Brand Names: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Brand Names: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

7th May 2014

Choosing a scalable brand name

One of the most important things of setting up a business is choosing the right brand name. Gone are the days where you could simply pick a name relevant to the product or service that you were offering. A lot more thought needs to go into choosing a brand name that can scale with your business growth and expansion.

This post is going to look at different brands from various industries and sectors and some of the problems with their brand names.

Whilst researching the content for this post, I was very surprised to see how many of the world’s biggest brands actually started off with a different name before rebranding under their current name. Some brands are forced to change their name whilst others look at where their business is heading and realise that their current name just isn’t going to get them to where they need to be.

The Ideal Brand Name

In an ideal world, your business will have a brand name that is totally unique to you. There should be no brand confusion and whenever you see or hear your brand name mentioned, you know that they are talking about you. Now as I said, this is what you would want to have in an ideal world but this is not always possible especially as the years go on as more and more names and domains are getting snapped up.

The following three brands have very unique and original names but all three of them started off with names that were not as perfect as the names they have today.

Google eBay Nintendo

Nintendo started off as Marufuku. I don’t know the reason behind why they choose to change their name but just looking at their previous name, in the English language part of that name is an uncouth word that wouldn’t go down great in a lot of countries.

eBay was originally known as AuctionWeb. If they hadn’t of relaunched as eBay, I am sure they would still have done well as they capitalised on the market at the right time but with the name eBay, they have made sure that they are fully protected and known in the online space.

Google’s original name was the one that surprised me most. Back in 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin started collaborating on a search engine called BackRub! It wasn’t until a year later in 1997 that the name Google was born. It is a play on the word “googol,” a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros.

These three are not the only big brands to have rebranded from their original names. Check out this post, it looks at some of the biggest brands and what their original names were.

Brand Names Limitations

When you first start a company, it may be impossible to know exactly where you want to take the business in years to come but this is something that is vitally important when it comes to naming the business. The following three brands have done very very well in their market space but when you look at their brand name and compare it to their product offering, the name does not portray them correctly.

Let’s take a look in more detail at what I mean here.

Music Magpie are a well know online recycling engine that allows you to sell various items to them in exchange for cash. It is great if you want some quick money for your items, you don’t have the time or patience to use eBay or you have tried selling the item on eBay but have not been successful.

Music Magpie

As the name suggests, Music Magpie started out just buying your unwanted music such as CDs but have since expanded this and you can now use their website to sell them your unwanted CDs, DVDs, Games, Tech, Electronics & Clothes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a rebrand from Music Magpie in the near future. They will be losing out on a lot of business with their current name. Unless you know that they will recycle more than just music, you will bypass them and look for an alternative that you know will be able to help you.

ASOS is an interesting one for me. I would probably say that 30% of the people I speak to don’t actually know what it stands for. The business model for ASOS started out as a website selling replica or exact outfits As Seen On Screen. It was a great resource if you came across a celebrity wearing an outfit and you wanted to own something similar.


The ASOS website is now a huge online fashion retailer selling clothing from various brands from Primark to Calvin Klein. They even have their own clothing line now which is sold through their website.

So when you think of their brand name, it doesn’t represent their offering. I can’t envisage a rebrand coming from ASOS anytime soon as they have the benefit of hiding behind the acronym of their name.

As with the above two brands, iTunes started off as a platform for downloading music but in 2014, you can now use the platform to download TV shows, books, apps, movies and more and as such, the name no longer matches their exact offering.


iTunes have the backing of the Apple brand so whether they choose to change their name to something more suited to their offering or not, they will always have a customer base but they could grow their market share more if they had a name that non-customers would be able to match to the types of downloads they have available.

Whether you are looking to start a new business or you already have an established one, I would urge you to think about the future and what plans you have for taking the business forward. If you are thinking of moving even slightly away from your current offering, make sure you think about the implications that will have on your brand name and whether you need to change the name to grow with your business aspirations.

Person Named Brands

A lot of businesses like solicitors, accountants, builders and opticians get named after the owner(s). Although the business name is scalable from a product/service perspective the name becomes a little redundant once the owner(s) have either sold the business or passed away. Once the business is passed on or sold to someone new, the name does not have the same meaning as it once had and you may even find that the customer base that has been grown under the existing name starts to move away as they were used to dealing with the original owner.

If you are going down the route of naming your business after yourself, think long and hard about what you want to do with the business in the future. If your goal is to sell the business, naming it after you is not going to be the best idea as the name will go with the business when it is sold. It can also make a sale less appealing as the new owner will need to think about whether they are going to continue with the name or rebrand under a different name.

Industry Changes Force Name Changes

In the digital marketing industry, we have seen numerous companies changing their name because of the changes in the industry. The name that they started off with was leaving them behind when it came to highlighting their offering. The biggest change that we have seen is within the SEO sector where SEO as we once knew it, has completely changed over the past few years. As such, these brands changed to keep up with this.

Here are three actual cases where this has happened:

Marketing Signals State of Digital Moz

You will be fully aware of the State of Digital brand if you are reading this post seeing as it is on that website so I won’t go into detail about what the offering is. For those of you who don’t know, State of Digital used to be called State of Search. State of Search covered a lot more than just search topics so the idea behind the rebrand to State of Digital was to capitalise on the huge variety of digital topics being written about on the website. You can read more about the concept of State of Digital here.

A more recent rebrand was from our friends over at Manual Link Building who have changed their name to Marketing Signals. The company’s Founder, Gareth Hoyle said “As SEO has changed, we thought we should too, and have therefore decided that undergoing a full re-brand is the best way forward for the business.” You can read more on the rebrand here.

One of the most well-known sites in the online marketing industry is Moz. They were previously known as SEOmoz but rebranded to Moz as their product offering meant that they were no longer purely an SEO software company so the SEOmoz name did not represent their offering. Founder Rand Fishkin wrote a great post on the SEOmoz rebrand here.

As you can see from reading this post, sometimes it will be impossible to know where your business is going to be in a few years’ time. Industries change and when they do, businesses need to change with it sometimes forcing your hand and making a rebrand a necessity to aid your future growth.

Think Before You Implement

The key take aways from this post are:

  • Think about where you want your business to go in the future
  • Come up with a name that is unique and original to you (where possible)
  • Stay on top of industry changes and make sure you adapt with them
  • Don’t be afraid to change your brand name if it means you will be able to grow your business further


Written By
Samantha Noble is the founder of Biddable Moments and a former editor and contributor to State of Digital.
10 Local Paid Media Marketing Ideas
Latest Post from Samantha
Branding 10 Local Paid Media Marketing Ideas
31st August 2016
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.