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Famous Brands That Changed Their Names

4-minute read

From Brad’s Drink to Blue Ribbon Sports, these are the names that almost made the final cut for the world’s best-loved brands. And, in most cases, you’ll probably be glad they didn’t…

Famous brands that changed their names

Treated yourself to a Cargo House coffee lately? Had a flick through Burbn? Or maybe you’ve been busy BackRubbing Harry and Meghan after that interview?

No, we haven’t lost the plot. These are the names we’d all be bandying about if some of the world’s biggest brands had plumped for their first choice of moniker. What we’re actually asking is if you’ve had a Starbucks, browsed Instagram, or Googled the Duke and Duchess lately.

The list of nearly names ranges from vaguely possible to downright bizarre. But nearly all of them show that a brand name takes serious thought – and sometimes (actually, nearly always) it pays to go back to the drawing board…

BackRub (Google)

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin were coming up with a name for their search engine, they hit upon BackRub. Hard to believe, we know, but there is actually some science to it. It was all related to the way their creation analysed the web’s back links to establish how important a website was. A year later they decided a more fitting name would be one that showed how much data they were indexing – enter Google, a name which was actually borne out of a spelling mistake.  It’s just as well really as the word quickly became a verb in the dictionary. Page was the first person to use it as such, writing on a mailing list, ‘Have fun and keep googling!’. We’re not so sure ‘Have fun and keep backrubbing’ would have had quite the same ring…

Cadabra (Amazon)

The name Amazon has become as familiar to Brits as PG Tips, so it’s hard to imagine us clamouring to place our Cadabra orders, or praising the life-saving speed of Cadabra Prime. But that’s the name Jeff Bezos wanted to call it originally, a shortened version of the magician’s favourite ‘abracadabra’. The name lost its shine, however, when a lawyer mistook it for ‘cadaver’, another word for corpse. Bezos also briefly toyed with the name Relentless, but was told it had a sinister ring to it. Eventually, he turned to a dictionary for help, settling on Amazon because it was a place that was ‘exotic and different’, and gave the desired sense of scale. That and the fact it started with an ‘A’, so it would come top of an alphabetised list.

Matchbox (Tinder)

It’s been described as the app that’s changed the dating world, with an estimated 57 million people swiping left or right in a bid to find a date. But Tinder was originally called Matchbox, a nod to the many literary link-ups between love and fire. There was just one problem, though – it was a tad similar to Match.com. The founders had a rethink and, staying true to their theme of sparks flying and fanning the flames of romance, they came up with Tinder.

Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike)

Today it’s one of the most iconic brands on the planet, its famous tick an emblem of strength, speed and victory. But we can’t help but wonder if it’d have had quite the same kudos if it had been called Blue Ribbon Sports. That was the name track athlete, Phil Knight, and his coach, Bill Bowerman, started with back in the Sixties. The change came a few years later, in 1971, when they were right on the brink of renaming it Dimension Six. An employee suggested last-minute that they go for Nike instead, after the Greek goddess of victory. The idea, he said, came to him in a dream. Blue Ribbon Sports and Dimension Six were swiftly consigned to the history books, and Nike quite literally turned out to be the stuff of dreams.

Brad’s Drink (Pepsi)

When Caleb Bradham concocted a fizzy drink in his North Carolina drugstore, he borrowed from his surname to call it Brad’s Drink. Okay, so it did what it said on the tin, but as far as names go it lacked a little va-va-voom. Five years later he rebranded to Pepsi-Cola, ‘pepsi’ coming from the word dyspepsia, meaning indigestion, as he claimed the ‘healthy cola’ did wonders for digestion.

The name swaps you might have missed…  

It’s hard to believe but sometimes a brand changes its name and it barely registers.  Check out these companies whose subtle tweaks may have escaped your attention…

Starbucks (Starbucks Coffee)

In 2011 the US giant ditched the word ‘Coffee’ from its logo, the thinking being it no longer did justice to its expanding menu.

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)

KFC’s switch to an abbreviated version of its name was a simple one, but bizarrely it ruffled a few feathers. A lack of explanation for the change led to false rumours circulating, including one that the chain used genetically modified chickens that couldn’t legally be called chicken.

WW (Weight Watchers International)

WW made its change in 2018. The idea was to shine the spotlight on wellness and healthy living, rather than simply shedding pounds. As well as a new name, the company launched a new logo and the tagline ‘Wellness that works.’

And the name swaps we’re still nostalgic about…

It’s one thing to change a company name before it really gets off the ground but another matter entirely to change a name with an army of faithful followers. That explains why some of us still get misty-eyed at these changes…

Snickers (Marathon)

It was over 30 years ago that Mars decided to rename its Marathon bars to align the brand globally, and yet still – for reasons we’re not even that sure of – the change sticks in our throats like the chocolate bar’s caramel-coated peanuts. Fans of the retro treat rejoiced when Morrison’s brought back limited edition Marathons in 2019 and again in 2020.

Starburst (Opal Fruits)

Eight years later, while we were still reeling from the Snickers debacle, Mars went and did it to us again. They renamed the rainbow chews to match up with the rest of the world. Again, limited edition Opal Fruits have since gone on sale to bring back a flavour of yesteryear.

Cif (Jif)

From the start, the household cleaning product was called Jif or Cif, depending how easy the word was to pronounce in each launch country. Twenty years ago (yes, that long) the UK version was changed to Cif to match other countries in Europe. That said, plenty of other countries still use Jif. Australia, anyone? 

Read more: Find out about the 10 different types of brand names and how to choose a brand name that’s right for you.

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