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What is in a Name Change? Re-Joycing Corporate Names to Create Corporate Brands Laurent Muzellec Department of Marketing, University College Dublin, Republic of Ireland ABSTRACT Twenty years ago a corporate name was simply a trade name that described an industry, a ser- vice or a product (most often the corporate name was the founder’s patronym). The study reported in this paper reveals that as companies are becoming increasingly aware of the impor- tance of corporate reputation, they are managing their corporate names more actively and treating them as corporate brands rather than merely trade names. Newly created brand names are now consciously designed to evoke associations with a set of core corporate values that typically focus on themes such as life, competence, unity, vision and performance. By focusing on values that are common to most corporations, however, corporate branding may fail in one of its fore- most goals, which is to create differentiation. This paper provides an analysis of the corporate re-naming phenomenon and discusses its impli- cations for corporate brand naming. KEYWORDS: corporate brand, naming, rebranding, identity change INTRODUCTION ‘If all of Coca Cola’s assets were destroyed overnight, whoever owned the Coca Cola name could walk into a bank the next day morning and get a loan to rebuild everything.’ Carlton Curtis, VP Corporate Communications, Coca Cola Brand names are a fundamental marketing and strategic device. For strong consumer brands like Coca Cola, the name is arguably the only valuable asset; outside its brand context, the product, mostly made of water, sugar and bubbles is a cheap commodity. For corporations and corporate brands, the name is a prism through which each stake- holder perceives the company. The name might be synonymous with a way of doing business for suppliers, a distinctive in-house culture for employees, an enjoyable experi- ence for consumers, or a steady return on investment for the financial community. Academic articles which have tried to answer the illustrious question ‘what’s in a name?’ often come up with the answer of reputation and brand identity (Fombrun and Shanley, 1990; Perkins, 1995; Aaker, 1996; Tadelis, 1999). This indicates that company names are the receptacle of cor- porate brand and reputation. A brand name is the basis upon which the brand equity is built (Aaker, 1991) and a corpo- rate name is the vehicle that conveys cor- porate associations to the customer (Brown and Dacin, 1997; Dacin and Brown, 2002). Additionally, the name constitutes the link between the corporate identity, understood as what the company ‘is’, that is its values and its behavior (Olins, 1979; Dowling, 1996; Balmer, 2001), and the corporate image, which is thought of as the stake- holders’ perceptions of corporate attitudes (Bernstein, 1984; Davies and Chun, 2002). These various perspectives demonstrate Corporate Reputation Review Volume 8 Number 4 Page 305 Corporate Reputation Review, Vol. 8, No. 4, 2006, pp. 305–321 # Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, 1479–1889/06 $30.00

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Twenty years ago a corporate name was simply a trade name that described an industry, a service or a product (most often the corporate name was the founder’s patronym). The study reported in this paper reveals that as companies are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of corporate reputation, they are managing their corporate names more actively and treating them as corporate brands rather than merely trade names. Newly created brand names are now consciously designed to evoke associations with a set of core corporate values that typically focus on themes such as life, competence, unity, vision and performance. By focusing on values that are common to most corporations, however, corporate branding may fail in one of its foremost goals, which is to create differentiation. This paper provides an analysis of the corporate re-naming phenomenon and discusses its implications for corporate brand naming.


Page 1: Corporate Brand Naming

What is in a Name Change? Re-JoycingCorporate Names to CreateCorporate Brands

Laurent MuzellecDepartment of Marketing, University College Dublin, Republic of Ireland


Twenty years ago a corporate name was simplya trade name that described an industry, a ser-vice or a product (most often the corporate namewas the founder’s patronym). The studyreported in this paper reveals that as companiesare becoming increasingly aware of the impor-tance of corporate reputation, they are managingtheir corporate names more actively and treatingthem as corporate brands rather than merelytrade names. Newly created brand names arenow consciously designed to evoke associationswith a set of core corporate values that typicallyfocus on themes such as life, competence, unity,vision and performance. By focusing on valuesthat are common to most corporations, however,corporate branding may fail in one of its fore-most goals, which is to create differentiation.This paper provides an analysis of the corporatere-naming phenomenon and discusses its impli-cations for corporate brand naming.

KEYWORDS: corporate brand, naming,rebranding, identity change


‘If all of Coca Cola’s assets weredestroyed overnight, whoever ownedthe Coca Cola name could walk into abank the next day morning and get aloan to rebuild everything.’

Carlton Curtis, VP CorporateCommunications, Coca Cola

Brand names are a fundamental marketing

and strategic device. For strong consumerbrands like Coca Cola, the name is arguablythe only valuable asset; outside its brandcontext, the product, mostly made of water,sugar and bubbles is a cheap commodity.For corporations and corporate brands, thename is a prism through which each stake-holder perceives the company. The namemight be synonymous with a way of doingbusiness for suppliers, a distinctive in-houseculture for employees, an enjoyable experi-ence for consumers, or a steady return oninvestment for the financial community.Academic articles which have tried to

answer the illustrious question ‘what’s in aname?’ often come up with the answer ofreputation and brand identity (Fombrunand Shanley, 1990; Perkins, 1995; Aaker,1996; Tadelis, 1999). This indicates thatcompany names are the receptacle of cor-porate brand and reputation. A brandname is the basis upon which the brandequity is built (Aaker, 1991) and a corpo-rate name is the vehicle that conveys cor-porate associations to the customer (Brownand Dacin, 1997; Dacin and Brown, 2002).Additionally, the name constitutes the linkbetween the corporate identity, understoodas what the company ‘is’, that is its valuesand its behavior (Olins, 1979; Dowling,1996; Balmer, 2001), and the corporateimage, which is thought of as the stake-holders’ perceptions of corporate attitudes(Bernstein, 1984; Davies and Chun, 2002).These various perspectives demonstrate

