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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


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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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Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
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The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko, but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).

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The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did actual bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint. According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.

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The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors
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It's hard to walk down the aisle of a liquor store without running across a bottle bearing someone's name. We put them in our cocktails, but how well do we know them? Here's some biographical detail on the men behind your favorite tipples.

1. Captain Morgan

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The Captain wasn't always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer. Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671. Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

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Walker, the name behind the world's most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie's son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father. Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with "Old Highland Whisky," which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

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Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper. One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn't get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery's proprietor? Daniel's own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

4. Jose Cuervo

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In 1758, Jose Antonio de Cuervo received a land grant from the King of Spain to start an agave farm in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Jose used his agave plants to make mescal, a popular Mexican liquor. In 1795, King Carlos IV gave the land grant to Cuervo's descendant Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo. Carlos IV also granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila, so they built a larger factory on the existing land. The family started packaging their wares in individual bottles in 1880, and in 1900 the booze started going by the brand name Jose Cuervo. The brand is still under the leadership of the original Jose Cuervo's family; current boss Juan-Domingo Beckmann is the sixth generation of Cuervo ancestors to run the company.

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam, the namesake of the world's best-selling bourbon whiskey, didn't actually start the distillery that now bears his name. His great-grandfather Jacob Beam opened the distillery in 1788 and started selling his first barrels of whiskey in 1795. In those days, the whiskey went by the less-catchy moniker of "Old Tub." Jacob Beam handed down the distillery to his son David Beam, who in turn passed it along to his son David M. Beam, who eventually handed the operation off to his son, Colonel James Beauregard Beam, in 1894. Although he was only 30 years old when he took over the family business, Jim Beam ran the distillery until Prohibition shut him down. Following repeal in 1933, Jim quickly built a distillery and began resurrecting the Old Tub brand, but he also added something new to the company's portfolio: a bourbon simply called Jim Beam.

6. Tanqueray

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When he was a young boy, Charles Tanqueray's path through life seemed pretty clear. He was the product of three straight generations of Bedfordshire clergymen, so it must have seemed natural to assume that he would take up the cloth himself. Wrong. Instead, he started distilling gin in 1830 in a little plant in London's Bloomsbury district. By 1847, he was shipping his gin to colonies around the British Empire, where many plantation owners and troops had developed a taste for Tanqueray and tonic.

7. Campari

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Gaspare Campari found his calling quickly. By the time he was 14, he had risen to become a master drink mixer in Turin, and in this capacity he started dabbling with a recipe for an aperitif. When he eventually settled on the perfect mixture, his concoction had over 60 ingredients. In 1860, he founded Gruppo Campari to make his trademark bitters in Milan. Like Colonel Sanders' spice blend, the recipe for Campari is a closely guarded secret supposedly known by only the acting Gruppo Campari chairman, who works with a tiny group of employees to make the concentrate with which alcohol and water are infused to get Campari. The drink is still made from Gaspare Campari's recipe, though, which includes quinine, orange peel, rhubarb, and countless other flavorings.

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