Business names change throughout the years in an attempt to modernize and gain new customers.

One of the main reasons for changing or updating your company or product name is to simplify it. Simple names are often more dramatic easier to remember and more effective as marketing tools.

Exxon is not only shorter than Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (the company’s original name) it is also more dramatic. A company name that is both simple and bold can greatly enhance or modernize an organization’s image.

The Canadian government for example now calls its ministry of health, Health Canada. That sounds more dramatic than ministry of health and it is also easier to remember. It also adds a modern image to a very old fashioned and traditional institution: a government department.

Acronyms and Nicknames

Another means of simplifying business names is to use the acronym rather than the full name of the company. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway often goes by BNSF rather than its full name which is both cumbersome and long. DHL the delivery company actually has no meaning for its acronym.

DHL’s competitor Federal Express changed its company name to FedEx in order to take advantage of a popular nickname for the business. FedEx was shorter and easier to understand as well as being friendly than the full name.

The United Parcel Service has not changed its name but usually uses the acronym UPS because it is just so well known. If your business has a popular nickname you might consider making official.

Controlling Your Image

Something to remember about business names is the image that is sent out to customers and the public. You obviously want to control your business’s image yet when you adopt a popular nickname as the official title for your business.

Therefore you have to ask yourself what message your product name is sending out to customers and potential customers. Part of the reason why Federal Express changed its business name was to project a friendlier image to customers.

Many businesses lose control of their image because they lose control of their name or how it is used. McDonald’s has a real image problem because its company name is often used as a metaphor for conformity, cheapness or blandness. Hence phrases like “McMansion,” and “McJobs.” Yet the company cannot change its name because it is so well known.

Image and Simplification

You need to think about your company’s image when you attempt to simplify your company name. JC Penny lost a lot of business in the last year when it tried to change its name to JCP. That move seemed to offend a lot of the department store chain’s long time shoppers.

That means it is often a good idea to put potential product names or business name ideas before a test audience before using them. One way to do it might be to email a proposed name change to a batch of good customers and ask them what they think about it. Their reactions can tell you if you’re headed in the right direction or not.

A good way to find a simplified name for your organization would be to hold a naming contest. Then run some of the winners past a test audience to see what they think. That way you won’t get any nasty surprises from your new name.

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