Corporate Reputation Review Volume 8 Number 4

Page 305

Corporate Reputation Review,

Vol. 8, No. 4, 2006, pp. 305–321

# Palgrave Macmillan Ltd,

1479–1889/06 $30.00

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the key role played by corporate names asstrategic marketing assets. Replacing anestablished name with an entirely newname would therefore seem to go againstelementary marketing theory and practice.Yet companies adopting new ‘brandednames’ are frequently reported in the busi-ness press (McGurk, 2002; Lamont, 2003;Wiggins, 2003). This phenomenon, some-times referred to as corporate re-branding,has been quantified by Enterprise IG,which estimates that each year between1,000 and 2,500 companies around theworld change their names.1

Structural factors precipitating a namechange such as corporate mergers andacquisitions, or major changes in geo-graphic scope or competitive corporatestrategy can partly explain the re-brandingphenomenon (Muzellec et al., 2003). How-ever, while these factors may tell one whyre-branding occurs, they do not reveal theextent to which corporate naming is con-sidered as a strategic marketing variable inits own right, or whether it is merelyviewed as an administrative expediency.An additional point of interest, therefore, isto investigate the marketing role, aim andfeatures of newly adopted names.

Studies pertaining to this area of researchhave focused on the brand naming process(Kohli and Labahn, 1997), on brand namesemantics and symbolism (Collins, 1977;Robertson, 1989; Klink, 2001) and on thetypes of associations evoked by new names(Kohli and Hemnes, 1995; Delattre, 2002;Glynn and Abzug, 2002). These studies areeither concerned with traditional (product)brand naming strategies and their impacton customers’ imagery or corporate namepatterns within industries. Yet, corporatebranding goes beyond traditional brandtheory and differs from corporate identity(Balmer and Gray, 2003). In this paper, thetwo perspectives are brought together toprovide a broad review of the corporatere-naming phenomenon. The paper pro-

vides an analysis of the recent wave of cor-porate name changes and discusses theacademic and practical implications forcorporate brand naming.

The paper is divided into three sections.First, the literature on brands and corporateidentity is reviewed to establish the predica-ment of corporate brand naming. A data-base of re-named companies is theninvestigated and analysed in order to ascer-tain the characteristics of a newly createdcorporate (brand) name. The results are dis-cussed and the comments of two brand-naming specialists taken into account foranalysis purposes. The final section discussesthe managerial implications of the findings.


In order to understand the corporate re-naming phenomenon in the emerging con-text of corporate brands, the notion of cor-porate branding is first reviewed. Thedifferences between the corporate identityand traditional brand perspectives onnaming are then highlighted in order tounderline the challenges for corporatebrand naming.

Branding the Corporate Identity

There are many perspectives on corporatebranding in the literature (eg Schultz andde Chernatony, 2002; Balmer and Greyser,2003). Corporate brands can be seen ascommunications, vision, identity, culture,position, promise, image, or covenant(Dunnion and Knox, 2004). However, twobroad approaches may be identified: one iscentered on the organization and the pro-motion of internal values as well as cultureand vision (Hatch and Schultz, 2003; Ind,2003; Urde, 2003); the other focuses on theexternal audience and the marketing of thebrand (King, 1991; Keller, 2000; Aaker,2004). This might be because the conceptof corporate brand is at the crossroadsbetween the idea of brand and the notionof corporate identity.

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Corporate identity refers to an organiza-tion’s unique features, the way in which anorganization reveals its values and strategythrough communication, behavior andsymbolism (Leuthesser and Kohli, 1997;van Riel and Balmer, 1997). In otherwords, it is deeply rooted in the organiza-tion persona and can be assimilated as a‘statement of central character’ (Albert andWhetten, 1985). By contrast, a brand couldbe seen as a more contrived item, essen-tially managed by the marketing depart-ment. Indeed, a textbook definition ofbrand sees it as ‘a name, term, symbol,design or a combination of them intendedto identify goods or services of one selleror a group of sellers and to differentiatethem from those of competitors’ (Kotler,1992).2 Over the years, the brand con-cept has stretched beyond its concrete

physical attributes to include intangible,psychological aspects; the brand hasbecome ‘a collection of perceptions in themind of the consumer’ (Restall andGordon, 1993).Those perspectives are brought together

when corporate branding is considered as‘a systematically planned and implementedprocess of creating and maintaining afavorable image and consequently a favor-able reputation for the company as a wholeby sending signals to all stakeholders andby managing behavior, communication,and symbolism’ (Einwiller and Will, 2002).Above all, manipulating a key symbol suchas the name of the corporation is aboutsending a powerful signal, that somethingabout the corporation has changed (Dowl-ing, 1996; Stuart and Muzellec, 2004).More importantly, with the old namebeing discarded, so are its associations. Thenew name gives the opportunity to buildup new associations. Yet depending on theoutlook taken on corporate branding, iebrand or identity perspective, the missionproposed for the new name could varysignificantly.

