15 Companies That Changed Their Names

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

What's in a name? A lot, if you ask these 15 companies. Before they became the international powerhouses they are today, these businesses had decidedly different names.

1. BACKRUB // GOOGLE

It may sound skeevy, but the search engine’s early name was actually meant to reference the way it analyzed the internet’s “back links” to understand the importance and relevance of websites. “BackRub” lasted less than a year; the name “Google” was trademarked on September 15, 1997.

2. JERRY AND DAVID’S GUIDE TO THE WORLD WIDE WEB // YAHOO!

Close-up of the Yahoo! logo on a concrete sign.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

During its humble beginnings as a list of websites organized by Stanford graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo, Yahoo! was named for its creators. By March 2, 1995, the duo changed the name to Yahoo, which, they joked, was an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.”

3. BRAD’S DRINK // PEPSI

In 1893, North Carolina druggist Caleb Davis Bradham invented a delicious concoction of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, kola nuts, and a few other ingredients. The creation, which he called Brad’s Drink, was an overnight sensation. In 1898, Bradham rebranded it “Pepsi-Cola” because he believed it was a health drink that helped with indigestion, also known as dyspepsia.

4. BLUE RIBBON SPORTS // NIKE

An orange Nike Swoosh logo on the outside of a retail store.
Photo by Getty Images

When Nike was founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, the company didn’t produce shoes; it merely distributed them for Japanese manufacturer Onitsuka Tiger. When Blue Ribbon started making its own shoes in 1971, they also refreshed the brand name. Though “Dimension 6” was briefly in contention, founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman settled on “Nike” after the Greek goddess of victory.

5. AMAZIN’ SOFTWARE // EA GAMES

When former Apple director of strategy and marketing Trip Hawkins founded EA Games in 1982, he simply called it “Amazin’ Software.” As the company grew, Hawkins decided he needed a name that more accurately depicted games and software development as an art form.

6. SOUND OF MUSIC // BEST BUY

The outside of a Best Buy retail store with a large yellow tag "Best Buy" logo over the entrance.
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Back when his store sold mostly stereo equipment, Best Buy founder Richard Schulze gave his retail stores the punny name “Sound of Music.” In 1981, disaster struck: A tornado ripped the roof from the Sound of Music store in Roseville, Minnesota, destroying the showroom and damaging much of the stock. Several days later, Schulze moved the damaged items to the parking lot and declared a “tornado sale” where customers could get the best buys. The company sold more items during the two-day tornado sale than they had ever before. Two years later, the business was renamed “Best Buy.”

7. STAG PARTY // PLAYBOY

When Hugh Hefner founded his risque men’s magazine in 1953, he originally settled on the name Stag Party, a nod to a book of racy cartoons from the 1930s called Stag at Eve. Right before the first issue went to print, however, Hefner received a cease-and-desist letter from Stag magazine, another publication for men. After considering names like Top Hat, Bachelor, Gent, Satyr and Pan, Hef decided on Playboy for the Roaring Twenties feeling it inspired.

8. PETE’S SUPER SUBMARINES // SUBWAY

The window of a Subway sandwich chain store with neon signs and advertisements in the window.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 1965, 17-year-old Fred DeLuca took a $1000 loan from family friend Dr. Peter Buck to open a sandwich shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut—and named the shop after him. They sometimes had to shorten the name to fit outdoor signs and radio spots. “When people heard the name ‘Pete’s Submarines’ over the radio, they often thought they heard the words ‘pizza marine,’” DeLuca wrote in his autobiography. When customers showed up at his restaurant requesting seafood pizza, he knew they needed a simpler name. They changed it to “Pete’s Subway,” and eventually just “Subway” as the business grew.

9. MATCHBOX // TINDER

The hookup and dating app was first called Matchbox to play on the many idioms about love and fire—sparks flying, flames igniting, smoldering looks. But co-founder Jonathan Badeen said they knew the name wasn’t quite right, so they turned to a thesaurus for inspiration. “Tinder” caught their attention for being a somewhat unusual word, but also for its homonym, “tender.”

10. UNADULTERATED FOOD PRODUCTS // SNAPPLE

Five brightly colored flavors of Snapple in a yellow display inside of a refrigerated case.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The company that would eventually become Snapple was founded to sell all-natural juices to health food stores, so the original name “Unadulterated Food Products” was practical, if not catchy. One of their popular products was a carbonated apple juice marketed by its “snappy apple taste,” which was eventually incorporated into the brand name we know today.

