Articles

The True Stories Behind How Well-Known Companies Got Their Names

By Psquared - August 01, 2019

Take a look up there at all of those logos. If you were an alien that just arrived on Earth, they’d just look like a bunch of random shapes and letters that make no sense to you. However, you’d have to be an alien to not be familiar with most of these. Living in America, we’re bombarded with advertisements everywhere we look, whether it’s in our homes on our computers and television, or outside on billboards and even written in the sky.

These gigantic companies have worldwide name-recognition… but have you ever stopped and wondered what went into some of those names? We’ve all become so accustomed to hearing the names of these companies that by now we are completely numb to what they might actually mean or their origins. Well, here’s a list of 25 of the biggest and most recognizable companies on the planet and how they got those names in the first place…

Arby's

Credits: http://imgur.com

Arby’s is known for its curly fries, fruit turnovers and of course their main attraction: the roast beef sandwiches.

Wait a minute… Roast Beef… R. B…. Arby’s. Is this how they came up with the name? A cute little play on those initials and making it into an actual word? Not quite.

Although some people believe that the enunciation of Arby’s stands for “roast beef.” This isn’t true. It actually stands for the initials of its founders, the Raffel Brothers.

Wendy's

Credits: http://imgur.com

So what exactly does a freckled redhead with pigtails have to do with square hamburgers and chili?

Founder Dave Thomas decided to name the chain of hamburger fast food restaurants after his daughter. And you can probably guess what her name was…

Melinda. Wait… what? Yeah, her name was Melinda. But her nickname was Wendy, and that’s how they came up with the name. Naming a restaurant after your kid? That’s sweeter than a French fry dipped in a chocolate Frosty.

Coca-Cola

Credits: http://imgur.com

Possibly one of the most well-known beverages on Earth, there are all sorts of fun facts to learn about Coke.

Many believe the name is derived from the fact that cocaine was originally one of its ingredients, but that’s not the case.

Although, it’s ingredients do make up its name. Allegedly, its name was taken from the coca leaves and kola nuts used in the original ingredients. What’s the rest of the recipe? Who knows, but it would have made the name way too long if they were included.

Pepsi

Credits: http://imgur.com

It’s weird to say that a soda has an arch nemesis, but Coca-Cola definitely has one, and its name is Pepsi.

How did they get that name? It wasn’t from the ingredients, since a lot of them are the same that can be found in its more famous rival.

It turns out that the Pepsi founders were evidently a bit nerdy. The name of their world famous product is derived from the digestive enzyme pepsin. Hmm, we learned something about a product and ourselves with that one.

Atari

Credits: http://imgur.com

If you love video games (and come on, how could you not?) then you have to give credit for this pioneering company.

Atari is taken from a Japanese word used in the game “Go” that signals when an opponent’s pieces are in danger of being captured.

This is much like the word “check” is used in chess. So next time you’re playing a one vs. one game with a friend and you’re about to win, triumphantly yell Atari in their face.

Nintendo

Credits: http://imgur.com

Atari may have helped put video games on the map, but Nintendo is definitely the company that made them mainstream and brought them to new heights in society.

This famous company name comes from the Japanese name “Nintendou.” Roughly translated “Nin” means “entrusted” and “ten-dou” means “heaven.” In other words, it means “Leave luck to heaven.”

If you played any of the earlier Nintendo games without a Game Genie, you know exactly what that means. Skill is all that could save you.

Sega

Credits: http://imgur.com

Remember the ’90s? Brand loyalty was at an all time high, especially when it came to video game systems.

You either lived in a Nintendo house or a Sega house. But now that we know what “Nintendo” means, what’s the deal with “Sega?”

“Sega” is short for Service Games of Japan (SErvice GAmes…SE GA). This company originally imported pinball machines onto U.S. military bases around the Pacific Rim. Then, they got into the home console business in a losing effort to overthrow Nintendo.

Volkswagen

Credits: http://imgur.com

Okay, so far we’ve seen how famous fast food, soda, and video game companies got their names.

How about car companies? There are so many out there, and each of them has a specific meaning that you’re likely unfamiliar with.

Well, unless you speak German. Because if you do, you already know this one. In German, “Volkswagen” literally translates to the “people’s car.” That’s a nice sentiment, but if it’s a car for all people, we wish they were a little cheaper.

Kia

Credits: http://imgur.com

This one is just downright appropriately named, given where they are manufactured in Seoul, South Korea.

The word “kia” is roughly translated from Hanja and it means “rising from Asia.” Considering that’s exactly what they’re doing, the name fits, doesn’t it?

It’s simple, but effective considering how it’s a word we here in the west aren’t that familiar with. We don’t think it would work quite as well if a Michigan-based factory created a line of cars called, “Made In Detroits.”

Nokia

Credits: http://imgur.com

No, this company wasn’t started as a protest to the car company (Kia… NO-Kia… get it?). That would be weird flex considering how they’re not even making the same product.

No, this international phone company surprisingly started out in a completely different business when they first started.

Nokia was originally a wood pulp mill. Where were they located? Just outside the Finnish town of Nokia. Oh… well, that makes sense now, doesn’t it? Although it must have been confusing to say you worked in Nokia in Nokia.

Sony

Credits: http://imgur.com

This company is gigantic these days, producing all sorts of electronics and even have their very own movie studio.

They’ve made multiple Spider-Man films, and they started out as a simple store selling sound equipment. And that’s where the name came from initially.

Derived from the Latin word sonus, meaning “sound,” they chose this word because it’s so easy to pronounce in most languages. And it’s a good thing they did, since Sony products can be found all over the world.

eBay

Credits: http://imgur.com

Remember the early 2000s and the pure joy of sniping someone at the last possible second and winning a bid for something you didn’t need on eBay?

