Google’s name-change is a strategic decision, an acknowledgement that the company’s activities are now much more sweeping than video and search. But not all name changes occur for such happy reasons. Big companies make name changes for a variety of reasons – sometimes to escape a negative reputation, or leave a naïve-sounding brand name behind.
Here are 10 of the most notable times companies changed their names.
1. When Philip Morris became Altria
Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro, found that its corporate name was too synonymous with the taint of tobacco-related death and disease, according to a study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco. In late 2001, the company announced it would change its name to the Altria Group, in an attempt to insulate other brands like Kraft from the negative associations, the researchers say.
2. When Andersen Consulting became Accenture
Andersen Consulting rebranded itself as Accenture on Jan. 1, 2001, after a court decision severed its ties with Andersen Worldwide and Arthur Andersen. The rebranding ended up being a lucky coincidence, when Accenture’s former sibling company, accountant Arthur Andersen, ended up being revealed as a party to the Enron scandal.
3. ValuJet became AirTran (and then was bought by Southwest)
In 1996, a ValuJet flight carrying 110 people crashed in the Florida Everglades, killing everyone on board and doing terrible damage to its reputation. But the company rebranded the next year by purchasing a smaller company called AirTran Airways and adopting its name. Eventually, the company was bought by Southwest, putting further distance between itself and the ValuJet disaster.
4. Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC
In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken began to subtly rebrand by shifting the focus to its initials, KFC. There were a lot of urban legends surrounding the switch – like the (untrue) rumors that it was because KFC’s chicken didn’t really contain chicken, or that the company didn’t want to pay royalties to Kentucky. The reason was apparently to remove the word “fried” from the name, which management felt gave the brand unhealthy connotations.
5. Datsun became Nissan
Whether or not you were alive in the 1960s and 1970s, the word “Datsun” might conjure up images of an old-fashioned car. The fuel-efficient Japanese brand became popular in the U.S. in the 1970s after oil prices spiked, but the company rebranded in 1981 as an effort to unify all its cars under one brand. Jim Hall, principal of automotive consulting firm 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Mich., has estimated that getting rid of the beloved Datsun brand cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
6. Blackwater became Xe became ACADEMI
Security contractor Blackwater Worldwide came under scrutiny in the late 2000s after the private company was involved in a series of questionable incidents, including a 2007 shootout in Iraq that killed 17 Iraqis. Blackwater guards were later convicted and jailed for their role in the shooting. In 2009, they rebranded as Xe Services. Then, in 2011, they were sold, got new leadership, and became a company known as ACADEMI. In 2014, ACADEMI acquired Triple Canopy, and the parent company took on the name of Constellis Holdings.
7. WWF becomes WWE
Do you remember when the World Wrestling Federation became World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., or WWE? The change was due to a drawn-out conflict with the World Wildlife Fund over the use of the acronym WWF. In 2002, the wrestling group finally changed its name to avoid tangling with WWF’s pandas.
8. Lucky and GoldStar Co., Ltd became LG Electronics
Korea’s LG started in 1947 as Lucky, a chemical company making cosmetics and plastics; it later started another brand called GoldStar, which sold electronics. The brand changed its name to LG in 1995 to elevate its brand for the Western market. It also adopted the same-initialed slogan, “Life's Good.”
9. Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web became Yahoo!
Did you know Yahoo was originally called “Jerry’s guide to the world wide web”? The site was named after founder Jerry Yang, who invented the site with David Filo in 1994, while both were grad students at Stanford. In 1995, they got a little more serious and switched the name to Yahoo.
10. When BackRub became Google
Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s first big collaboration at Stanford was a search engine called BackRub. The engine operated on Stanford servers for more than a year before taking up too much bandwidth, according to the company. The next year, Larry and Sergey registered Google.com.
A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that LG started in the 1950s as GoldStar. The post has been updated.
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