Brand Names versus Corporate Names

Defining a brand as ‘a name, term, symbol,design or a combination of them’, impliesthat the name forms the essence of thebrand concept (Aaker, 1991). The name isa critical, core sign of the brand, the ‘basisfor awareness and communications effort’(Aaker, 1991: 187). Since the name canbring inherent strength to a brand (Kohliand Labahn, 1997; Klink, 2001), brandnames need to be actively managed inorder to influence external stakeholders. Ina conventional branding perspective, thename is an instrument at the disposal of themarketing team, who can use symbolismin order to affect consumers’ perceptions ofproducts or corporations’ attributes (Klink,2001; Yorkston and Menon, 2004). Oncelaunched, however, the new name becomesthe psychological property of consumers(Lerman and Garbarino, 2002).Brand experts are still unsure about the

ideal properties of a brand name. Manybrand consultants believe that a brandname should be unusual enough to attractthe attention of the external audience, suchas Xerox and Yahoo! (Ries and Ries, 1999;Godin, 2002). Yet, academic research indi-cates that names descriptive or at least sug-gestive of the product’s relevant attributesare more likely to be recalled and liked(Keller et al., 1998; Klink, 2001). In sum,an actively managed brand name should beable to attract attention, provoke a highlevel of recall and/or recognition and initi-ate positive associations.Identity is about behavior as much as

appearance (Olins, 1979); hence the reci-procal influence of attitudes (‘inner iden-tity’ — verbal school of thought) on theoutward show (‘projected identity’ —visual school of thought). Identity (andimage) may be crafted by the managementof marketing aesthetics, ie the corporatename, logo, design, colour, font etc (Mar-gulies, 1977; Schmitt and Simonson, 1997).Because the name is only a single, although


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quite visible element of the corporate visualidentity system, it will not modify a cor-poration’s appearance on its own (Margu-lies, 1977; Melewar and Saunders, 2000).This suggests that a ‘name’ is less essentialto the constitution of associations in a cor-porate identity context than in a brandcontext. A new name along with a newvisual identity can nevertheless help tocreate new associations as was done success-fully, for example, with Lucent Technolo-gies, a spin-off of AT&T (Schmitt andSimonson, 1997).

Due to the importance of the behavioralelement of identity, the name is sometimesseen as a trap that may catch the unwary(Dowling, 1996; Balmer, 2001). Badlyhandled, a change of name might justwiden the misalignment of the communi-cated identity with the actual one (Balmerand Greyser, 2002; de Chernatony, 2002).The two schools of thought on identity aretherefore wary about the importance andmanagement of corporate names. Thevisual or appearance school considers thename as one single variable among manyother elements of the corporate visual iden-tity system (Melewar and Saunders, 2000).The verbal or behavioral school of thoughtsuggests that feelings towards a corporation

are formed based on historical perfor-mance, organizational culture and employ-ees’ attitudes, rather than generated by anew name (Hatch and Schultz, 1997;Stuart, 1999; Ind, 2003). This suggests thata traditional corporate name, be it thename of the founder (Ford, Michelin etc)or the name of the place where the com-pany was first set up (eg Evian, Raleigh),reflects the corporation’s history and iden-tity better than a new name will ever beable to do. The characteristics of bothbrand names and corporate names are sum-marized in Table 1.

So far, corporate names have been stu-died through their length, their descriptiveassociations and their linguistic features(Kohli and Hemnes, 1995; Delattre, 2002).Conclusions in both studies were identical:new names were generally shorter, productand geographic associations were dropped,and many coined words were created.Organizational behaviorists Glynn andAbzug (2002) reviewed historical namingpatterns and found that corporate namesare influenced by a web of institutionalizedpractices. That is, organizations follow thepractices of other institutions from similarindustries when it comes to adopting anew name.

Table 1: Differences Between Brand Names and Corporate Names

Brand name Corporate name

School of thought Branding Corporate identityImportance in communicationmix

Central Secondary

Primary audience Customers Employees, customers, financialcommunity

Level of distinctiveness High: Capacity to attractattention

Low: Capacity to be acceptedby a wide audience. Must notshock

Semantics Induce positive feelings in themarketplace

Reflect ‘inner’ identity orculture

Management Actively managed Inherited (unmanaged)

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Corporate Brand Naming Challenges

Corporate branding goes further than thetraditional branding and the identity per-spectives. First, it surpasses product brand-ing by ignoring product features andfocusing on the underlying values andvision of the corporation (Hatch andSchultz, 2003; Urde, 2003). Secondly, cor-porate branding goes beyond corporateidentity by fusing the internal and externaldimensions of corporations (Balmer andGreyser, 2003). The branding of the cor-poration has several implications thereforefor newly created corporate (brand) namesthat must deal with a series of dichotomiesand challenges.The first challenge pertains to the time-

frame. The corporate brand name musttake into consideration the heritage of thecorporation but should also set a directionfor the future, and maybe create a sense ofnew departure, particularly following areputation crisis or a merger. Related tothis initial problem is the issue of thedegree of change a name can support.Should continuity with the old name befavored or, on the contrary, should atotally new name be created signifying aclear break from the past?The second challenge concerns the target

