Company Names, Corporate Identity and Other Silliness

A friend of mine, a fellow compiler developer, once tried to explain the importance of a good corporate name to me. A name, he explained, should represent the corporate identity and mission. I really tried to take his words to heart. I considered naming the company Rosetta Technology. Most of the work at Bear Products International involves language translation software. The Rosetta stone translates one language into another. So a compiler could be viewed as a software Rosetta stone that allows the translation of one language into another. Unfortunately the names Rosetta Inc. and Rosetta Technology are already in use and are registered .com domain names. Most of the words in the dictionary (especially the naughty ones) seem to have been registered as domain names.

In the past company names and product names actually had some meaning. Many companies were named after their founders. Ford Motor Company was the automobile company founded by Henry Ford. Hewlett-Packard was named after the two founders. Some companies, like National Cash Register, International Business Machines and General Motors, chose names associated with the business lines and suggest present or future grandeur in their names. Xerox was one of the first companies to chose an artificial name not related to the founders or the product.

Marshalling its meager resources, it introduced in 1949 its first xerographic machine-the XeroX (with a capital "X") Copier. It was slow, dirty and required a number of carefully executed manual operations to produce a decent copy. But fortunately, it stumbled into a ready-made market. Slow as it was as a document copier, the XeroX Copier proved to be a quick master maker for a type of small office printing press requiring paper masters which ordinarily had to be typed by hand.

From the Xerox corporate history published on the

Meaningless names have become more and more popular. When Hewlett-Packard spun off its instrument division (which at one time was Hewlett-Packard's core business), they named it Agilent. Two drug companies, Astrazeneca and Novartis, have merged. I don't recall what the final company became. Only a naming consultant could guess at the roots of these names and no one outside of their industry would know what they do. For an excellent article on the absurdity of naming see The Name Game in Salon.

Words become associated with things. Before Xerox, the company, one might have mistakenly thought that Xerox was the name of the Persian king who was defeated at Marathon. Xerox is now strongly associated with plain paper copying. People commonly talk of making a xerox copy, even when they are using a copying machine made by another company.

If Agilent is successful they will eventually develop brand name recognition related to instruments. What after all does Kodak mean? Company names are iconographic. They become a short hand for the associations that the company has built over time.

Accenture is a company that is really, really glad that it is no longer known as Anderson Consulting. Anderson Consulting split off from Arthur Anderson after a long bitter legal fight, which was finally settled by arbitration. Arthur Anderson insisted that Anderson Consulting change its name so that they would not have the benefit of Arthur Anderson's brand name.

Accenture started out with an artificial name that is largely free of any context. If the company had remained Anderson Consulting they would have been linked in the listeners mind with fraud and bad accounting practices. I notice that Enron (yet another made up name) has proposed to the bankruptcy trustee that a new company be formed from what is left of Enron. Given the tainted nature of the Enron name they will rename any new company that emerges. They have proposed something like opCo as I recall.

Although the naming gurus would never admit it, company names have always been rather eccentric. For example, companies that supply compilers, debuggers and other software development tools include Greenhills, Tartan Labs (now part of Texas Instruments), Microtec Research (a division of Mentor), Diab Data (part of WindRiver Software) and Metaware. None of these names directly suggest the project line.

At Bear Products International we decided to use the Rock band method for choosing a corporate name. Even here many of the good ones were taken: Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, New Riders of the Purple Sage. Bear Products International doesn't Rock like Stone Temple Pilots, but I think it beats Alice in Chains. And Bear Products International is a better name for a company than some made up non-sense word that a name consultant charged $75,000 for. The Bear Products International corporate policy is to develop brand identity through high quality products that are useful to our customers. If we succeed in this, the name will follow. If we don't, the name will not matter.

Finally, what ever you may think of the name Bear Products International, we think that it is a better choice of names than Vapid Software.

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