Top 10: Well-Known Brands We Almost Never Knew
“What’s in a name?” Juliet asked from the balcony more than 500 years ago—and if the brand name changes below are any indication, the answer Romeo should have given was “a lot.” It is hard to imagine asking someone to “BackRub” directions to the meeting, order you a large Brad’s Drink, or rent a copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany, Young and Ellis’s.” But it isn’t that far-fetched.
Here are the top 10 brands we love but almost came to know as something else.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos intended to call his internet startup Cadabra.com, as in abracadabra. When he called his attorney to discuss, the lawyer misheard, thinking Bezos had said “cadaver.” Quickly recognizing the potential recurrence of this mistake, he decided to launch under the name Amazon.com after the world’s second largest river.
9. Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany, Young and Ellis began as a stationery distributor in New York City in 1837. When Charles Tiffany assumed control in 1953, he shifted the focus to jewelry, changed the name to Tiffany & Co. and started a legacy.
8. Hasbro Inc.
Before Transformers and Monopoly there was Hassenfeld Brothers. Founded in 1923, the company initially sold textile remnants in Rhode Island before transitioning into manufacturing school supplies and pencil cases and eventually toys. The brand’s first hit, Mr. Potato Head, was introduced in 1952 under the name Hasbro Inc.
7. Taco Bell
Despite an affinity for Mexican food, Glen Bell initially opened American fast food-style restaurants, beginning with a hot dog stand called Bell’s Drive-In. Despite experiencing success with what had become a small chain, Bell’s true calling couldn’t be ignored—he even created a topping for the restaurants’ chili dogs that we know and love today as Taco Bell’s famous taco sauce. A few other restaurants and names came along as well but were all replaced in 1962 with the fast food favorite.
Fred DeLuca opened Pete’s Super Submarines with $1,000 that he borrowed from family friend Pete Buck. The venture was meant to pay for DeLuca’s college tuition while also supporting Buck’s belief in the increasing popularity of the submarine sandwich. As the business expanded, the name was shortened to Pete’s Submarines, only to be confused for “Pizza Marines” during a radio ad. As a result, the name was changed again to Pete’s Subs, and eventually became Subway in 1968. Today, Subway is a globally-recognized brand, and Pete Buck and Fred DeLuca are billionaires.
5. Best Buy
Minnesota-based company Sound of Music was founded in 1966 and experienced relative success. When a tornado literally removed the roof and uprooted the showroom in 1981, founder Richard Schulze made the best of a bad situation and hosted a “Tornado Sale,” which was also promoted as a “Best Buy,” to salvage any profit possible on the tornado-damaged merchandise. The success of the event inspired Schulze to alter his original business model, and in 1983, the company was officially renamed Best Buy, launching the $10 million-brand toward a multibillion-dollar future.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner had initially planned to name his world-renowned magazine Stag Party in honor of a cartoon book he had as a child. This idea was shut down one month prior to publication under the threat of copyright infringement by similarly-named Stag magazine. According to biography.com, an associate, Eldon Sellers, suggested the name "Playboy" after a defunct automobile company in Chicago.
Caleb Bradham concocted a drink out of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and other natural additives and dubbed it “Brad’s Drink.” The North Carolina native and former pharmacist’s apprentice began selling Brad’s Drink at his drug store in 1893, marketing the beverage as “healthy” for digestion. Using the root from the word dyspepsia, or indigestion, Bradham renamed the drink Pepsi-Cola in 1898. By 1902, popularity of and demand for Pepsi-Cola inspired the development of the Pepsi-Cola Company, with Bradham serving as president.
Stanford PhD students Jerry Yang and David Filo wanted to call their revolutionary internet search engine “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” but had a change of heart and chose to take a more sarcastic approach. “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” or “Yahoo,” is one of the most recognized search engines in the world today.
Another search engine story began in 1996 when BackRub was launched by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. When the website became too large for Stanford’s servers to manage in 1998, the founders made a revolutionary change—due to an accident. Googol, or the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros, was misspelled on a check to the non-existent company called “Google,” and the rest is search-engine-turned-verb history.
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