audience; a new name must be noticed byexternal stakeholders but must not alienatethe internal audience. Likewise, the valuesinduced by the new name should reflectthe actual identity of the corporation butalso appeal to the marketplace. As a result,a corporate brand name has to be assignedthe mission to inspire and to carry the setof values that define the corporation.This leads to a related and final dichot-

omy; the choice between a corporate namethat evokes attributes that are industry-spe-cific or one that induces universal values. Ifthe distinguishing core attributes for corpo-rate brands are cohesion, uniqueness,intangibility, complexity and responsibility(Ind, 1998), a new corporate name must

bundle together a collective sense of pur-pose, while encompassing the unique com-bination of history, leadership, strategiesand values, and being accepted by thevaried stakeholders. The difficulty of meet-ing all these objectives simultaneously isself-evident and demonstrates the complexchallenge involved in corporate re-brand-ing.

Corporate Brand Name Taxonomy

Brand consultancies usually employ taxo-nomies of some kind to discuss alternativenames. Common among those taxonomiesare labels such as descriptive, suggestive orassociative, and arbitrary or freestandingnames. Interbrand (2005), for instance,refers to descriptive, associative and free-standing names. A descriptive namedescribes the product or service for whichit is intended, eg Rent-A-Car. Associative(or suggestive) names evoke associationsimplicitly or explicitly with product fea-tures (for instance, Jaguar brings associa-tions with elegance and aggressiveness) or,in the case of corporate brands, with a setof corporate values. Freestanding (or arbi-trary) names have no link with the productor service that they refer to but might havemeaning of their own, eg Orange or Pen-guin. In some cases, such names have nointrinsic meaning at all, eg Kodak orXsara, in which case they may be calledabstract. Turley and Moore (1995) haveadded two more categories of brand namesin their study of service brands, ie person-based brands (patronymic name) and geo-graphic names. In the case of corporatebrands, acronymic names historically con-stitute another important category as thesuccess of IBM, GE or BP demonstrates.Collins (1977) examined the relationships

between sound and sense. He set up twoopposing theories known as the ‘Julietprinciple’ and the ‘Joyce principle’. The‘Juliet principle’ draws from the answer toShakespeare’s illustrious question: ‘What’s


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in a name? — That which we call a rose,by any other name would not smell assweet’. The principle states that the mean-ing of a name is not determined by itsverbal form but by the associations thatarise over time. The ‘Joyce principle’ statesthat the phonetics of a word symbolize itsmeaning. It is derived from James Joyce’screation of hundreds of new words thatsound to the reader somewhat like what hemeant them to denote. Accordingly, cor-porate names might be classified along aspectrum from totally descriptive to totallyfreestanding, as shown in Table 2.

This review of the literature comparesthe differences between the characteristicsof brand names as informed by brandingtheory and the properties of corporatenames as implied by the corporate identityliterature. This reveals a series of challengesfor corporate brand naming which hasbeen analysed by reviewing a database of166 re-named companies. Two mainaspects of name change were under consid-eration. The type and level of name changeprovide indications as to whether the heri-tage of the corporation is taken into con-sideration in the new name. The meaningand connotations evoked by new corporatenames, particularly those derived fromLatin, were also considered to determinewhether new names are shaped to appealto the marketplace or to the internal audi-ence; and whether they strongly differenti-ate the company or are embodied in anindustry-specific isomorphism. Moreimportantly, the etymology of new corpo-rate names can reveal the essence of newly

constructed corporate brands.


A sample of 166 companies was chosen forthe exploratory research. Using the searchengine Power Search on the FinancialTimes website (, one canretrieve articles on companies having chan-ged their name. A search on ‘namechanges’ from January 1, 2001 to January31, 2003 (a 25-month period) returned 314articles. Due to redundancies of articlesand/or companies, this number wasreduced to 116 when it came to identifyingcompanies. Another 50 examples of re-branded companies were found via othersecondary sources (newspapers, websites,advertisements) and were added to reach acritical sample size. Old and new nameswere classified according to their nametype (descriptive, geographic, patronymic,acronym, associative, freestanding). Thefirst four categories were easily assignedbut distinguishing between associative andfreestanding names proved to be a moredifficult exercise. Names were classified asassociative when an etymological studyprovided some meaning and/or a plausiblename explanation was found on the com-pany’s website; otherwise, names wereclassified as freestanding. To reduce biasedinterpretation, two independent readersreviewed the categorization afterwardsand pointed out potential disagreements.Consequently, 15 names were reclassified.This approach allowed further investiga-tion and categorization of the associativenames.

Table 2: Types of Corporate Brand Names

From the mostdescriptive

? ? ? ? to the mostabstract







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Replicating Delattre’s methodology(2002), the changes were also divided intotwo levels: Level 1 comprises names thatdisplay permanence or continuity. Perma-nence is reflected in a change of spelling(eg from to Ebookers).Continuity in the naming patterns refers toa combinative change in which the systemis relatively unchanged; this includes sim-plification, name lengthening, initialization,or a combinative modification (eg fromMorgan Stanley Dean Witter to MorganStanley or from S.J. Berwin & Co toS.J.B.). Level 2 refers to names that havebeen created from scratch and which haveno commonalities with the previous name(eg from Andersen Consulting to Accent-ure).Since several business articles have

suggested that numerous companies adoptLatin-coined words when they changetheir names (Dickson, 2002; Kellaway, 2002; Lamont, 2003), a categoryincluding Latin or Latin-based names wascreated.Finally a semantic analysis of associative

names was carried out in order to reveal

the theme brought out by new corporatebrand names.