11. THE ELECTRO-ALKALINE COMPANY // CLOROX

Though Clorox was intended to be an industrial product when the company was founded in 1913, its use became widespread when early investor Annie Murray suggested creating a less-concentrated solution for households. As the bleach became more popular, people started referring to it as “Clorox,” a portmanteau of its two main ingredients, chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The company caught on and renamed itself after the product in 1922.

12. PC’S LIMITED // DELL

A man in a suit (Michael Dell) speaking on a stage in front of a large Dell logo - a circle with the word "DELL" inside.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When Michael Dell started doing business out of his dorm room at the University of Texas in 1984, he called his company "PC’s Limited." By the end of the year, the pre-med freshman had dropped out to grow his tech company instead.

13. GOODFELLOW’S DRY GOODS COMPANY // TARGET

In 1902, George D. Dayton became a partner in Goodfellow’s Dry Goods Company, a large department store in Minneapolis. By 1903, he took over sole ownership of the store and renamed it "Dayton Dry Goods Company." The business expanded for more than half a century before introducing a discount chain named Target in 1962. “As a marksman’s goal is to hit the center bulls-eye, the new store would do much the same in terms of retail goods, services, commitment to the community, price, value, and overall experience,” the company declared.

Dayton merged with the J.L. Hudson Company in 1969 to become the Dayton-Hudson Company. It wasn’t until 2000 that the company renamed itself “Target Corporation” after its core business.

14. TOTE’M // 7-ELEVEN

The company’s early convenience stores were named Tote'm after the way customers toted away their purchases—and to play on the name, many stores installed Alaskan totem poles out front. The name was changed in 1946 to reflect store hours: open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.

15. RELENTLESS // AMAZON

An angled photo of the Amazon logo on the outside of a building.
Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

If you type “relentless.com” into your browser, you’ll find yourself quickly redirected to Amazon. That’s because founder Jeff Bezos was sold on Relentless for the name of his burgeoning business. Friends felt that the word seemed a bit sinister, so he floated a few other ideas, including Awake, Bookmail, Browse, and Cadabra. The latter name, which referenced “Abracadabra,” was nixed when Bezos’s lawyer overheard it as “Cadaver” instead. “Amazon” was the winner because it suggested scale—the Amazon is the largest river in the world by volume—and because it started with “A,” which was valuable in an era when websites were often listed alphabetically.

12 Amazing Facts About Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great moved to a foreign land as a teenager and became one of the most important leaders in its history. During her 34-year reign, she transformed Russia’s culture while expanding its borders. Here's what you need to know about the unlikely ruler, who is the subject of not one, but two series: HBO's Catherine the Great, which debuts on October 21, 2019, and Hulu's The Great, slated for 2020.

  1. Catherine the Great's name wasn't Catherine.

The woman who would become Catherine the Great was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst on April 21, 1729 (Julian Calendar) in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland). She was the daughter of Christian August, a minor German prince and general in the Prussian army, and Princess Johanna Elisabeth, who had connections to the Russian royal family.

Despite being a princess herself, young Sophie wasn’t exactly a top-tier member of the European nobility. But thanks to her mother’s campaigning, she was chosen to marry Karl Peter Ulrich (later known as Tsar Peter III), heir to the Russian throne. The couple wed on August 21, 1745. Sophie converted to Russian Orthodoxy—despite her Lutheran father’s objections—and took on a new Russian name: Ekaterina, or “Catherine.” Her official title would be Empress Catherine II (Peter the Great's second wife had been Empress Catherine I).

  1. Catherine the Great's marriage to Peter the III was rocky.

Catherine and Peter were an ill-matched pair: Catherine was bright and ambitious whereas Peter, according to Britannica, was "mentally feeble." Catherine didn’t like him: “Peter III had no greater enemy than himself; all his actions bordered on insanity,” she wrote in 1789. Her memoirs portray the Tsar as a drunk, a simpleton, and somebody who “took pleasure in beating men and animals.” Whether these statements are accurate or not, Catherine and her spouse were clearly unhappy, and they both had extramarital affairs. Catherine had at least three affairs, and hinted that none of her children were her husband's.

  1. Catherine the Great overthrew Peter the III so that she could rule.

Peter III assumed the throne on January 5, 1762, and was immediately unpopular. He enraged the military by pulling out of the Seven Years’ War and making big concessions to Russia’s adversaries in the process.

Eventually, Catherine believed that Peter was going to divorce her—so she worked with her lover, Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, and her other allies to overthrow him and take the throne for herself. In July 1762, just six months after he took the throne, Peter III was deposed in a coup d'état. Eight days later, he was killed while in the custody of one of Catherine's co-conspirators.

With Peter out of the picture, Catherine became the new empress of Russia. She was formally crowned on September 22, 1762. She never married again, and took numerous lovers during her long reign.

