25 Hilarious First Names for Your Favorite Brands
Sometimes the original isn't always the best option.
Turns out, your first choice isn’t always your best choice. And that couldn’t be more obvious when you look at the original names of some iconic brands.
Want to know why Amazon was called Cadabra, or why you could be saying, “I BackRubbed my question and got some crazy results”? Well, read on to learn the hilarious original names of the brands we all know and love.
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin created what we now know Google back in 1996, they initially called it BackRub. The name was a nod to the way the search engine analyzed the web’s “back links” to determine how important a site was.
A year later, they decided they needed to upgrade to a name that indicated just how much data they were indexing. Eventually, they came up with “Google,” a take on the number “googolplex,” which is the digit 1 followed by 10100 zeroes.
It was definitely for the best, or we’d all be talking about how we just “BackRubbed” Britney Spears to find out how old she is. And that’s just creepy.
Brad’s Drink (Pepsi)
In 1893, Caleb Bradham developed a carbonated soft drink in his drugstore in New Bern, North Carolina. He came up with the straightforward name “Brad’s Drink,” using a shortened version of his surname.
In 1898, he (thankfully) rebranded and came up with the name “Pepsi-Cola” after the root of the word “dyspepsia,” a fancy term for indigestion, and the kola nuts used in his recipe.
Eventually, “cola” became the common noun for the carbonated soft drink. So now, we’re just left with “Pepsi.”
Pete’s Super Submarines (Subway)
As the story goes, in 1965, Fred DeLuca saw that submarine sandwiches were all the rage and wanted to upon up a restaurant that offered them in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The only thing was he didn’t have the start-up capital.
He borrowed $1,000 from his friend, Pete Bucks, and named his new shop in his honor: “Pete’s Super Submarines.” Once the business expanded, he shortened the name to “Pete’s Submarines,” but was told that it sounded like “pizza marines” when broadcast over the radio.
He shortened it even more to “Pete’s Subs” as a result, and by 1968, he simply went with “Subway” as the company started to expand nationwide.
Stag Party (Playboy)
Hugh Hefner founded the legendary men’s lifestyle and entertainment magazine Playboy in Chicago in 1953. And an almost-lawsuit saved him from going with his original (infinitely worse) name, Stag Party.
“I wanted to call the magazine Stag Party, influenced by a cartoon book that I had. I was looking for a male figure of some kind and I thought, ‘An animal in tuxedo will set us apart,’” Hefner once said.
A month before the magazine first published, he received a letter from the lawyer of Stag magazine who claimed it was an infringement on their title.
“I was already having second thoughts about the title. So, at the very last minute, I changed the name and changed the image and called it Playboy,” Hefner said. “And the rest, as you say, is history.”
Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike)
In 1964, University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach, Bill Bowerman, founded Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) in order to distribute running shoes made by the Japanese company Onitsuka Tiger.
Two years later, they opened their first retail store in Santa Monica, California, and expanded to the east coast a year after that. Jeff Johnson, who ran the company’s east coast factory, mentioned that all of the great brand names at the time had consisted of one word that was easy to remember, all of which included at least one “exotic” letter like Z, X or K.
Just a few hours before their first shipment was due to go out, Johnson suggested “Nike,” the name of the winged goddess of victory.
Chris Steak House (Ruth’s Chris Steak House)
In 1927, entrepreneur Chris Matulich founded a 60-seat restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana, and named it Chris’s Steaks. Fair enough, right? During Matulich’s 38 years managing the restaurant, it was sold six times. But, it failed each time, enabling him to buy it back at a cheap price.
That all changed in 1965, when a divorced single mother named Ruth Furtel went against the advice of her banker, lawyer, and friends, and mortgaged her home in order to buy it. She participated in every aspect of the business, including learning how to butcher a steak herself, and hired single mothers under the premise they were hard workers. For many years, it was the only upscale restaurant in New Orleans with an all-female waitstaff.
When a fire destroyed the building in 1976, Furtel relocated the restaurant and renamed it “Ruth’s Chris Steak House.” After all, it was hers.