Review of the Database

Type of name and type of change

The review of the database revealed thatprevious names were predominantlydescriptive (31.8 per cent) or person-based(24 per cent). Acronymic (14 per cent) andgeographic names (6.9 per cent) also featurequite strongly among the old names. Free-standing and associative names represent 15per cent and 8 per cent, respectively, of theold names. By contrast, the new names tendto be more abstract. More than 60 per centof them are either freestanding (32.5 percent) or associative (32.5 per cent). Descrip-tive names account for only 18 per cent andgeographic names are down to 1.2 per cent.The data support the supposition that

corporations are moving along the spec-trum from highly descriptive names tohighly conceptual names as demonstratedby the graph in Figure 1.

Table 3: Name Types

Old name New name

Name type Frequency (%) Frequency (%)

Acronym 24 13.87 13 7.83Associative 14 8.09 54 32.53Descriptive 55 31.79 30 18.07Freestanding 26 15.03 54 32.53Geographic 12 6.93 2 1.20Person-based 42 24.28 13 7.83Total 173* 100.00 166 100.00

*The total number of old names is greater than the total of the re-branded companies because inthe case of a merger and when the two previous names belong to a different name category; thenames of both companies have been included.


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Level of name change

In total, 31 name changes (18.7 per cent)displaying permanence or continuity wereclassified as Level 1. A total of 135 newcorporate names (81.3 per cent) showed nosimilarities with the previous name (Level2 change).

Latin and Greek connotations

A total of 34 per cent (47 names) of thenames that had changed dramatically(Level 2) did so to become Latin or Greekin sound or in derivation. It is difficult todefine what makes a word sound Latin.The ‘Latinity’ of a name is often suggestedthrough its ending, for instance ‘a’, ‘i’, ‘is’,‘ys’ and ‘us’ are Latin or imply a Latin

origin. Table 3 combines Latin or Greeknames, names derived from Latin andnames attributed to Latin.

Etymological analysis of newly created

associative names

The meaning of the associative names isnow investigated. Corporate websites werevisited in search of an explanation for thechoice of a new name. Only 33 companiesactually provided any explanation of theirnew name on their website. For 21 cor-porations, the name meaning was revealedthrough an etymological approach particu-larly in the case of Latin and Greek names.Table 5 provides some examples of theexplanations supplied by the companies

Table 4: Latin and Greek Coined Names

End with the letter ‘a’ Altria, Aga, Areva, Avaya, Aviva, Capitalia, Centrica,Consignia, Dexia, Encana, Glambia, Izodia, Kelda,Olimpia, Permira, Ramada, Sonera, Syngenta, Zeneca,Xansa

End with ‘i’, ‘is’ and ‘ys’ Acambis, Acordis, Altadis, Aventis, Elementis, Enodis,Invensys, Marconi, Misys, Novartis, Vernalis, Vivendi

End with ‘us’ Chorus, Corus, Lorus, Mobius, Thus, RubusOther Accenture, Agilent, Agere, Diageo, Lumen, Lucent,

Thales, Visteon, Verizon


























Old name

New name

Figure 1: Evolution of corporate names

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Table 5: Meaning and Wishful Meaning of Brand Name

Name Meaning Source*

Accenture ‘Today we are re-named, redefined and reborn. TheAccenture name connotes putting an ‘accent on the future’

Agilent Derived from the word ‘agile’, which means nimble andwell-coordinated


Altria ‘The name ‘‘Altria’’ derives from the Latin word‘‘altus’’, meaning high. It connotes an enterprise that aimsfor peak performance and constant improvement’

Aventis From avere (avens, aventis), which means ‘desiringintensely’ or willing, with pleasure; eager

Aviva ‘The Aviva name tested positively in consumerresearch around the world, bringing with itassociations of life, vitality and living well’

BearingPoint ‘Set direction, gain access to the right information,transfer knowledge, and achieve results for theirlong-term success’

Centrica ‘The name Centrica was selected because of its easeof use internationally. In many languages the wordCentrica is meaningless and therefore cannot conflictwith overseas language translations’{

Diageo ‘The word Diageo comes from the Latin word for ‘‘day’’and the Greek word for ‘‘world’’ or ‘‘every day, everywhere’’

Enodis Derived from Latin and means ‘solutions’ EtymologyExelon ‘Exelon stands for experience and excellence, and

that’s what the new company will be all about’

Kforce ‘In 1999, the company changed its name to Kforce,an abbreviation for Knowledgeforce, with the ‘‘K’’representing knowledge, (. . .) and the ‘‘force’’ signifies theknowledgeable team of people with a clear focus andcommitment to the goal’

Lucent Marked by ‘clarity’ or ‘glowing with light’ www.lucent.comNovartis Novartis comes from the Latin term novae artes,

which means ‘new arts’ or ‘new skills’

Permira Permira, a Latin word meaning ‘very surprising,very different’

Thales Name of ancient Greek mathematician EtymologyVerizon Derived from the combination of ‘veritas’, which means

truth in Latin, and ‘horizon’Etymology

Vernalis Pertaining to spring; used to describe plants forinstance Adonis Vernalis


Visteon ‘Coined from the words visionary and eon, Visteon is ofLatin derivation and therefore recognisable in manylanguages’

Vivendi Latin gerundive, means ‘vivacity’ and ‘mobility’ EtymologyXansa ‘The name is easy to say and read in all major market

places and has clear phonetic links with ‘‘answer’’. Theother inspiration has been the Sanskrit word ‘‘sanskar’’,which, among many meanings, also refers to culture andvalues which are internalized from past experience anddetermine future action’

*Websites were accessed between January 2003 and October 2003. {Although the name is clearlyderived from ‘centre’, it was classified as freestanding due to this explanation.


