What's in a name? For corporations, a lot of money. The nation's wealthiest companies spend millions to craft monikers that are distinctive, attractive and unique.
So what does the current Fortune 500 list suggest about trends in corporate nomenclature?
—Squeeze Play. Want to impress? Compress. Abbreviate the words in your original name, preferably into single letters or numbers, and then cram them together as tightly as possible: FedEx, TJX, 3M, USAA, Nucor, CSX, Praxair, LKQ, KeyCorp, PVH, CDW, NetApp. My favorite: AmerisourceBergen, which suggests a collision with an iceberg.
—Group Therapy. Companies once indicated multiple owners with quaint terms such as "Partners," "Associates" and even "and Sons." Today, such joint enterprises are devoted groupies.
Forty-three of the 500 (8.6 percent) now include "Group" in their names, from United Health Group to Western & Southern Financial Group.
Why so much group think? "Group" combines both strength in numbers with casualness, as if to say, "Hey, we've put together this working group over here." My favorite is the "Dr Pepper and Snapple Group," which sounds like a coterie of kindergarteners on a juice break.
—Holding Patterns. Remember when a holding company was a BAD thing - a huge collection of entities that monopolized an entire industry?
Today, 17 companies use "Holdings" in their titles, ranging from HCA Holdings to Sears Holdings to Pay Pal Holdings (well, they do hold payment until delivery). Like "group," "holdings" conveys an informal tone, e.g., "We're just holding these companies temporarily." My favorite: Yum China Holdings.
— At Your Services. It's a service economy, after all, from World Fuel Services to Kelly Services. Some 66 company names (13.2 percent) include "Services" or one of six other popular terms: "Financial," "Health," "Brands," "Systems," "Technologies" and "Solutions."
Some companies even manage to squeeze in two of these buzzwords, e.g., Cognizant Technology Solutions, Community Health Systems, Hartford Financial Services Group.
Yet in the wake of this tidal wave of snazzy monikers, it's heartening to discover some good ol' flotsam and jetsam — names either delightfully quirky (Activism Blizzard, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Sealed Air, Alphabet, iHeartMedia) or impressively straightforward (Tech Data, Genuine Parts, Waste Management).
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.