Share on Facebook

17 Company Names That Have Secret Meanings

Ingenuity, chance, and even a typo led to the names of some of the world's best-known brands.

Amazon logo on a parcel. Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world and was founded in 1994Ink Drop/Shutterstock

Amazon

Jeff Bezos originally wanted to call his new online bookstore Cadabra, but the company’s lawyer convinced him it sounded too much like “cadaver.” The e-commerce pioneer also considered Relentless.com, then settled on Amazon, the world’s largest river. Find out more about the origin of Amazon’s name.

Cadillac side mirror logo during Los Angeles American Heroes Air Show, event designed to educate the public about rotary-wing aviation.betto rodrigues/Shutterstock

Cadillac

This luxury car maker combined elements from the Ford and Oldsmobile companies when it was started in 1902 and later became known for its innovation and high quality. The company was named for the French explorer Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded the city of Detroit in 1701.

Sports drink Gatorade isolated at All Star Cup 2018. 17.02.2018, Bratislava, SlovakiaDmitry Niko/Shutterstock

Gatorade

In the summer of 1965, an assistant coach for the University of Florida’s football team, the Gators, asked university scientists why his players were getting so sick from the heat.  The researchers came up with a beverage to replace the fluids and electrolytes the players were losing through their sweat. They called the new drink Gatorade, in honor of the university’s mascot. Don’t miss these 11 companies that originally had very different names

Googlemirtmirt/Shutterstock

Google

One of the world’s biggest technology companies may have started with a typo. Co-founder Larry Page was at a brainstorming session at Stanford for a new massive data indexing website. Someone suggested “googolplex”—one of the largest describable numbers. Page shortened it to “googol.” When he later checked for the availability of the domain name, he made a mistake and typed in “google” instead. But he liked the name and registered it for himself and co-founder Sergey Brin.

Haagen Dazs Ice cream in the fridge. Haagen-Dazs is an ice cream brand established in 1961. It has has franchises around the world.Faiz Zaki/Shutterstock

Haagen-Dazs

Entrepreneur Reuben Mattus invented the vaguely Danish-sounding name for the premium ice cream brand in the 1960s. He founded the company in the Bronx, and thought the name Haagen-Dazs conveyed an “aura of old-world traditions and craftsmanship.”

KODAK film camera.Kodak is an American technology company that produces imaging products with its historic basis on photography.Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock

Kodak

Camera pioneer George Eastman came up with his company’s name “out of thin air.” He thought the letter “K” sounded strong and incisive. “It became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with ‘K.’ The word ‘Kodak‘ is the result,” Eastman had explained. Learn the fascinating origin stories behind 14 famous company names

A big cubic Lego singboard on a shop in the Kiev's district named ObolonMaxal Tamor/Shutterstock

LEGO

Founded in 1932 by carpenter Kirk Kristiansen, LEGO is an abbreviation of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which means to play well. And generations of kids have done just that.

Nintendo Switch controller, was placed beside the Nintendo Switch Logo.Wachiwit/Shutterstock

Nintendo

Fans disagree on what the translation of this popular video game system means, but many think it comes from a Japanese phrase that translates roughly as “leave luck to heaven.”

Panera Bread branch in San Jose, CA. Panera Bread is a US chain featuring bakery products, sandwiches, and salads.jejim/Shutterstock

Panera

This popular chain’s name has multilingual roots. “Pan” means bread in Spanish, while “era” is Latin, according to the company’s Facebook page. Together, they form Panera, which means “time of bread.”

pepsi anniversary 120 years: pepsi generations, logo of pepsisuriyachan/Shutterstock

Pepsi

Inventor Caleb Bradham had originally wanted to be a doctor but started working in a pharmacy when he returned home to North Carolina. In 1893, he concocted what he first called “Brad’s Drink,” a mix of water, sugar, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and other flavors. Five years later, he renamed it Pepsi-Cola. He claimed the drink could help with digestion, or dyspepsia, the term from which Bradham adapted the name Pepsi. Find out 12 secret quirky meanings behind famous company logos.

Close-up Reebok logo on shoeRenovacio/Shutterstock

Reebok

British brothers Joe and Jeff Foster named their new athletic wear company in 1958 after finding the term “rhebok” in a South African dictionary that Joe Foster won during a race as a child. The term refers to a type of antelope.

Rolex clock on the store. Rolex is one of the famous luxury watch brand in the worldVladi333/Shutterstock

Rolex

The inventor of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf, was looking to make an elegant, yet precise, wristwatch. He wanted a name that was easy to say, worked in different languages, and looked good on the watches. He settled on Rolex in 1908.

Samsung Corporate facility and logo. Samsung s a South Korean multinational conglomerate.Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Samsung

Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull wanted his company to last as long as the stars in the sky. So the name of the electronics manufacturer means “three stars” in Korean. Just be sure to give your phone a break. These are the 17 famous company names you’re probably mispronouncing.

Starbucks sign, Iced Caramel Macchiato. This branch is located in BEEHIVE Lifestyle Mall, Nonthaburi, THMonarexx/Shutterstock

Starbucks

Company co-founder Gordon Bowker has said that while brainstorming names, someone brought out a map that featured the old mining town of Starbo. That may have led him to think of Starbuck, the first mate in Herman Melville’s book, Moby Dick. Find out more about the origin of the name Starbucks.

Dirt and dust cover the Volkswagen logo on a car bodyGoneWithTheWind/Shutterstock

Volkswagen

Founded in Germany in 1937, Volkswagen was a pet project of Hitler’s, who wanted more affordable and accessible cars.  The company name translates as “the people’s car.” The Beetle was the first brand to really take off in the United States.

New Volvo XC60 AWD T6 at the test drive event for automotive journalists from MinskVolha-Hanna Kanashyts/Shutterstock

Volvo

The Swedish car maker was originally founded as a ball-bearing company, and its name reflects those origins. Volvo comes from the Latin word “volvere,” which means “I roll.” 

Exterior sign of WaWa, a chain of fast food, gas, and convenience stores, which has over 750 locations.George Sheldon/Shutterstock

Wawa

This chain of convenience stores has a dual identity. It’s named for the part of Pennsylvania where the company had its first dairy farm. But Wawa is also the Native American word for a Canadian goose, which was featured on the chain’s logo. Next, don’t miss how 11 iconic stores got their name.

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.