We’ve all heard a version of this story:
A family was originally known as Ruzzo — a common name in Sicily where their peasant ancestors came from. In 1901, when the great grandfather came through Ellis Island, he was “renamed” Russo because to the untrained ear of the immigration officials, the Italian pronunciation of Ruzzo sounded a lot like Russo but with a very different meaning. The name Russo or “Red” in Italian comes from the Latin “Rubius and Rossius” and is associated with royalty, with its own family crest that features a red lion on its hind legs.
What strikes me about this story is how quintessentially American it is. What immigrant doesn’t dream of discarding their old life for a new and better one in their adopted country? America was founded on such stories of reinvention.
My family originally came from Romania and my father grew up with the common last name of Lupu, which means “Wolf” in Romanian, from the Latin, Lupus. When my father immigrated to Israel after WWII, he changed his name to Zevi, which means, “Wolf” in Hebrew. When my family moved to the U.S. in the late 1960’s, people had a hard time pronouncing our last name so it became “Americanized.” Zevi became Zeewy and the name stuck. In the process, I lost a piece of my family’s story and my name became a conversation starter and a mystery to be solved.
It turns out that names are as important to a company’s identity as they are to an individual. When done well, a company’s name (together with a memorable logo and tagline) becomes the face of that business. The right name helps potential customers remember you, which is the first step to growing sales and revenue. Successful companies recognize the power of a good name and the limitations of a generic one and change the name when they are ready for growth. During a merger or acquisition, the name with the greatest recognition wins the identity battle.
Nike, the recognized leader in athletic wear was originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports until 1971, when the name was changed to Nike (the Greek Goddess of Victory), for their first iconic running shoe, the Nike Waffle Trainer. It’s hard to imagine Blue Ribbon Sports endorsed by basketball legend Michael Jordan or growing into the brand of choice worn by Olympic athletes worldwide. It’s much too small a name for such a global brand.
More Successful Companies:
- Google — from “googol” representing the number 1 followed by 100 zeros and the perfect name for a search engine company. The name was added to the Webster dictionary in 2007 and is now used as both a noun and a verb. Not surprisingly, I Googled the name to learn it’s meaning.
- IKEA — a random collection of letters that represent the founder’s name and the Swedish property and village where he grew up: Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. The founder’s Swedish identity is imbedded in the store’s DNA and in the food they serve in the cafeteria.
- Lego — a combination of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which translates to “play well.” Coincidentally, Lego also means, “I put together” in Latin.
My immigration story sparked a search for my own identity and a life long fascination with names. It also led me to a successful career helping others uncover and live their authentic identity. Isn’t that what America is all about?
Author: Orly Zeewy, Brand Architect
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