe duel. Heck, I couldn't even think of the name Wesabe for this post, but had to go Google it. On the opposite spectrum, the name Wufoo comes to mind often, but I can never remember what it is does until I go look at the site again, and say, oh, yeah, forms.

So, for lack of well reasoned data or posts appearing in the top of my searches, I thought I'd do a quick run through of the names of the top 200 public and non-ADR companies by market cap across industries to see if I could gather a synopsis. Of course, you have Google and Yahoo, but these seem run of the mill when comparing against names of European pharmaceutical companies. That is, until you go take a look and see that all those big pharma corporate names are the results of pretty much only two phenomenon:

1) Mergers
2) The desire to combine Latin terms

No, things don't get interesting at all until you delve into the stories of companies such as Accenture, or "accent on the future". Accent on the future, try to visualize that. I can tell you one thing, they hope you don't picture Arthur Anderson in your head, because this funky name came from the split off and resulting attempts to differentiate from the former company. Don't stop there though with the sweeping under the rug of old names. Philip Morris envisioned a similar coup with the name Altria. This one at least has latin roots, but no one really fell for the "look over here" scheme while tobacco lawsuits were poring in. Granted, I don't see "Truth" commercials appearing these days.

But then I hit the motherload, "Covidien". Now, just what did Covidien mean? A little searching found:

Covidien doesn't actually mean anything--it was computer-generated and chosen after a nearly nine-month-long process that included a worldwide evaluation to ensure the name wouldn't unintentionally offend any potential customers. Selected over 6,000 other candidates, it was meant "to suggest a feeling of togetherness and collaboration (as in the prefix 'co-') along with a sense of life and renewal (based on vida, the Latin word for life).

Well, true or not, that is a load of something coming at you either way.

Ok, so that adventure fizzled out a bit aftewards, but tech stocks would surely have something interesting to see, right? Wipro threw me for a loop until I did a facepalm when looking at results to find Western India Palm Refined Oils. Only to then do a classic double facepalm once I realized that it didn't make much sense for an IT giant to have that name. There's a good story in that name too, but let's move on.

Danaher. Hmm. A bit more searching, and the somewhat plausible sounding:

Danaher - The company is named after a river in Montana in which the Rales Brothers used to fish. The origin of "Danaher" goes back to the root "Dana", a Celtic word dating from before 700 BC and meaning "swift flowing".

Celtic. Well, it beats Latin for originality. The top contenders began to fade as the list droned on, but then I finally found what I had been looking for.

Xilinx

Say what? Check out the references from the wikipedia page.

Xilinx - Having tried to register a number of company names which were more conventional and had been rejected because they were already taken, the founders decided to deliberately create an unusual name in order to ensure that the name was accepted. There are multiple explanations for the origin of the name. Xilinx Fellow Bill Carter said that the name Xilinx was chosen because "The chemical symbol for silicon is Si. The 'X's at each end represent programmable logic blocks. The "linx" represents programmable links that connect the logic blocks together." Another explanation has it that two of the founders, Ross Freeman and Jim Barnett both attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also called the Fighting Illini. The name allegedly originated because the company founders were two ex-Illini, hence Xilinx (two 'X' Illini).

Could Xilinx have been the start of a long line of companies that would look out on the polluted namespace and just say screw it? Perhaps, but this brings us back to our original question, can a company have a funky name and be successful? The answer is a resounding yes, but just be damn sure you have a great story to go along with the name.

Add new comment

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comment using an existing account (Google, Twitter, etc.)