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themselves or found through an etymolo-gical approach.

Some key ideas emerged as central to themeaning of those new names. In order toexplore those ideas, a list of derived mean-ings was established through an etymologi-cal study of the corporate names, ie eitherbased on the proposed ‘etymology’ pro-vided on the corporation’s website or basedon the researcher’s own use of French,English and Latin dictionaries. The initialinvestigation provided a list of 37 key-words reflecting the ideas, concepts orvalues induced by the 54 associative brandnames, shown below in Table 6.

The second step involved clusteringthese keywords into general themes by

combining synonymous and similar terms.For instance, agreement is synonymouswith union and accord; high is synon-ymous with superior, which is synon-ymous with excellent and advanced, whichis similar to innovative, which is similar tonew. Ambition is related to dream, visionand will, which then connects with forceand strength. Experience is synonymouswith knowledge and skill, which is alsosimilar to competence. Thanks to this tech-nique, a map of derived values was con-structed, as shown in Figure 2.

Five clusters of values were then identi-fied: unity, life, performance, competenceand vision. In order to visualize howorganizational names fit back into this map

Table 6: Keywords Implied by New Corporate Names

accord being energy high lively strengthadvanced central excellence important new superioragile competence experience innovative oxygen uniqueagreement direction force intelligence skill unityambition dream future knowledge solution visionanswer drive guidance light spring vivacity


Figure 2: The values underlying corporate names

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of values, they were placed back in a simi-lar framework (Figure 3). Fourteen associa-tive or suggestive names were excludedfrom this map because they did not suggestvalues or ideas but were associated withtheir respective industry (eg Capitalia,Omnicom, Sonera, Liberty Media) and/ortheir country of origin (eg Swiss, Eircom).Essentially, corporations were moving

along the spectrum from highly descriptivenames to more conceptual names. Amongthose, associative names display a greatlevel of similarity both in sound (use ofLatin terminology) and in symbolism (clus-ter of five ‘common’ values).




In order to confront corporate brand nameinventors with these initial findings and togenerate discussion, two brand namingspecialists were consulted. Olivier Auroy isthe European brand name specialist atLandor Associates, an internationallyrecognized branding and design consul-tancy. Marcel Botton, CEO and founder

of Nomen, a leading naming agency, cred-ited with the creation of famous new cor-porate names such as Wanadoo, Vivendiand Thales. The following section inte-grates their reactions.The literature review indicated that if

corporate brand naming was to go beyondcorporate identity and traditional branding,it would need to overcome a series ofdilemmas. The following summarizes theresearcher’s analysis and indicates how cor-porations elude the corporate naming pre-dicament.

A New Corporate Name for Tomorrow’s

Corporate Brand

The types of corporate new names suggestthat corporations are geared towards thefuture, disregarding their roots by drop-ping the name of the founder of the com-pany, the place where it was first set upand the sector of industry from which itemerged. The evolution from industryassociation to non-figurative associationreflects the ambition of companies to putforward values rather than relying on his-torical attributes.

Figure 3: Corporate names and corporate values


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In addition, according to brand specia-lists, naming decisions are often made bytop management. As a result, there is anemphasis on vision and future; indeedmany corporations such as Visteon, Veri-zon, Accenture and BearingPoint haveadopted names that suggest the idea ofvision. If corporate brand management is adynamic process that involves continuousadjustments between vision, culture andpeoples’ images (Hatch and Schultz 2003),preferring one element at the expense ofthe other might become problematic.

A New Corporate Name for a Global

Corporate Brand

The large number of names that sound alike(Accambis, Altadis, Altria, Aventis, Aviva,etc.) suggests that names were selected ontheir ability to be widely accepted by thelowest common denominator in the mar-ketplace. As explained by brand namingspecialists, Latin is the common denomina-tor of all European languages, includingEnglish, which is increasingly used as theinternational business language:

‘Ok, so you think that all those namessound Latin because of the suffix ‘‘is’’; solet’s take Altadis, (the Hispano-Frenchtobacco company) for example, and thecore word ‘‘Altad’’: Altade, with avoiceless ‘‘e’’, it’s necessarily French;otherwise it’s Italian, Altadou, it’s alsoFrench. Altada, Altadi, Altado, it’s Italian.Altadas, Altada, it’s Spanish. Altadu, it’sRomanian. Altady, Altadey it’s English.Altader, Altaden, it’s German. Altadis, it’smore international . . . However, for therecord, Altadis, it’s Alliance, Tabac andDistribution.’ (Bottom, personalinterview, 06/02/2004).