  1. Voltaire was basically Catherine the Great's pen pal.

Catherine, a bibliophile, built up a collection of 44,000 books. Early in her reign, she began a correspondence with one of her favorite authors: The great Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Russia fascinated Voltaire, who had written a biography of Peter the Great. Catherine would never get the chance to meet him in person, but through these letters, she and Voltaire discussed everything from disease prevention to Catherine's love of English gardens.

  1. Catherine the Great annexed Crimea.

Russian interest in the Crimean Peninsula long predates Vladimir Putin. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, Catherine seized the landmass, thus strengthening Russia’s presence on the Black Sea. And her conquests didn’t end there. Over 200,000 square miles of new territory was added to the Russian empire during Catherine’s rule. Much of it was acquired when the once-independent nation of Poland was divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Tsarina Catherine’s slice contained portions of modern-day Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine.

An illustration of Catherine the Great.
iStock.com/traveler1116
  1. Great Britain asked for Catherine the Great's help when the Revolutionary War broke out.

In 1775, the Earl of Dartmouth approached Catherine with a request for 20,000 Russian troops to help Britain put down the colonial rebellion in America. She refused. As the war continued, British diplomats kept trying to establish an alliance with Russia, hoping that the Empress would either send military aid or, failing that, pressure France into abandoning the American cause. Catherine did neither. However, out of concern for Russian shipping interests in the Atlantic (and elsewhere), she did attempt to mediate an end to the violence between Britain and its rebellious colonies in 1780.

  1. Alaska was colonized on Catherine the Great's watch.

Russian explorers had been visiting Alaska since 1741, but the empire didn’t set up its first permanent colony there until 1784, when merchant Grigory Shelikhov sailed to Kodiak Island and established the Three Saints Bay Colony. Later, in 1788, he visited Catherine in St. Petersburg and asked if she’d give his company a monopoly over the area’s lucrative fur trade. She denied his request, but thanked the explorer for “[discovering] new lands and peoples for the benefit of the state.” Russia’s colonial presence in North America would continue long after Catherine’s death—and it wasn’t limited to Alaska.

  1. Catherine the Great embraced inoculation.

Thomas Dimsdale, an English physician, built upon an existing technique for immunizing people to smallpox. The technique involved finding a carrier of the ailment, then taking a blade dipped in a very, very small amount of "the unripe, crude or watery matter" from that person's pustules and injecting it into the patient’s body. In 18th century Russia, smallpox claimed millions of lives, so Catherine was eager to see if Dimsdale’s strategy worked. At her invitation, he came to Russia and quietly inoculated the empress. The procedure was a success, and with the Tsarina’s encouragement, Dimsdale inoculated about 150 members of the nobility. Before the end of the century, approximately 2 million Russians had received smallpox inoculations.

  1. A rebel claimed to be Catherine the Great's dead husband.

Catherine’s Enlightenment-fueled beliefs didn't lead to the demise of serfdom. According to Marc Raeff in his book Catherine the Great: A Profile, "During her reign it was possible to buy and sell serfs with or without land, buy whole families or individuals, transact sales on the estate or marketplace; contemporaries termed all this ‘veritable slavery.'”

The unjust arrangement triggered 160 documented peasant uprisings in the first 10 years of Catherine’s reign. The best known of them was Pugachev’s Rebellion (1773-1775) [PDF], which was organized by Yemelyan Pugachev, a veteran of the Russo-Turkish wars. To win support, he introduced himself as Catherine’s deposed and deceased spouse, Peter III (even though Pugachev looked nothing like Peter). Pugachev and his followers enjoyed some big military victories early on, but after a crushing defeat in August 1774, their revolution fell apart. Pugachev was captured and executed in Moscow on January 10, 1775.

  1. Catherine the Great's art collection was the basis of St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.

In 1764, Catherine purchased a set of 225 paintings—including works by Rembrandt and Frans Hals—from a Berlin dealer, and founded the Hermitage with those works. Catherine went on to buy or commission thousands of additional pieces for her budding museum. Today, the State Hermitage Museum has more than 3 million items in its collections.

  1. Catherine the Great was Russia's longest-serving female leader.

Thirty-four years after assuming the throne, Catherine passed away on November 6, 1796. The monarch was succeeded by her son, Tsar Paul I.

  1. Wild rumors flew after Catherine the Great's death—including that one about the horse.

A lot of rumors sprung up in the wake of Catherin's death. One said that she had died while on the toilet, while another—the most persistent tale, and a completely unfounded one—claimed that Catherine the Great was crushed to death while attempting to have sex with a stallion. Where exactly the story came from is unknown; an autopsy determined that the empress had actually died of a cerebral stroke.

