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Spell It Out: 16 Abbreviated Company Names Explained

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Dozens of companies use acronyms or initials in their names, but how well do you know what the abbreviated letters mean? Let's take a look at the etymologies behind a few abbreviated company names.

1. CVS

Sorry, drugstore fans, there aren't three fatcat pharmacists with these initials running around out there. When the pharmacy chain was founded in Lowell, MA in 1963, it was known as "Consumer Value Stores." Over time the name became abbreviated to simply CVS.

2. K-Mart

Longtime five-and-dime mogul Sebastian S. Kresge opened his first larger store in Garden City, Michigan, in 1962. The store was named K-Mart after him. (Kresge had earned the right to have a store named for him; he opened up his new venture at the tender age of 94.)

3. IKEA

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The Swedish furniture giant and noted charity takes its name from found Ingvar Kamprad's initials conjoined with a the first initial of the farm where Kamprad grew up, Elmtaryd, and the parish he calls home, Agunnaryd.

4. JBL

The speaker company is named after its founder, James Bullough Lansing. But if Lansing had kept his original name, the company might have been called Martini Speakers. Lansing was born James Martini in 1902, but when he was 25, he changed his name to James Lansing at the suggestion of the woman who would become his wife. (The martini was already a popular cocktail at the time, and several of Lansing's brothers had also changed their name by shortening it to Martin.)

5. BVD

The stalwart men's underwear maker was originally founded by a group of New Yorkers named Bradley, Voorhees, and Day to make women's bustles. Eventually the trio branched out into knitted union suits for men, and their wares became so popular that "BVDs" has become a generic term for any underwear.

6. DHL

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In the late 1960s, Larry Hillblom was a broke student at the University of California, Berkeley's law school, so to pick up a bit of extra cash, he would make courier runs from San Francisco. Hillblom would often fly packages on the night's last flight then return to the Bay Area with more packages.

After he finished law school, he decided the courier business was the real racket for him, so he recruited his pals Adrian Dalsey and Robert Lynn to help him with the runs. Although they started out making their delivery trips in a single Plymouth Duster, the company quickly took off, and they named it after their respective last initials.

7. AT&T

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No surprises here. The telecom giant sprang to life in 1885 as American Telephone and Telegraph, although it's now legally known as just AT&T.

8. 3M


pvkr, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The conglomerate behind Post-It Notes gets its name from its roots as a company that mined stone to make grinding wheels. Since it was located in Two Harbors, MN, the company was known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, which was later shortened to 3M.

9. H&M

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The beloved clothing store began in Sweden in 1947. Founder Erling Persson was only selling women's duds, so he called the store Hennes—Swedish for "hers." Twenty-one years later, he bought up a hunting supplier called Mauritz Widforss. After the acquisition, Persson branched out into men's clothing and began calling the store Hennes and Mauritz, which eventually became shortened to H&M.

10. A&W Root Beer

Roy Allen opened his first root beer stand in Lodi, CA, in the summer of 1919, and quickly began expanding to the surrounding areas. Within a year he had partnered with Frank Wright, and the pair christened their flagship product "A&W Root Beer."

11. GEICO

The adorable gecko's employer is more formally known as the Government Employees Insurance Company. Although GEICO has always been a private, standalone company, its name reflects its original purpose: Leo Goodwin founded the company in 1936 to sell insurance directly to employees of the federal government.

12. YKK

The initials you see on darn near every zipper you own stand for Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha, which translates into "Yoshida Manufacturing Corporation." The company is named after Tadao Yoshida, who started the zipper concern in Tokyo in 1934.

13. P.F. Chang's

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If you go looking for Mr. P.F. Chang, you'll be in for a long search. The Asian dining chain's name is actually a composite of the founding restaurateur Paul Fleming's initials and a simplification of founding chef Philip Chiang's last name.

14. BJ's Wholesale Club

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The bulk retailer is named after Beverly Jean Weich, whose father, Mervyn, helped found the chain as a spinoff from discount retailer Zayre in 1983.

15. ING Group

The banking giant's name is an abbreviation of Internationale Nederlanden Groep, or "International Netherlands Group," a nod to the company's dutch origins and headquarters. The company's heavy use of the color orange in its buildings and promotion is also a shoutout to the Netherlands; orange is the color of the Dutch royal family dating all the way back to William of Orange.

16. H&R Block

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Brothers Henry and Richard Bloch founding the tax preparation firm in Kansas City in 1955. Their only problem was their last name. The brothers worried that people would mispronounce their surname as "blotch," hardly a term you want associated with your tax return. They decided to sidestep this problem by spelling the company's name "Block" instead, so that nobody would miss the solid hard "k" sound.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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