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March 18, 2001 - Company Names - 2002-01-31

MUSIC "Names and Addresses"/Junior Brown

AA: We all have trouble remembering names. But when it comes to corporate America, it's easy to see why. A record number of U-S companies changed their name last year 2,976 to be exact, we're told, just over half of them because of mergers and acquisitions. I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble.

RS: And this week on Wordmaster we look at the business of corporate names. Jim Johnson is a leader in that business. He's chief executive of Enterprise I-G, a firm based in New York that helps find names for companies in the United States and 14 other countries.


JIM JOHNSON: "A name is what people associate with you, with your products, with your services. It's a shorthand way that people can remember who you are from a clutter of other services and products and people in their everyday lives. It's a way of short-handing people's memory so when you say IBM or American Airlines, it immediately evokes all the images of what that company is without having to explain it over and over again."

RS: What would be a good name. What are the qualities of a good name for a company?"

JIM JOHNSON: "There are several very important ones. Typically, the better ones are normally short -- one or two syllables. Beyond short is memorable, distinctive and different, so that you don't confuse it with other names. (Another quality is) relevant something that if possible you can evoke the kind of imagery that you want associated with your company."

RS: "Do companies often make up names, combining several words for example?"

JIM JOHNSON: "Well, there are a number of ways to do it. The obvious one that most people think of is to just pick a name everybody knows. We'll just pick it right out of the dictionary, and we will just say what we are. And as a matter of fact that's sometimes the best way. The problem is there are very few simple dictionary words that are not being used by somebody in your industry. That leaves you with other options of combining word parts -- like Disney created a company called TriStar, a combination of two word parts. Another way to do it is to combine different words like VoiceStream or HotJobs and so on. Other companies will purposely change a word. Instead of Horizon, one of the big telecommunications companies in the United States developed a name called Verizon with a 'V.' A big communications company is called Qwest -- instead of Q-U-E-S-T, it is Q-W-E-S-T."

AA: "How are people to know how to spell some of these new corporate names we're seeing?"

JIM JOHNSON: "That's a problem. You have names that are purposely misspelled. I mentioned one of them like Qwest, and other ones like Verizon. There's another (business) called Cingular with a 'C.' Instead of S-I-N-G, it is spelled C-I-N-G. It's in the technology area. But there's a benefit, if you accurately and adequately describe it to everybody, they will remember it because it is so unusual, The problem is that you've got to do that very effectively. If you don't, you will confuse people."

RS: And, you could even offend them. Jim Johnson says Enterprise I-G and companies like his do a thorough linguistic check on all name candidates. They want to avoid slang or any negative meaning in another language. For example, something as simple as two letters S-I when pronounced a certain way in the phonetic system of Mandarin, means "death." Not a good company name.

AA: The process can take both time and money -- lots of it. But, Jim Johnson says a name is a strategic business decision, and if chosen wisely won't have to be changed unless the mission of the company changes.

RS: Our mission isn't changing, so keep writing to Avi and me at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 or send e-mail to With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "How to Succeed in Business"/Original Broadway Cast