10 Facts About the Beastie Boys's 'Sabotage' Video

Beastie Boys via YouTube
Beastie Boys via YouTube

With their raucous mix of rock and hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were a band everyone could love. They also made killer music videos, and their 1994 video for “Sabotage” is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the medium. Directed by Spike Jonze and inspired by ‘70s cop shows, “Sabotage” finds the Beasties in cheesy suits, wigs, and mustaches, cavorting around L.A. like a bunch of bootleg Starskys and Hutches. If you were alive in the ‘90s, you’ve seen “Sabotage” a million times, but there’s a lot you might not know about this iconic video.

1. It all began with a photo shoot.

Spike Jonze met the Beastie Boys when he photographed them for Dirt magazine in the early 1990s. The band showed up with its own concept. “For years, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz had been talking about doing a photo session as undercover cops—wearing ties and fake mustaches and sitting in a car like we were on a stakeout,” Adam “MCA” Yauch told New York Magazine. Jonze loved the idea so much he tagged along when the Beasties went wig shopping. “Then, while he was taking the pictures, he was wearing this blond wig and mustache the whole time,” Yauch said. “For no apparent reason.” So was born a friendship that begat “Sabotage.”

2. Spike Jonze filmed “Sabotage” without permits.

The Beasties weren’t big fans of high-budget music videos with tons of people on the set. So they asked Jonze to hire a couple of assistants and run the whole production out of a van. “Then we just ran around L.A. without any permits and made everything up as we went along,” MCA told New York. They’re lucky the real cops never showed up.

3. The Beastie Boys did all their own stunt driving.

After binge-watching VHS tapes of The Streets of San Francisco and other ‘70s cop shows, the Beasties knew they needed some sweet chase scenes. “We bought a car that was about to die,” Mike D told Vanity Fair. “We just drove the car ourselves. We almost killed the car a couple of times, but we definitely didn’t come close to killing ourselves.”

4. “Sabotage” inspired the opening sequence of Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting famously opens with Ewan McGregor and his buddies running through the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” In the DVD commentary, Boyle revealed that the scene was inspired by “Sabotage.”

5. Two cameras were harmed in the making of “Sabotage.”

“Sabotage” was supposed to be a low-budget affair—and it would’ve been, had Jonze been a little more careful with his rented cameras. He destroyed a Canon Scoopic when the Ziploc bag he used to protect the camera during an underwater shot proved less than airtight. He apparently told the rental agency the camera stopped working on its own, but he wasn’t as lucky when an Arriflex SR3 fell out of a van window. That cost $84,000, effectively tripling the cost of the video.

6. MCA crashed the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to protest “Sabotage” being shut out.

At the 1994 MTV VMAs, “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards, including Video of the Year. In one of the great injustices of all time, it lost in all five categories. When R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, MCA invaded the stage dressed as Nathanial Hörnblowér, his Swiss uncle/filmmaker alter-ego. “Since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this,” MCA said as a confused Michael Stipe looked on. “Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”

7. There’s a “Sabotage” comic book you can download for free.

After MCA’s death in 2012, artist Derek Langille created a seven-page “Sabotage” comic book in tribute to the fallen musician and filmmaker. You can download it for free here.

8. There’s also a “Sabotage” novel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Sabotage,” Oakland-based author and Beasties super-fan Jeff Gomez wrote a five-act novel inspired by the video. He spent months researching cop movies and real-life police lingo, and he watched “Sabotage” about 100 times, keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the action unfolding onscreen. “They created a really great universe, and I just wanted to play around in it for a little bit,” Gomez told PBS.

9. There’s a “Sabotage”/Sesame Street mashup on YouTube.

In 2017, YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral, a.k.a. Adam Schleichkorn, created the video “Sesametage,” a reimagining of “Sabotage” made with edited bits of Sesame Street. It stars Big Bird as himself, The Count as Cochese, and Oscar the Grouch as Bobby, “The Rookie.” Super Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie also turn up in this hilarious spoof of a spoof.

10. “Sabotage” nearly became a movie—kind of.

Jonze and the Beasties had such a blast making “Sabotage” that they wrote a script for a feature film called We Can Do This. The movie, which they later abandoned, was set to feature MCA in two roles: Sir Stuart Wallace, one of his “Sabotage” characters, and Nathaniel Hörnblowér (whom he portrayed during that 1994 VMAs protest). Jonze told IndieWire the film would’ve been “ridiculous and fun,” which sounds like the understatement of the century. “There were no 1970s cops in it, but it was definitely in the same spirit,” he said.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER