What’s in a name? How innovative companies got their names and logos
The power of branding is incredible. Show a yellow ‘M’ to someone anywhere in the world and there’s a good chance they’ll instantly think of burgers and nuggets. An apple with a bite taken out of it? iPhones and technology. A good logo and brand name are crucial for a company to be successful, driving brand awareness and putting it ahead of competitors.
But how did some of the most innovative brands on the planet come up with their names and logos? We look at some of the biggest players in technology and manufacturing and reveal the backstories to the logos and names that helped make them famous.
Perhaps the best-known company on the planet? Certainly within the technology industry. Google is the definition of a household name and the vast majority of the population would struggle to function without its services. But how much of this sector domination is down to its branding? An early name change certainly helped propel it towards stardom.
It feels inconceivable but Google’s original company name was the unattractively-titled ‘BackRub’. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, was soon replaced, but not without further drama. The technology giant-in-waiting opted for ‘Google’, in reference to the number one followed by 100 zeros. They chose this number because they liked how it connotes scale, but they got the ending wrong, with the actual mathematical figure spelt ‘Googol’. It doesn’t seem to have affected their long-term success, though.
Despite the error, the name stuck and it was ‘Google’ that was used as both the brand name and logo moving forward. The logo itself has changed very little over the years, and while basic, the colour scheme is iconic. The company selected primary colours to convey simplicity and familiarity, while including a secondary colour, green, to suggest innovation.
Some years later, they introduced the ‘Google doodle’, after playing with the logo to indicate their attendance at the Burning Man festival. They placed a stick figure behind the second ‘o’ in the logo as a comical message to users that the founders were ‘out of office’.
For a company built on forward-thinking, pioneering technology, it’s slightly ironic that Apple got its name from a trip to the countryside. Its co-founder, Steve Jobs, returned from a visit to an apple orchard in Oregon and suggested to his partner Steve Wozniak that their company be named after the fruit he had just been surrounded by.
Jobs said in his biography that the name felt “fun, spirited and not intimidating” and as such sounded like a good fit for his business. The name was also influenced by the fact that ‘Apple’ is ahead of competitor ‘Atari’ in the phone book.
The smart black apple on the logo obviously follows the brand name, but many have questioned why the fruit has a bite taken out of it. Rob Janoff, the man who created the logo back in 1977, cleared up the mystery relatively recently, revealing that the bite is predominantly used to differentiate the fruit from a cherry. It is also used to add a sense of scale to the image.
Like Google, the retail goliath Amazon benefited enormously from an intelligent early name change. CEO Jeff Bezos originally labelled his growing, initially books-only, online store ‘Cadabra’, trying to draw on the magical associations of ‘abracadabra’. But what he didn’t account for was the word’s unfortunate similarity to the term ‘cadaver’. Desperate to avoid his company being linked with dead bodies, Bezos renamed the firm ‘Amazon’.
The name worked for several reasons, not least the fact that it began with an ‘A’ so would be listed at the top of alphabetised search pages. The main attraction to the name, however, was the connotations of scale and vastness from the Amazon river and rainforest. Such traits were exactly what Bezos wanted for his ambitious store.
This sense of breadth is also channelled in the company’s logo, which has evolved from a watery blue square to the famous black text and orange arrow we know today. The arrow is where the symbolism lies, with the line stretching from the letter ‘A’ to the letter ‘Z’, showing how the online store sells everything a customer could possibly want. The curved nature of the shape is also meant to look like a smile, pertaining to the supposed happiness felt when shopping on Amazon.
Although Tesla wasn’t the first company to produce electric cars, the name has now become the most associated with the technology. The idea behind the name was born in Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant and it pays homage to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American who invented the AC electric motor that the brand uses in their cars.
After moving to the United States in 1884, Tesla worked for Thomas Edison where he spent time trying to improve the famous scientist’s DC power system. The two eventually had an argument when Edison refused to acknowledge Tesla’s plans to utilise an AC system.
Consequently, Tesla joined Westingtonhouse Electric Company, marking the beginning of the ‘War of the Currents’ between the two great minds. Tesla never gave in and his legacy is remembered in the company brand name.
Recipe for success
Despite the contrasting nature of their businesses, it appears that there are some similarities in these brand’s histories. The fact both Google and Amazon felt the need to change their names so early on in their stories shows how much of an influence they feel such labels have on company success.
Semantics is also a factor, with both of these technology heavyweights attempting to draw on associations of vastness.
Another similarity comes in the form of spelling. In a pre-Google world, before search-engine optimisation was a marketing consideration, starting a business name with the letter ‘A’ did wonders for brand awareness, with alphabetised lists giving such companies a distinct advantage.
Names and logos are incredibly important in establishing brands as industry leaders, but the innovation must also extend to products and services if they are to truly stand out from the crowd.
Owning patents can significantly add to your brand’s value as it can help to distinguish a product or service and protect it against competition. If your company has a UK / EU patent, you could also qualify for the government’s Patent Box scheme, which allows companies to pay a reduced rate of corporation tax and releasing funds for continued investment into innovation.