When Jeff Bezos founded what is now Amazon in 1994, he wanted to call it “Cadabra,” a shortened version of the oft-used magician’s phrase. After his lawyer misheard it as the far less appealing “cadaver,” he realized he needed to change it.
He wanted something that would capture the site’s sheer scope, and, preferably, started with the letter “A.” At the time, websites were listed alphabetically, so this would give Bezos’s site an advantage over its competitors.
After scanning the dictionary, he came upon “Amazon.” Not only was it an “A,” but it was also the name of the largest river in the world, implying size and volume.
Sound of Music (Best Buy)
The electronics retail store was founded by Richard M. Schulze and James Wheeler in Richfield, Minnesota in 1966. Because they specialized in high fidelity stereos, they named the store “Sound of Music.”
In 1981, the store was hit by a tornado, and they decided to have a huge sale of excess stock in the parking lot. They advertised the sale by promising consumers the “best buys” on products.
They made more money during that four-day sale than they did in an average month. So, in 1983, the name “Best Buy” was born.
Hertz Drive-Ur-Self (Hertz)
When John Hertz bought Rent-a-Car Inc. from founder Walter L. Jacobs in 1923, he renamed it Hertz Drive-Ur-Self. He sold the company to General Motors in 1926 and eventually bought it back in 1953.
After doing so, he renamed the brand the Hertz Corporation. This is just proof that the abbreviation “ur” existed long before AOL Instant Messenger, which brings us to…
Quantum Computer Services (AOL)
In 1985, Jim Kimsey and Marc Seriff founded the online services company Quantum Computer Services.
In 1991, they changed the name to America Online, but it wasn’t until 2006 that it officially adopted the abbreviation it was already widely known as, “AOL.”
T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs (Applebee’s)
The Palmers sold the restaurant concept in 1983. The name was eventually changed to “Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill” in 1986 to reflect the Palmers’ original concept: a place people could call their own.
Now, we can all eat good in the neighborhood… and say the restaurant’s name in far fewer syllables.
Research in Motion (Blackberry)
Research in Motion (RIM) was the first wireless data technology developer in North America when it was founded in 1985.
In the mid-2000s, the company became famous for its Blackberry line of smartphones, which got their name because of the resemblance of the keyboard’s buttons to the drupelets that compose the fruit.
Finally, thanks to its star product, the parent company officially changed its name to Blackberry Limited in 2013.
Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Sony)
Sony started out as a small electronics shop in a department store building in Tokyo in 1946. At the time, it was called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (which translates to Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation) and was known for building Japan’s first tape recorder.
When they decided to rename the company, they considered calling it TTK, but the railway company Tokyo Kyuko was known by that acronym. They then considered just using the acronym “Totsuko,” but found Americans had a hard time pronouncing it during a visit to the U.S.
They finally landed on “Sony” because it was a mix of the Latin word “sonus,” which is the root of sonic and sound, and “sonny,” AKA a young boy.
When English teacher Jerry Baldwin, history teacher Zev Siegl, and writer Gordon Bowker opened their first coffee shop in Seattle in 1971, they had another nautical name in mind: “Pequod,” the name of Captain Ahab’s whaling ship.
They also considered “Cargo House,” which Bowker said in an interview would have been a “terrible, terrible mistake.” Then Terry Heckler (with whom Bowker owned an advertising agency) said that he thought words that began with the letters “S-T” were very powerful.
“Somebody somehow came up with an old mining map of the Cascades and Mount Rainier, and there was an old mining town called Starbo,” Bowker said. “As soon as I saw Starbo, I, of course, jumped to Melville’s first mate in Moby Dick.” They got their reference in after all.
French-born Iranian-American computer programmer Pierre Omidyar had a girlfriend who was an avid collector of Pez dispensers. She was frustrated by how hard it was to find used ones online, so Omidyar started AuctionWeb on September 3, 1995.
Two years later as traffic grew, Omidyar tried to change the name to echobay.com, in honor of his consulting firm, Echo Bay Technology Group. Unfortunately, the domain was already taken by a gold mining company called Echo Bay Mines. So, he shortened it to his second choice: “eBay.”
Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (IBM)
The Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation began in 1911 as an amalgamation of four other companies. The most notable of its companies was the Willard & Frick Manufacturing Company, which was the first time card recorder company in the world.
