What’s in a Name?


We hear popular business names all the time, giving no thought to where those names came from. For example, do you know what these names mean: Yahoo, Canon, Pepsi, and Google? Here is the story behind some of the most popular names of modern culture.

IKEA – Founder Ingvar Kamprad formed this name by combining his initials, I.K., with the first letters of Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd, the farm and village where he grew up.

Canon – Originally called “Kwanon” for a Buddhist goddess, the company changed its name to Canon in 1935 to appeal to a worldwide audience.

LEGO – The word combines the Danish words “leg pot,” or “play well.”

Sony – The name is derived from “sonus,” the Latin word for sound and a slang expression “sonny boy,” which in 1950s Japan described “smart, presentable young men.”

Haagen-Dazs – The name was strategically chosen by its founders to sound Danish and “convey an aura of the old-world tradition and craftsmanship,” but has no meaning in the language.

Yahoo – The word is both an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle” and an imaginary species described as rude, noisy, and violent in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Pepsi – Originally named Brad’s Drink after inventor Caleb Bradham, Pepsi-Cola got its name in 1898 from the word “dyspepsia,” which means indigestion, meant to represent Bradham’s belief that it was a healthy beverage.

Google – The Internet giant takes its name from “googol,” the mathematical term for the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros.

Blackberry – This name was coined in 1999 because the keys on the device resembled drupelets on the fruit.

Starbucks – The coffee giant took its name from the first mate in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in an effort to evoke “the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.”

Reebok – An alternative spelling of “rhebok,” the Afrikaans-Dutch word for a type of antelope, this name is meant to evoke speed and grace.

Skype – Whittled down from the original name of “Sky Peer-To-Peer” to “Skyper,” the “r” was eventually dropped to create the current name.

Amazon – Jeff Bezos reportedly wanted a name that began with “A” so it would appear near the top of the alphabetical list. He thought the world’s largest river was an apt name for what he hoped could be the largest company in the world.

WD-40 – After 39 failures in the lab, the popular water-displacing spray was developed. Hence “Water displacement perfect on the 40th try.”

I’ll confess that I didn’t know the back story on any of those names. But once I read the background for names like Pepsi, Starbucks, and Amazon, they make sense. As a boy, there was another name I heard a lot, but didn’t understand – Jesus. I knew he must be a significant historical figure and attached his name to “prophet, God’s son, and Messiah.” But I didn’t know the meaning behind the name.

The name Jesus is derived from the Latin Iesus, a transliteration of the Greek Iesous. The Greek form is a rendering of the Hebrew Yeshua, a variant of the earlier name Yehoshua, or Joshua in English. The first century writings of historian Flavius Josephus reference twenty men by the name Iesus, or Jesus. The etymology, or word meaning, is generally understood to be “Yahweh is salvation.”

Breaking that all down, Jesus means salvation. If our primary problem had been physical, God would have sent a doctor. If our problem had been lack of knowledge, God would have sent an educator. Had our problem been social, He would have sent a sociologist. Depending on the diagnosis, God could have sent a psychologist, psychiatrist, economist, philanthropist, scientist, anthropologist, or motivational speaker. But God sent a Savior. There’s a reason for that.

William McDowell wrote the beautiful song, There’s Something about that Name. He wrote, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. There’s something about that name. Master. Savior. Jesus. Like the fragrance after the rain. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Let all heaven and earth proclaim. That kings and kingdoms will all pass away. But there is something about that name.”

What’s in a name? In the case of Jesus – everything.


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