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The Pros Who Play the Name Game

3 minute read
Barbara Rudolph

Most entrepreneurs dream of making a name for themselves, but others aspire only to make names — for someone else. That is the mission of a coterie of corporate-identity consultants who create names for new companies and products. Anspach Grossman Portugal, a New York City consulting firm, oversaw Libbey-Owens-Ford’s metamorphosis into Trinova, and suggested Consolidated Foods adopt the tastier name of Sara Lee Corp. Siegel & Gale, another New York company, persuaded United States Steel to transform itself into USX. San Francisco-based NameLab christened Nissan’s Sentra car and Honda’s luxury Acura model.

Business is brisk for these consultants as a result of the recent rash of mergers, acquisitions and spinoffs. Says Joel Portugal, a partner at Anspach Grossman: “Industry is in a state of flux, and that means business for us.” When Bank of Virginia merged with Maryland’s Union Trust Bancorp, Anspach Grossman suggested the name Signet for the combined company.

An estimated 1,230 companies will take on new names this year, up some 15% from 1985. About one-quarter of these firms turn to an outside agency for help in forging their new identities. The name consultants will take in around $250 million in revenues in 1986, in contrast to about $200 million last year. Consulting firms can earn fees of up to $500,000 and, in rare instances, $1 million for suggesting a new name, logo and packaging. It typically takes a consultant between six and eight weeks to come up with a new name, which is usually test marketed before it is adopted.

The most powerful tool of the name-changing trade is the computer, which can generate thousands of suggestions in minutes. For example, Interbrand, a London firm with U.S. headquarters in Manhattan, instructed its computer to create words starting with p and containing a double z. The computer came up with several hundred possibilities, including Priazzo, now a best-selling pizza dish sold by the Pizza Hut chain. When International Harvester decided it needed a new image, Anspach Grossman asked its computer to reel off names that suggested a “leader” with “direction and focus.” Presto. Out popped “navigate” and “star,” which were then combined to form Navistar.

Hiring a consultant, though, is no guarantee that a new company name will be either unique or appropriate. Siegel & Gale gave U.S. Steel a list of possible new names for the steel conglomerate, including USX, Maxus and Amcor. USX was chosen before the manufacturer discovered that the name had already been adopted by USX Telecenters, a California-based distributor of telephone systems, which subsequently filed a $50 million trademark-infringement lawsuit against the steel company. After Houston Natural Gas merged with InterNorth in July 1985, Lippincott & Margulies, a New York City-based firm, came up with the name Enteron. As it happened, enteron is another word for the human digestive system. Randal Blauvelt, a spokesman for the new company, recalls that the coincidence was especially unfortunate for a manufacturer of natural gas. Says he: “It was nonstop joking. But we lived through it.” And decided to shorten the name to Enron.

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