Throughout history, some of the world’s most iconic companies have undergone transformative name changes, shedding their old identities to embrace new and captivating personas. These shifts in nomenclature often reflect shifts in the company’s vision, scope, or branding strategy. In this article, we delve into the intriguing history behind the old names of popular companies and the reasons behind their transformation.
Original name: Cadabra
Once known as Cadabra, the online retail behemoth Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994. The name “Cadabra” was intended to evoke a sense of wonder, as in the magical incantation “abracadabra.” However, as the company expanded beyond its initial focus on books, Bezos realized the name might be misheard as “cadaver.” Thus, in 1995, the name was changed to Amazon, inspired by the world’s largest river, reflecting the company’s goal of being vast and powerful, like its namesake.
2. Best Buy
Original name: Sound of Music
Long before it became the go-to electronics retailer, Best Buy was initially named Sound of Music when it was founded in 1966 by Richard Schulze and Gary Smoliak. The company specialized in audio equipment and stereos. However, the name change in 1983 to Best Buy marked a strategic shift to encompass a broader range of consumer electronics and appliances, emphasizing the commitment to providing a wide variety of quality products.
Original name: Auction Web
Pierre Omidyar’s brainchild, originally known as Auction Web, was launched in 1995 as an online marketplace for collectibles. Recognizing that the name Auction Web didn’t capture the site’s potential for diverse trade, Omidyar decided to rename it eBay in 1997, reflecting the broader concept of an online marketplace where anyone could “electronic bay” their goods.
Original name: BackRub
Before becoming synonymous with online search, Google had a rather unusual name: BackRub. Founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1996, BackRub emphasized the search engine’s innovative approach of ranking pages based on backlinks. The name Google, a play on the mathematical term “googol,” was adopted in 1997, reflecting the vast amount of information the search engine aimed to organize and make accessible.
Original name: Burbn
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger introduced Burbn in 2010 as a location-based social app that allowed users to check-in, post plans, and share photos. The name Burbn alluded to whiskey, a nod to Systrom’s interest in distilleries. However, realizing the app was becoming more photo-centric, they pivoted, rebranding it as Instagram by combining “instant camera” and “telegram.” The new name emphasized the app’s focus on instantly sharing visual moments.
Original name: Kibble
Before becoming the streaming giant we know today, Netflix was initially named Kibble when Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph founded it in 1997. The name Kibble reflected the founders’ idea of delivering movies over the internet, akin to delivering dog food, or “kibble,” for entertainment. The name change to Netflix in 1998 better conveyed the concept of a vast, ever-expanding digital movie rental library.
Original names: Blue Ribbon Sports
In 1964, Nike was born as Blue Ribbon Sports, founded by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. The name paid homage to a shoe distributorship they established to sell Japanese running shoes. In 1971, the company adopted the name Nike, inspired by the Greek goddess of victory. This rebrand aligned with the company’s ambitions to become a global leader in athletic footwear and apparel.
Original name: Brad’s Drink
Pepsi, the iconic cola brand, had humble beginnings as Brad’s Drink, created by Caleb Bradham in 1893. The name change to Pepsi-Cola occurred in 1898, influenced by two of its main ingredients: pepsin (a digestive enzyme) and kola nuts. Eventually, the name was simplified to Pepsi in 1961, reflecting a modern, concise image and broader beverage offerings.
Original Stag Party
Hugh Hefner’s groundbreaking adult entertainment empire started as Stag Party in 1953. However, fearing potential trademark issues and wanting a name that would appeal to a wider audience, Hefner decided to rename it Playboy, evoking sophistication, elegance, and lifestyle aspirations.
Original name: Tote’m Stores
The convenience store giant 7-Eleven began as Tote’m in 1927. The name reflected the store’s commitment to providing customers with goods they could “tote” or carry away. However, to emphasize extended operating hours, the name was changed to 7-Eleven in 1946, symbolizing its dedication to being open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Original name: Picaboo
Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy’s multimedia messaging app initially bore the moniker Picaboo when launched in 2011. The name Picaboo emphasized the fleeting nature of the app’s photo and video messages. However, concerns about the name’s association with secrecy led to the adoption of Snapchat in 2012, better reflecting the app’s core functionality.
Original name: Cargo House
Before Starbucks became synonymous with premium coffee, it was known as Cargo House. Founded in 1971 by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker, the company was named after the Pequod’s first mate in Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick.” However, the founders eventually decided on Starbucks, inspired by the character Starbuck, to evoke images of seafaring and exoticism, aligning with their vision of offering unique, high-quality coffee.
Original name: Goodfellow
Target, the beloved retail chain, originated as Goodfellow Dry Goods in 1902. Founded by George Dayton, the name was chosen to convey the store’s commitment to providing quality goods at reasonable prices. In 1962, the company underwent a name change to Target, signifying its new focus on a wide range of goods and a more modern shopping experience.
Original name: Matchbox
Sean Rad and Jonathan Badeen’s dating app, which revolutionized online dating, was initially called Matchbox when it debuted in 2012. The name conveyed the idea of finding compatible matches, similar to lighting a match. However, the name was changed to Tinder shortly after launch, emphasizing the app’s focus on igniting connections and sparking new relationships.
Original name: Twitter
Twitter is the latest tech company to change its name. After Elon Musk acquired the company in a $44 billion deal, he changed its name to X. Musk had owned the x.com domain name for more than two decades, and it was also the name of his startup which had eventually merged with PayPal. After rebranding Twitter as X, Elon Musk has said it wants to turn X into an app that combines entertainment, finance and live streaming.