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Why a good company name can make all the difference

Why a good company name can make all the difference

When well-known companies and brands go through a name change, it can sometimes do wonders for business, or it can end in disaster. Katrina Haggarty from Business Name Generator looks at major business name changes.

HBO’s online streaming service HBO Max is officially changing its name to Max. The rebrand follows the March 2022 merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery to form Warners Bros. to set up Discovery. However, fans of HBO are confused as to why the iconic HBO brand was dropped from the name.

JB PerretteCEO at Warner Bros. Discovery has defended the name change.

He told The Hollywood Reporter that “HBO is a brand built over five decades to be the edgy, trailblazing trendsetter for adult entertainment, but it’s not exactly where parents would drop their kids off. Not surprisingly, the category hasn’t reached its true potential on HBO Max.”

Here are some other memorable company name changes and how they worked out.

Pepsi/Brad’s drink
“Is Brad’s drink okay?” might not have been such a welcome question in your local bar or restaurant.

When Caleb Bradham renamed his beverage product “Pepsi” in 1898, it proved to be a hugely successful business decision, with the beverage now one of the world’s most recognizable brands.

The name ‘Pepsi’ is taken from the word ‘dyspepsia’, which simply means ‘indigestion’, because the founder believed that his sweet treat was good for digestion.

Since Facebook was something of an international cultural phenomenon, it seems bizarre that it would undergo a name change just 18 years after its founding in 2004.

In 2022, the landscape of social media and its influence on culture is changing, bringing new challenges for major social media platforms.

After Facebook faced pressure from various stakeholders, protesters, and even government officials, among others, the company founded Mark Zuckerberg decided it was time for a total rebrand.

The new name – Meta – was introduced in 2022. Not only was it intended to reflect the company’s all-encompassing grasp of the social media scene, but the name Meta also reflected the company’s commitment to what it saw as the future of social media – the immersive virtual world of the Metaverse.

Fanta Pineapple and Grapefruit / Lilt
When brands change their name, the rationale behind it is often to make a name much shorter, smoother and more memorable. However, the opposite happened recently when the iconic fizzy drink Lilt changed its name to Fanta Pineapple and Grapefruit.

The name change came after Coca-Cola, which also owns Fanta, acquired Lilt. In 2021, Lilt’s packaging was changed to closely resemble Fanta’s, and in 2023, the tropical confection was fully absorbed into the Fanta family by becoming Fanta Pineapple and Grapefruit.

Metro / Pete’s Super Submarines
Submarine sandwich shops were all over the US in the 1960s, and friends Fred De Luca and Dr. Peter Buck were quick to jump on the trend when they opened their first store, Pete’s Super Submarines, in Connecticut in 1965.

By 1968, the company had grown in popularity, although people started pointing out that “Pete’s Super Submarines” sounded like “pizza submarines,” which was inconvenient given that the company sold sandwiches, not pizzas.

The store was subsequently renamed Subway and it’s safe to say the deli never looked back.

Google / Backrub
Google’s brand name is so recognizable that it has since become an intrinsic part of the English language. So it’s hard to believe that the famous search engine was almost called “Backrub.”

The name ‘Backrub’ was initially chosen because of the way the search engine recognizes and analyzes a website’s backlinks. However, it turned out to be a very smart decision to change the name to ‘Google’ before launching in 1998.

Starburst / Opal Fruits
Opal Fruits were first launched in the UK in 1960. However, when they launched in the US in 1967, they were named ‘M&M’s Fruit Chewies’, which was soon changed to Starburst.

As the American version became a more recognizable brand name around the world, Opal Fruits changed its name to Starburst in 1998. The only real difference between the two sweet treats was that Starburst contained a blackcurrant flavor, while Opal Fruits did not.

Some UK fans have remained nostalgic for Opal Fruits, and in 2020 the sweets enjoyed a brief limited edition revival on UK shelves.

Like Starburst, the nut-filled chocolate bar was sold under a different name on each side of the Atlantic. Marathon bars were sold in the UK and Ireland as early as 1930, but the treat was officially renamed Snickers in 1990, to match the name used in the US.

2020 saw the brief return of Marathon bars to themselves in 2020, as part of a limited edition promotional campaign that proved popular with chocolate lovers.

Aviva/Norwich Union
Norwich Union had been a recognizable insurance company in the UK for over two centuries before it was decided that a rebranding was necessary.

The city of Norwich is not well known beyond British shores, and as such the insurance company operated under the Aviva name in 28 different countries.

In 2009, the time was right to align Norwich Union with its global brand, and the insurance company has been known as Aviva in the UK ever since.

Google started as Backrub before rebranding (Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

eBay / Auction Web
The buying and selling site initially launched as Auction Web in 1995, and after two years of success, the site’s founder – Pierre Omidyar – tried to change the name to echobay.com.

However, this domain name had already been claimed by Echo Bay Mines and Omidyar had to shorten his desired company name to eBay – which didn’t work out too badly for the company.

Katrina Haggarty is Head of Content at Business Name Generator, part of the Adventrum group I Stockholm which also operates Marketzoo.

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