The name game: The outcome

Publication date: 20 May 2005.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


I read Ruth Shalit's entertaining Salon piece about the corporate name creation business when it was first published, in 1999. It's still fun. Read it.

At the time, I was thrashing about languidly in the molasses-pool of the obviously defective New Economy, and I wondered how this particular facet of the collective insanity would play out.

Well, it's pretty much played, now, more than five years on.

I counted 21 company names in Shalit's article that were created by the highly paid naming professionals (most of whom, it should be noted, themselves still seem to be in business), and connected to actual ventures. I've now done a very slightly scientific survey to see what happened to all of those companies.

Did they really have "the basis for a lasting brand" - or, at least, more of a basis than shamefully un-expensively-named companies like Yahoo and Amazon?

Starting with the big names: Lucent and Nortel both rode down the stock price Matterhorn, but they've at least managed to stay in continuous business. Compared with them, Agilent's long-view chart looks positively healthy.

Meritel aren't looking too flash, but don't appear to have had any real problems, provided that Meritel is the same Meritel that was mentioned in the article (a possible problem for several other companies mentioned; I've wasted quite enough time on the research for this piece already, without checking exhaustively for presto-changeo situations, spelling errors, and the like).

Factiva's doing fine - its logo even still has the bubble over the I - but it's not independent; it's owned by Dow Jones and Reuters, who haven't changed their names. Infiniti's also OK, but that's another pseudo-brand, like Acura; in most of the world, Nissan and Honda sell their premium cars under their main brands.

Aquent's alive, and presumably the quoted befuddled employees are used to the name by now. Acteva also seem happy enough, silly accented logo and all. But they were named by "a civilian", so I left them out of the tally.

Tempstar, whichever one it is, seems OK. Navistar's a little dodgy, but things have been worse, and they make such cuddly things.

Hit 1 for "98point6" is now the naming company's brag page, which looks a little lonely now that the company itself is gone, gone, gone. Well, unless you count this, which you probably don't. The original name now seems to be owned by GE.

US Airways lurches on (should a company get a negative score if it's been bankrupt more than once?), but their name was hardly changed, so they only just made it into the tally in the first place.

Telegent hit number one is currently a Taiwanese outfit; is toast. Teligent-with-an-I had a little, um, hiccup. Telegy's dropped off the planet (though Telogy was bought by TI), as have Verbex and Azurex.

Livent cratered, Avilant and Levilant never really existed (though they were used in the article as examples of lousy names, so maybe I shouldn't have tallied them), and the less said about Naviant, the better.

So, of the 21 entries, we've got nine hale and hearty, one not-so-good, two fictional, and nine toast.

Better than I expected, to be honest.

This doesn't, of course, tell us how much of a contribution those who "create natural language solutions from a morphemic core" made to the failure, or success, of the companies. Perhaps the super-special names kept ailing corporations' noses above the water a little longer. Perhaps the wanky and immemorable titles caused consumer awareness to slide right off, and hastened the companies' demise. Who knows.

After all, the dark Satanic mills of Altria keep grinding away quite happily.

Yahoo and Amazon, of course, have kept on trucking, despite the conviction of many, including me, that they simply had to be a flash in the pan (a situation which I believe should be called The Beastie Boys Syndrome).

And what's the Web's biggest brand today? That's right. Name unchanged since some of its hardware was Duplo.

My tentative conclusion, therefore, is that as long as your company's name doesn't mean "scrotum" in the language of some country where you do business, you're probably better off putting your money towards actually doing business, rather than paying some linguistic witchdoctor to do something that can be done just as well by a very small script.

Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)