The best businesses have iconic names. Some, like ChapStick, Kleenex, or Q-Tips, become so engrained in the lexicon that people use these titles to refer to a type of product rather than a specific brand. Some consumers even use company names, like Google or Skype, as verbs, so that these terms not only reveal what product someone is using, they also describe what that person is doing.
Company names are almost always the first thing people see when they interact with a brand. As a result, it is extremely important for entrepreneurs to pick a name that reflects the business and that also creates a positive, memorable experience. The following list gives examples of some of the best-known businesses in the world, how they came to bear their names, and why a few underwent name changes:
Warby Parker revolutionized the eyewear industry by offering low-priced frames and lenses online. The company name is a pairing of Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, two characters in a book by Jack Kerouac, who the company founders say inspired them to explore the unknown.
A trip to Oregon reportedly inspired Steve Jobs to call the company Apple Computers. Today, the friendly and approachable Apple name is synonymous will all things “I,” including the iPhone and iPad.
Google, the top search engine in the world, takes its title from the word “googol,” which mathematicians use to describe the number 1 succeeded by 100 zeros. Company founders Larry Page and Serge Brin actually started out with the label BackRub before transitioning to the name everyone knows today.
Another notable search engine and e-mail provider, Yahoo is the brainchild of Jerry Yang and David Filo, who were pursuing doctoral degrees at Stanford when they started the company. Some sources report that Yahoo stands for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” but Yang and Filo claim they took their inspiration from the book Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
Nike is a giant in the footwear and apparel industry, and its title may be familiar to some as the namesake of the winged goddess of victory from Greek mythology. Originally doing business as Blue Ribbon Sports, and the company later renamed itself to reflect the inspiration behind the iconic “swoosh” logo.
A reputable contender in the athletic wear market, Reebok was founded by J. W. Foster in 1895. His grandson, Joe Foster, later renamed the firm, choosing a new name from a South African dictionary entry for a type of antelope (“rhebok”).
One of the pioneers of the electronic payment movement, PayPal actually started out as Confinity (a merging of “confidence” and “infinity”) with a focus on developing technology for Palm Pilot. In 1999, the business expanded its offerings to include e-mail payments and changed its name to PayPal.
Skype is a leading communications technology that allows users to send instant messages and meet remotely through video conference calls, among other capabilities. Founded as Sky-Peer-to-Peer, the company has since condensed its name twice, first to Skyper and then to Skype.
Sony has become synonymous with household electronics, but it started out as a Japanese radio repair shop called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo in 1946. The company quickly expanded and later developed the transistor television. In 1958, it took on the widely recognized name Sony Corporation.
The maker of Scotch tape, Post-It notes, and other products, 3M opened for business in 1902. The founders established the company as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, but they wanted a simpler name, so they abbreviated the three M’s.
Founded in New York, Häagan-Dazs has produced ice cream products for more than 55 years. The founder, Reuben and Rose Mattus, wanted to pick a name that no one could replicate, so they made one up. The term Häagan-Dazs has no real meaning, but the Mattus pair chose it because it sounded foreign.
An internationally recognized purveyor of furniture and home goods, Ikea is headquartered in Sweden. Its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, selected the title by placing his name and the name of his childhood village in order—Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd—and making an acronym out of the words.
Best Buy ranks among the most successful electronics franchises, but from its inception in 1966 to 1981 it did business as Sound of Music. After a tornado hit one of its biggest stores, it held a special sale on the salvaged inventory, offering the “best buys” on products. This sale was so successful was that that company switched its name.
Lego is the familiar manufacturer of plastic bricks that connect to form anything one can imagine. To come up with the company name, the founders merged together the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which means “play well.” Coincidentally, Lego is also Latin for “I put together.”