At least that’s what one brand name sleuth did when he was hot on the trail for the origin of the snack cracker, Triscuit. Turns out, when Sage Boggs asked the food product giant where the “Tri” in Triscuit came from, they initially weren’t sure, saying only that it didn’t mean “three.” So Boggs did some more digging and discovered an advertisement from the early 1900s touting the fact that “Triscuit is baked by electricity, the only food on the market prepared by this 1903 process.” Boggs has a great deal of fun teasing Nabisco on social media for not knowing the origin of their own brand name, but he had earned the right. A century later “baked by electricity” isn’t that distinctive, nor is it much of a “process,” but the brand continues to thrive.
Some brand names are easily traced. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company is named not for the founder of the business but for Charles Goodyear, who accidentally discovered the vulcanization process for rubber. Tiremaker and competitor Bridgestone is a Japanese company whose name literally translates to “stone bridge” in English. Nike is named after the Greek goddess of victory, whereas Adidas is named for its founder, Adolf Dassler, who was nicknamed “Adi.”
Deciphering other brand names can be more difficult. The name “Verizon” is a combination of the Latin word for truth, “veritas,” and the English word “horizon.” What either word has to do with telecommunications is debatable, but it’s a distinctive name and now well-established. “Lego” is based on the Danish words “leg godt,” which means “play well.” In Latin, “lego” means “put together,” but Lego claims this is just a coincidence. The Latin origin seems at first more likely, but the Danish roots speak to a higher purpose. (More trivia: There are an estimated 80 Lego bricks for every man, woman, and child in the world.)
You can puzzle all you want over some brand names and not find their inspiration because they are entirely fabricated. “Dasani” bottled water was developed by a marketing firm but has no specific meaning or roots. Market research showed that the name sparked a sense of pureness and refreshment. Haagen-Dazs is entirely made up, even though it intentionally sounds foreign. It was founded in the Bronx and is now headquartered in Minnesota. George Eastman created the name “Kodak” out of thin air. He professed to liking the strength of the letter K sound and added some vowels to generate a unique word. The name is sometimes erroneously attributed to the sound of a camera shutter taking a snapshot.
Brand names can come from serendipity, from casual connections to interesting words, or they can be carefully contrived, tested and relentlessly promoted. Made up names have a greater chance of being unique, yet are all that much harder to explain and build meaning around. And hindsight can make a successful choice seem obvious. After all, look at the success of Apple or Starbucks and their brand names seem like perfect choices now. But at their very beginnings, there were likely a host of critics crying out, “You want to call it what?”