The 3 Silliest Company Name Changes Ever

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The best companies in the world invest huge amounts of money and energy into building name awareness. The right name can be worth tens of billions of dollars to a company, making it all the more important for companies to make the best choice.

Often, though, companies pick what seem on the surface to be ill-considered new names. Inspired by Thursday's announcement from Coinstar (NASDAQ: OUTR  ) to seek shareholder approval to change its name to Outerwall, here's a list of five company name changes that earned criticism and even outright mockery when they were first proposed.

2001: Altria
In late 2001, the company then known as Philip Morris made a proposal to change its name to Altria. The origin of the name was founded in the Latin word "altus," meaning "high," and was meant to associate the company with peak performance. The "tri" embedded in the name also emphasized the fact that the company at the time had three distinct divisions: domestic tobacco, international tobacco, and its Kraft Foods (UNKNOWN: KRFT.DL  ) beverage and food division.

Image copyright Altria Group.

The name change reflected the company's wish to have consumers and investors see beyond its tobacco business, which at the time was plagued by more substantial legal battles with billions in potential liability hanging in the balance. Shareholders approved the name change in 2002. The irony, of course, is that Altria has since spun off both Kraft and its Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) global tobacco divisions, leaving Altria holding the old core Philip Morris USA division.

2011: Qwikster
Fortunately, this name change never actually took place, but for the short period that Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) considered it, Qwikster caused both an uproar among customers and a crisis of confidence for Netflix investors. The idea was to separate out Netflix's legacy DVD business from its faster-growing, higher-potential video streaming business and rename the DVD-delivery company Qwikster, with the streaming business keeping the Netflix name.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, photographed by user Coolcaesar.

But coming on the heels of a bungled rate-increase announcement that sent costs up as much as 60% for users who wanted to keep both services, the proposed Qwikster name became closely affiliated with the misstep. The stock also plunged, losing half its value -- more than $100 per share -- in less than a month from the time of the rate increase to the time Netflix backed away from the proposal.

2012: Mondelez International
Kraft has been associated with two different name-change controversies. Last year, the company broke into two parts, with its North American grocery division keeping the legacy Kraft name while its global snack-food business changed its name to Mondelez International (NASDAQ: MDLZ  ) . In explaining the change, the company said that Mondelez "is a newly coined word that evokes the idea of a world of 'delicious products.'"

The company helped come up with the idea by having an internal naming contest, in which more than 1,000 workers submitted ideas. Testing among groups of consumers didn't come up with any obvious negative associations, although some noted a similarity to a Russian word with undesirable associations.

Will Coinstar be No. 4?
Many investors have thought that Coinstar should change its name, but most expected Redbox to be the obvious choice for a new moniker, given the company's evolution beyond coin-counting to its DVD kiosks and its Redbox Instant streaming service. Coinstar CEO Scott Di Valerio said that Outerwall "unifies our growing portfolio of products and services under one name and reflects the company's ongoing commitment to think beyond the limits to make a better everyday possible for everyone." Whether shareholders end up agreeing at their annual meeting in June remains to be seen, but it's far from clear how the name reflects "future vision and limitless possibilities" -- and could end up leading to less brand-name awareness for the company.

For Netflix, avoiding the Qwikster quicksand was its first step in what has recently been a nearly full recovery for the stock. But can Netflix keep soaring? Find out in the Fool premium research report, where you'll learn about the key opportunities and risks facing the company, as well as reasons to buy or sell the stock. The report includes a full year of updates to cover critical new developments, so make sure to click here and claim a copy today.

Read/Post Comments (14) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2013, at 4:10 PM, prginww wrote:

    Esso to Exxon?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 9:45 AM, prginww wrote:

    how about Exxon....previous name was Esso and prior to that Standard Oil (SO)...

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 9:52 AM, prginww wrote:

    I got you beat.

    In Canada the Conservative Party and the Reform Party felt they needed to merge.

    The name they came out with was The Conservative Reform Alliance Party which the call letter worked out to C.R.A.P. The media loved it. Within 24 hrs the doorknobs saw what they had done and renamed the party.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 10:22 AM, prginww wrote:

    Esso to Exxon actually stuck, so can hardly be considered a bad call. However, in 1997 the American legend Woolworth decided to change their universally recognized name to....The Venator Group! That lasted all of four years until they settled on 'Foot Locker', a name at least representative of the business at that time.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 10:25 AM, prginww wrote:

    @dbtheonly, rlb369 - Thanks for adding Esso/Exxon. I'm showing my age by saying that was before my time.

    @MBerman01 - Venator, yes! Forgot all about that, but I remember it because it looked like it was motivated primarily by the desire to grab up the V ticker symbol on the NYSE.

    Keep the other answers coming!


    dan (TMF Galagan)

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 10:32 AM, prginww wrote:

    You forgot about Xfinity!

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 10:53 AM, prginww wrote:

    How about Programmers Paradise changing its name to Wayside Technologies? Like the company but the not the name.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 3:14 PM, prginww wrote:

    Remember when North West Airlines changed their name to "NWA"? I think that lasted about a week.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 3:45 PM, prginww wrote:

    Here in Milwaukee we had a locally owned furniture store that was named PM BEDROOM GALLERY. A good name which clearly described to the customers that they were in the business of selling bedroom furniture. For some cockamamie reason, they had a contest to re-name their business. Now mind you, they continue to sell bedroom furniture. the new name??? Penny Mustard. Go figure...

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 4:06 PM, prginww wrote:



  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 4:07 PM, prginww wrote:


  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 4:26 PM, prginww wrote:

    How about TEC, "The Executive Committee" for 40 years, changing to "Vistage"? I asked a long time employee what it means... no idea.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2013, at 5:41 PM, prginww wrote:

    Ideally a company would have a pithy name, but if you deliver a superior product or service to the public the name will be remembered. If management (CEOs, etc...) aren't bright enough to understand this, and most aren't, then they should be dismissed.

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2013, at 10:03 AM, prginww wrote:

    Mondelez, yeah, that just screams "delicious products". My first thought was that it had relocated to some Hispanic country. Now I read that this was the best name that 1000+ people could come up with.

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