Following a recent column about the rebirth of Andersen Consulting as Accenture, I got e-mail from a reader wondering about an apparent trend in corporate naming: "traditional, well-recognized Old Economy brands changing their name, invariably to something that sounds like a word but isn't (Accenture, Verizon), or is a word but is deliberately misspelled (Impiric, Cingular)."
I'll get to some of the reasons for this below. But first let's address a more pressing question raised by another reader in the wake of the announcement that Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble will form a joint marketing venture: What sort of foolish name will they come up with?
There's been no word of a name yet from Coke and P&G, which will be equal owners of the new limited liability company. They have named a CEO for the venture—Donald Short, from Coke—and some of the basics of the new firm, whose creation must be approved by regulators, have been reported: It would have 6,000 employees, $4 billion in revenue, and around 40 brands, including Coke's Minute Maid orange juice, Hi-C, and Fruitopia as well as P&G's Sunny Delight juice drinks and Pringles snacks. The idea is to make the most of combining P&G's research and Coke's marketing reach.
If the deal goes through, it will take a while to figure out whether that makes any sense, but in the meantime one crumb of news we'll get is the exciting new name, how it was born, and how clearly it articulates the new firm's bold vision, probably by way of some nonsense nonword.
In this case, of course, a new name of some sort is unavoidable. Andersen Consulting also had little choice but to change, not because it was a new company but because it was forced to drop the Andersen name as part of its split with Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm. In other cases a new name is unveiled for murkier reasons, usually spun as symbolic steps toward embracing the future (or at least escaping the past). Venator used to be F.W. Woolworth. (Though it has shed the department store and now chiefly operates footwear chains.) Impiric, to borrow from the earlier e-mail correspondent, used to be called Wunderman Cato Johnson and switched names about a year ago "to better reflect its new, integrated service offerings," as an explanatory press release put it.
Behind such impossible to assess assertions, there is at least one practical reason companies are going to be increasingly stuck with names that sound like something out of Dr. Seuss or J.R.R. Tolkien. Any name must of course be something the company can register as a Web address, and according to no less authoritative a source than Accenture's site, "98 percent of the words in a typical English dictionary have already been registered as dot-com domains."
This even limits the possibilities of, say, an anagram-driven name (which is a shame considering it may rule out Compactor Rebel Keg, Racketeer Clomp Bog, and, most pleasingly, Comeback Role Get PR). So what will it be? Juiceon, perhaps. Jhunkfud, maybe. The reader who raised this question offers Snakient as a possibility before changing course and suggesting that the new firm simply go with the name of a drink that P&G currently sells (according to Reuters) in Germany: Punica. "It's old and meaningless," this correspondent explains, "but it sounds new and meaningless." Well, almost meaningless—Punica does refer to a genus of plants that includes punica granaium, the pomegranate, but hardly anyone will know that. Besides, P&G seems to own the rights to punica.com (and here's the Flash-heavy German site) that seems to be about the brand. That's good enough for me.