Oct 27, 2021

Why Are the Names of Successful Companies Awful?

A serious discussion of corporate branding. Will not be found here.

By Ed Goldman

I’m often surprised when companies with enigmatic or downright dubious names succeed. Some examples:

ALIBABA: Do you really want people to think your firm employs 40 thieves?

Edgy Cartoon

Platform Toons

ROBINHOOOD: See Alibaba, above. The crew may be Merrie as hell and give their spoils to the poor, but they’re still thieves. And this is a finance company. Hello?

TIK TOK: Why would a company choose a name that reminds us time is passing us by?

VIRGIN: With a name like this, the company should provide a locator map— since in this day and age, it’s so difficult to find one of its namesakes.

VIRGIN GALACTIC: Well, maybe less difficult in outer space.

LYFT: An okay name for people who need a ryde somewhere, I guess. I wonder if the dryvers accept typs.

UBER: Since this is the German word for “over,” I’m surprised bilingual people don’t think it means their fares will be higher than those at Lyft.

RENAISSANCE TECHNOLOGIES: In a chronological sense, isn’t this a bit of an oxymoron? Not unlike the Senate Intelligence Committee.

EU: When spoken, this acronym for the European Union also sounds like your reaction if you accidentally step into a recently utilized litterbox. Even UE would have been better—though again, aloud, it might have made us think of making an illegal 180-degree turn.

ASCAP: Yes, it stands for the American Society of Composers And Performers. But when spoken as a word rather than by its initials, it evokes an anatomical aid you’d probably prefer not to think about.

ASPIC: See above.

ASPEN: There must be a better place to store your BIC.

PFIZER: While I’m beholden to the maker of the vaccine that’s protected millions of people‚—including me, and at least so far—the company really ought to put out a pronunciation guide. If those administering the injections insist on pronouncing the “p”, however, they might want to hand out Kleenex with them. (In a similar vein, every time someone asked me about my reaction to the first two shots, I said I pfelt pfine.)

THERANOS: This blood-testing company was wildly successful until it wasn’t. I really can’t blame the name, however, even though it sounds like a Greek god who was turned into a lunch-pail coffee container. Maybe the stockholders can sell the name to offset their litigation costs. Or hire a Greek god to represent them in court.

YAHOO: You needn’t even be a fan of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”— in which the Yahoos were primitive, greedy idiots—to remember when calling someone a yahoo wasn’t a compliment. You needn’t even go back further than the previous White House administration, for whom “yahoo” was one of the kinder epithets deployed by the former occupant-in-chief to characterize anyone who didn’t see him as a stable genius. (Now, Mr. Ed— the talking horse with whom I share a given name—he was a stable genius.) 

GOOGLE: I’m old enough to remember a comic strip called “Barney Google & Snuffy Smith.” Google was a ne’er-do-well urbanite and Smith was  a hillbilly. Ergo, relying on an online information service called Google, and using its name as a verb, felt odd at first. One might as well Flintstone, Popeye or Blondie. What was wrong with Ask Jeeves (later, just Ask) as a name? Maybe it wasn’t available. Or maybe it was stolen by those 40 thieves. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw

LIVE, LIFE, LOVE & THEN WORK (in that order)

Like many of you, I spend most of my waking hours at work and most of my adult life at work. So it’s no surprise that some of my best friends are those I met at work.

I’m not alone. For many of us humans, the workplace is where we spend so much of our time, so it’s only natural that we form close relationships with fellow workers, even life-long friendships.

I spent more than 20 years as a bank regulator, and during that period I met some wonderful people, including my husband. After retirement from the Feds, I became an executive banker and met a new set of friends. Some are silver and the others gold.

It’s true that workplace friendships can be tricky, especially because they could lead to situations that may cause conflicts or cause uncomfortable complications. While those concerns can be valid, I would strongly argue in favor of establishing and promoting work friendships. Why? Because without friendships at work, life is a lot more dull.

I strongly argue that making friends at work fulfills a basic human need for companionship—and is also good for your organization. Sure, reasonable boundaries should be established (such as avoiding gossip and skirmishes).

But having friends as co-workers will make you feel more comfortable and relaxed, happier, with a sense of unity. It can boost your mood and your confidence.

My advice is to share a laugh, share some chocolate, and have some fun.

Think about it. Increasing profits are generally important for a vibrant organization. Profits can be measured. But friendship, camaraderie, respect and a sense of humor in the workplace? Those are priceless, friends.

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