The similarities in sound are due to a beliefthat an international corporation mustnot bear a name denoting its country oforigin.

A New Corporate Name to Resonate

with all Corporate Brand Audiences

The process used to select the best name fora corporation may also explain some simi-larities between the new corporate names.Names are not selected based on their sal-ience but on their capacity to be acceptedby a wide audience (Kohli and Labahn,1997). As a result, a dull name might bemore acceptable than an eccentric one.

‘The name that is selected in the end —which is not always the one that werecommended— is the result of a compro-mise reached in a corporate committee.Everybody has an idea about what consti-tutes a good name; eventually, it ends upwith what I would call an ‘‘idiominys’’3

(An ‘‘ignominious’’ Latin-coined wordfor ‘‘idiot’’, ‘‘idiom’’ and ‘‘mini’’). Theleast audacious option wins!’. (Auray,personal interview, 06/02/2004).

A New Corporate Name to Conform with

Prevalent Practices

The natural apprehension towards noveltyand the common inclination to repeat whatseems to have worked elsewhere constitutesa related explanation. Corporations con-form to prevalent practices in their industryand create names that follow institutiona-lized models that suggest category member-ship (Glynn and Abzug, 2002). Just like ‘oo’became the distinctive feature of internetbrand names (Yahoo, Google, Kelkoo,Wanadoo etc), Latin-coined names may bebecoming the common feature of newlycreated corporate brands. Since ‘Lucent,Thales, Vivendi’ have arguably reachedhigh levels of awareness, it was believed thatfollowers like ‘Aventis, Aviva and Elemen-tis’ would reach the same level of visibilitywith similar names.

A New Corporate Name to Induce

Universal Corporate Brand Values

To initiate positive associations, brand

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names suggesting key values are beingchosen. The semantic analysis revealed fivesummary values that occur frequently: per-formance, competence, unity, vision andliveliness. The extent to which a nameactually succeeds in inducing positiveassociations is beyond the scope of the pre-sent research. A review of articles on there-naming of CGNU (Aviva), ScottishPower (Thus) and KPMG Consulting(BearingPoint), however, can certainlyhelp managers to identify the potential pit-falls of tampering with established names,at least in terms of public relations (Brier-ley, 2002; Dickson, 2002; Kellaway, 2002).Additionally, the fact that the underly-

ing meaning of newly created corporatenames can be narrowed down to five prin-ciples suggests convergence rather than dif-ferentiation. Surely, most companies wantto perform well, to be coherent and to dis-play some level of competency in theirrespective fields. They most likely want tobe seen as lively as well. Indeed, a surveyconducted by the American ManagementAssociation (2002) revealed that profitabil-ity, innovation and ‘have fun’ were amongthe most cited values. Aviva for example isassociated with ‘vitality and living well’,but can Aviva ‘own’ — to paraphrase Riesand Trout (2001) — the terms ‘vitality andliving well’? It is difficult to understandwhat constitutes the distinguishing featuresof such companies. All those names seemto be interchangeable. Could Altria be aconsulting firm company, Aviva a foodand tobacco holding and BearingPoint aninsurance group — probably.




Developing a corporate brand is aboutdefining the organization in a way that isunique and distinctive. The goal of corpo-rate branding is indeed primarily to createa favorable image and differentiate the cor-

poration (Ind, 1998; Einwiller and Will,2002). The collection of perceptions thatdefines a brand can be intrinsically influ-enced by the semantics of the name (Klink,2001). Three options are available to man-agers when it comes to choosing the nameof the corporate brand.The first option is to keep the current

name of the corporation. Just like mostbrands were product names before theybecame brands, corporate names can betransformed into corporate brands withoutbeing modified or with little modification.For instance, the name Banco Bilbao Viz-caya Argentaria (BBVA) went from beinga ‘simple instrument of recognition’ tobeing assimilated to an explicit brandexperience (Alloza et al., 2004).The second option is to use the Joyce

principle to define the organization. Therole of influencing stakeholders’ percep-tions could very well be assumed bydescriptive and suggestive corporate brandnames. A descriptive or suggestive namecan infer what the corporation does (indus-try-related attributes) or what it stands for(business values/culture attributes).Descriptive names displayed in the FT

database often described the organizations’activity, for example, Ebookers, ITV Digi-tal, EasyInternetCafe and NationwideAccident Repair Services, but neverdepicted a feature of the corporation, iethere was no corporation with a name suchas Greatcorp, SuperServ, or Fast&Reliable.Descriptive names are diminishing inpopularity, essentially because they offerthe lowest level of protection in terms oftrade mark (Davies, 2002). A suggestivename such as Capitalia (ex-Banca diRoma) may also succeed in representingthe corporation’s sector of activity.Expressing what the company ‘stands

for’ is done through the use of associativebrand names that refer to the company’sway of doing business or, in other words,its business culture. Corporate brands can


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be defined as internal meanings formedwithin the organizational culture (Berg-strom et al., 2002; de Chernatony, 2002).According to the ‘Joyce principle’, namescan carry intrinsically positive values thatprovide the basis for a corporate communi-cation programme which will reinforceinitial beneficial associations. The nameAltria, which suggests ‘an enterprise thataims for peak performance and constantimprovement’4 is typical of this category.