When Thomas J. Watson took over in 1924, he decided to use the name “International Business Machines” in order to signal the company’s foray into electric typewriters and other office machines. Soon enough, it became the “IBM” we know today.
Nintendo Koppai (Nintendo)
On September 23, 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi started a small company selling handmade playing cards in Kyoto, Japan and named it “Nintendo Koppai.” The latter means “playing cards” and the former is commonly assumed to mean “leave luck to heaven.”
The company went through a series of names before it officially became “Nintendo Playing Card Company” in 1951. In 1963, longtime president Hiroshi Yamauchi shortened the name to “Nintendo,” gearing up for the launch of the company’s foray into video games.
Wards Company (Circuit City)
Samuel S. Wurtzel opened his first electronics store in Richmond, Virginia in 1949. He called it Wards Company, an acronym for his last name, followed by the first initials of his family members: W = Wurtzel; A = Alan; R = Ruth; D = David; S = Sam.
By 1959, he was operating four television and home appliance stores in Richmond, as well as several smaller mall outlets branded “Sight-n-Sound” and “Circuit City.” He officially changed the name of the company to the most straightforward moniker, “Circuit City,” in 1984.
In 2002, Dave Hyatt, Joe Hewitt, and Blake Ross began an experimental project called “Phoenix.” They came up with the name because the company “rose from the ashes” of Netscape Navigator. The following year, it was renamed “Firebird,” due to trademark issues with Phoenix Technologies.
Then, in 2004, they rebranded again to “Firefox,” after hearing from the Firebird database software project. But they had no complaints. “It’s easy to remember. It sounds good. It’s unique. We like it,” the company said.
Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web (Yahoo)
In 1994, Stanford University electrical engineering graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo created a website with the thoroughly wholesome name “Jerry and David’s guide to the World Wide Web.” Catchy, huh?
A year later, they changed it to “Yahoo,” which stands for “Yet Another Hierarchically Organized Oracle.” However, Filo and Yang insist the name was also a nod to the slang term for a “rude, unsophisticated rural Southerner” (Filo was from Louisiana), as well as a race of fictional beings from Gulliver’s Travels.
In December 1998, Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Luke Nosek, and Ken Howery founded Confinity, a company that developed security software for handheld devices. The name was a combination of the words “confidence” and “infinity.”
A year later, an engineer developed an online demo that allowed people to email payments. Thanks to the huge success, the company was renamed “PayPal.” Pretty cute.
Precision Optical Industry Co. (Canon)
The Tokyo-based company was originally named Seikikōgaku Kenkyūsho, which translates to “Precision Optical Industry.” In 1934, they began selling the Kwanon camera, a prototype for Japan’s first-ever 35 mm camera with a focal-plane-based shutter.
The name “Kwanon” is Japanese for the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Mercy, Guanyin. Considering the success of the product—and in an attempt to make the name easier for Americans to say—in 1947, the company changed its name to “Canon Camera Co., Inc.” More than 10 years later, it was shortened to “Canon Inc.” in 1969.
Sky Peer-to-Peer (Skype)
When Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, who’d previously c0-founded music sharing site Kazaa, first released their video chatting software in 2003, they called it “Sky Peer-to-Peer.”
They realized they needed something catchier, so they tried to shorten it to “Skyper.” But because that domain name was already taken, they settled on “Skype.” Who needs the “R” anyway?
Japan Optical Industries Corporation (Nikon)
In 1917, three leading optical manufacturers formed a Tokyo-based company known as Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha, which translates to Japan Optical Industries Co., Ltd.
In 1988, it was renamed Nikon Corporation in honor of its best-selling cameras, which were named after the word “Naikan,” a Japanese spiritual practice of extreme gratitude.
When Hatch Labs launched its revolutionary dating app in 2012, it was called “Matchbox,” a coy reference to igniting the flame of romance. But they decided to change the name because it sounded too much like Match.com.
Executives looked at the thesaurus and discovered the word “tinder,” the dry material that you use for starting a fire. They liked it not only for its meaning, but also for its homonym: “tender.” How sweet.
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