What’s in a name? A look into brand names and their meanings

Kmart, Whitcoulls, IKEA, Starbucks, Asos, Lululemon; all popular stores we know and love. But what is the origin of the name of some of our favourite brands?

With so many stores around it’s easy to just accept the name given to one without questioning if it makes sense or not. More often than not a lot of effort and brainstorming goes behind creating a brand name.

We looked at some of New Zealand’s most popular brands and the meaning behind their names.

Whitcoulls: Our country’s 128-year-old book store. Originally founded by brothers Thomas, William, and James Francis Coull the store was originally called Coulls, Culling & Co. Ltd.

In 1922 the company merged with J. Wilkie & Co, becoming Coulls Somerville Wilkie, a name under which it operated until 1971.

In 1971, Whitcombe & Tombs merged with Coulls Somerville Wilkie to become Whitcoulls.

Lululemon Athelctica: The luxe sports brand which opened in 2009 has a cute name that is often over looked and accepted as part of their brand. However, the name has a much trickier background.

Lululemon founder Chip Wilson came up with the yoga-wear brand’s name because he thought Japanese people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. The letter ‘L’ doesn’t exists in Japanese phonetics.

By including an ‘L’ in the name it was thought the Japanese consumer would find the name innately North American and authentic.

The brand’s name was chosen from a list of 20 brand names and 20 logos by a group of 100 people. 

Kmart: The big box department store has had record success recently after a total store renovation. Despite the revamp the branding has remained intact, even after 120 years.

The store was originally founded by S. S. Kresge who appropriately titled his store the S. S. Kresge Corporation. By the stores first official opening the name had been shortened to K Corporation, and then shortly after became the Kmart Corporation.

IKEA: Even though we lack an IKEA in New Zealand, the Swedish furnishing store isn’t just a Swedish word you don’t understand.

Founder Ingvar Kamprad chose the brand name by combining the initials of his own name, IK, with the first letters of the farm and village, where grew up in southern Sweden: Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd.

Starbucks: The billion-dollar coffee company has often spoken about the choice of the name of their brand. However, the fact that Starbucks is actually named after a character in Moby Dick is often overlooked when ordering a Grande Vanilla Bean Frappuccino.

The idea stemmed from co-founder Gordon Bowker, who wanted a name starting with ‘St’ as he thought it was more memorable. After seeing the name of an old mining town ‘Starbo’ he remembered the name of Melville’s first mate in the famous book; Starbuck.

Asos: The online clothing site is one of the most highly recommend and in fact had the most online traffic of 2016 for a UK based retailer. The term Asos is an abbreviation of “As Seen on Screen”.

Uber: Despite hitting some roadblocks recently as a company, the Uber corporation saw a quick rise in popularity when it entered New Zealand. Uber launched under the brand name UberCab, but changed to just Uber when it went global in 2011.

The word Uber stems from the German word meaning an outstanding or supreme example of a particular person.

Toyota: Voted New Zealand’s fifth trust brand of 2016, Toyota was originally called Toyoda. A Japanese word that loosely translated to ‘fertile rice paddies’.

It was changed to Toyota as the word only takes eight ‘strokes’ to write in Japanese, which is seen as very lucky. The newly formed word was trademarked and the company was registered in August 1937 as the Toyota Motor Company.

Resene: For all you science buffs out there this one would be simple, but for us normal folks the popular paint stores ‘Resene’ branding is little more of a mystery.

Basically, Resene is any of various mixtures of neutral alkali-resistant compounds that are found in rosin and other natural resins and that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Simple stuff.

Finally, Lumia, Nokia’s new smartphone translates in Spanish slang to prostitute, which is unfortunate, Nokia itself has around 40 different translations, ranging from bird to stable.

But at least the cell phone giant is in good company. The name of international car manufacturer Peugeot translates in southern China to Biao zhi, which means the same thing.

The name Peugeot comes from the founder Émile Peugeot. 

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