When the corporate brand is supposed toresonate to a wide audience, it becomesmore difficult to find values that appeal toall kinds of stakeholders. It is interesting tonote that many names suggesting perfor-mance such as Altria, Altadis or Excellonare being promoted mainly to investors.These corporate brands do not deal directlywith consumers; they either hide behindtheir brand portfolio or are solely engagedin BtoB relationships. Corporate brandssuggesting the idea of life such as Aviva,O2 or Vivendi are more exposed to consu-mers and are being communicated throughmass media. For many corporate brands,however, it seems difficult to determinewho is their primary audience. As seen ear-lier, the cornelian choice between differen-tiation and acceptance among a variety ofstakeholders has led many corporations toarticulate universal values in a universalmanner. Applying the Joyce principlemight sometimes be too constrainingbecause it forces corporations to induceassociations within a restrictive framework.

Initiating favorable associations, how-ever, is only one of the two main goals ofcorporate brand naming. An equally cru-cial aspect of corporate branding is to dif-ferentiate the corporation in a crowdedmarketplace. This might be better per-formed with names based on the ‘Julietprinciple’. This third option does notnecessarily mean employing newly created,abstract, meaningless words such as Keldaor Zeneca. It may also include the use of

existing words that are easily rememberedbut applied in a new context. For example,a colour or a fruit like Orange is applied tothe context of a telecommunications com-pany. This strategy presents some advan-tages. Starting from a clean sheet mightgive corporations the opportunity to buildan ad hoc identity and create differentiation.If identity is an abstract concept (Czar-niawska, 2000), then a name should be ableto carry the fashionable values that domi-nate at a certain time and place, ie a greencompany or a fun company.

An ‘empty vessel’ name, free of intrinsicassociations, combined with thematic cor-porate branding campaigns allows somevariability in the positioning of the cor-poration. For instance, today ‘Orange, aninnovative company’; tomorrow, ‘Orange,a reliable partner’. The only thing Orangemight find difficult to claim is ‘Orange, agreen enterprise’! Unfortunately, since‘empty vessel’ names are meaningless, theydo not necessarily provide the companywith a credible story to tell. The conse-quences in terms of acceptance levels canbe dramatic, particularly among staff.‘Monday’, the briefly adopted name ofPWC Consulting, is a freestanding name.A public relations exercise was supposed toexplain that Monday stood for ‘fresh think-ing, doughnuts and hot coffee’. Employeesand other stakeholders, however, started toassociate ‘Monday’ with less favorablealthough quite amusing images:

‘The word on the street is that the PWCboard called their creatives last Friday,‘‘Have you come up with a name yet?’’,they asked, ‘‘Probably Monday’’, saidtheir contact’


‘A quick straw poll in the office revealsthat most peoples’ opinion is not ‘‘a freshstart, a positive attitude’’, but ‘‘I hate

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Monday’’. But that fits with their opinionof management consultants too’.5

The managerial implications are summar-ized in the simplified template in Table 7.The template provides managers with a

framework, which informs them of theadvantages and disadvantages of eachnaming option. If the corporation can bedefined by something genuinely distinctive,it might be worth looking for a descriptiveor suggestive name that captures theuniqueness of the organization. Unfortu-nately, this study reveals that newly createdbrand names often capture only the generalaspirations of any corporation, eg compe-tence and performance. If managers wanttheir brand to achieve differentiation, theyshould avoid those five corporate brandcliches.


As companies are becoming increasinglyaware of the importance of corporatereputation, they are managing their corpo-rate names more actively and treatingthem as corporate brands rather thanmerely as trade names. This study is con-

sistent with previous studies regarding cor-porate name changes. The contributionresides essentially in the analysis of themeaning of associative names. It revealsthat the values promoted by new corpo-rate brands revolve around the key notionsof liveliness, competence, performance,unity and vision. By inducing the sametypes of values through the same medium(the use of Latin-coined names), however,newly created corporate brands fail tocreate differentiation. The use of associativenames could well be too restrictive bynature. Corporations might be better offchoosing less sophisticated names whoseassociations can be shaped by a proficientbranding programme. A factor that shouldinfluence naming decisions is who is goingto be the primary audience of the newlycreated corporate brand. As the anecdotalevidence suggests that either associative orfreestanding names can be successful, how-ever, this paper does not conclude thatsome name types are more suitable thanothers. Evaluating what makes a corporatebrand name successful could offer a direc-tion for further research, unless one acceptsthe proposition that thriving brand names

Table 7: Corporate Brand Naming Options

Same name Names based on the‘Joyce principle’

Names based on the ‘Julietprinciple’


Focus onheritage

Focus on values such as:LifeVisionPerformanceUnityCompetence

Ability to focus on anything

Disadvantages Stuck withpast negativeassociations

Limited range of values thatmay not equally appeal to allstakeholders

No story to tell. Mayalienate internal stakeholders

Advantages Acceptance,recognition,equity

Induce positive attributes Allow for greater variabilityin positioning


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are the result of fine poetry rather thanobedient science.

NOTES1 Source: Enterprise IG 2002, 2003, 2004.2 This definition, which is often used, was firstproposed in 1960 by the American MarketingAssociation.

3 Originally in French, ‘compromots’, ie a compro-mise on words.

4 Source: Available at: September 10, 2003).

5 Available at: (accessible February 10, 2005).

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