They’re still around and you can still buy countless items (useful or not) from them. But why is it called “eBay?”

It’s because it was owned by Echo Bay Technology Group. The name was originally supposed to be “Echobay.” The URL, however, was already taken by a mining company, so the founders had it shortened to eBay.

Amazon

Credits: http://imgur.com

eBay is a massive company, but it is absolutely dwarfed by the undisputed champ of online purchases, the monolith that is Amazon.

Did they get their name because their factories are so massive that they resemble a South American jungle? While descriptive, that’s not it.

Jeff Bezos wanted to convey the idea that you could find anything you were looking for…from ‘a’ to ‘z.’ So he came up with this name and the arrow, which happens to point from ‘a’ to ‘z’ in the name.

Sharp

Credits: http://imgur.com

Speaking of electronics companies, Sharp is one that you’ve likely seen. But where did that name come from?

It sounds like a fantastic name for a knife company, but sadly Sharp got to it first and use that name to sell TVs. What gives?

Well, the company’s first product, the ever sharp pencil, is actually where this multinational corporation got its name. Dang. So, just to remind you, never underestimate a new business, because they may start selling one thing then blow up with a different product.

7-11

Credits: http://imgur.com

This worldwide convenience store originally had a name with letters, known as U-Tote’m when they first opened.

However, in 1946, it changed its name from U-Tote’m to 7-11, after the new store hours of 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. went into effect.

These days, most 7-11s are 24 hour establishments, but once you get a brand with name recognition, you have to stick with it to avoid confusing customers, so the stores have been “7-11” ever since despite changing their hours.

CVS

Credits: http://imgur.com

Okay, this one should be easy enough to figure out. CVS is three letters, so it’s likely an acronym for something.

It stands for… CVS. Wait, what? The name of these drug stores were originally “Consumer Value Stores.” However it was shortened to CVS in 1996.

So the official name is just CVS, but those letters still stand for something to the employees. CEO Tom Ryan decided that the name would now stand for “customer, value, service” when it comes to their sales tactics.

AMC

Credits: http://imgur.com

Fun fact: while we’re all used to going to movie theaters with several films playing at once, that wasn’t always the case.

Back in the day, when you went to a theater, they had just one screen. It wasn’t until AMC came along and pioneered multi-screen theatres.

So it’s only natural that their initials stand for “American Multi-Cinema.” Way to go, AMC. Now we can go to the movies with our family and see different movies so we don’t have to be with out family.

Adobe

Credits: http://imgur.com

This company was named after a body of water (Adobe Creek) that ran through the property of founder John Warnock.

Funny enough, this was a very special creek. You see, it would actually pop up each and every morning.

It would then relentlessly ask Warnock to update it. And no matter how often he ignored it, it would always come back and ask again. What, that doesn’t sound plausible to you? Well, then you give a better explanation why it does that.

Starbucks

Credits: http://imgur.com

It’s become a joke at how easy it is to find a Starbucks anywhere in the United States. That mermaid is everywhere.

But what does a mermaid have to do with a name like “Starbucks”? Well, turns out that name comes from a very aquatically themed source.

Not many companies dive into the world of fiction literature to find inspiration for their brand, but Starbucks is not just any company. Its name comes from a character in the story of Moby Dick.

Nabisco

Credits: http://imgur.com

This logo is at the top corner of countless containers of cookies you crave, but you likely never once thought of what it might mean, did you?

It might seem fairly simple, but this classic cracker and snack manufacturer is just short for the original name – National Biscuit Company.

NAtional… BIScuit… COmpany… NA… BIS… CO… NABISCO! Boy, that sure was fun, wasn’t it. Now let’s celebrate this new knowledge by devouring an entire sleeve of Oreos like the adults we are.

Virgin

Credits: http://imgur.com

You know your company has made it when you have your own record store and your own airlines.

Not only that, but they’re considered the coolest in the industry, and that isn’t even all that Virgin got up to with its ever-expanding portfolio.

Although it may be hard to believe, this name was suggested to Richard Branson by his friend who noted that they were “complete virgins at business.” Well, they’re more than experienced now, and it was definitely more than beginner’s luck.

Lego

Credits: http://imgur.com

Lego is a mashup of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which means “spiky death trap that is a nightmare on bare feet.”

Just kidding (well, about the translation, although that is the most accurate description ever for these pointy blocks).

It actually translates to “play well.” And when it comes to toys, these are definitely toys you can play well with, as they simulate and increase your imagination. Just please, please please remember to put them away, for the love of whatever you cherish.

IKEA

Credits: http://imgur.com

IKEA is such a fun store, especially if you know all the secrets to maximize what you get out of shopping there.

There’s nothing you can’t find in these monolithic structures. You can even find a way to save yourself on your wedding day!

As for the name, it comes from its founder. By combining his own initials (Ingvar Kamprad) and the initials of the place he grew up (Elmtaryd Agunnaryd), Ingvar came up with his company name.

Adidas

Credits: http://imgur.com

We’re almost done with this stroll down company name memory lane. And while you walk, make sure your feet stay comfy.

First of all, “Adidas” is not an acronym for “All Day I Dream About Sex,” despite what you heard in middle school.

This company’s name came from the nickname of founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler. Fun fact: Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler, his brother, also started a shoe company called “Ruda,” which later turned into Puma. Their parents must have been so proud… and had an amazing shoe collection.

Reebok

Credits: http://imgur.com

Finally, we have Reebok. Slip these on and they help you run. Know what else runs? Animals.

Sounds like a tangent, but it’s actually where the name came from. A Reebok is actually a type of antelope found on the savanna in Africa.

The idea was that with these on, you could run as gracefully and quickly as these magnificent creatures. Just hope that there aren’t any lions near the treadmills in your gym, because you don’t want to have that in common with them as well.