Reading Catherine’s excellent blog regarding the difficulty of following Arabic names I got to thinking about the importance of choosing the right name for your company. More specifically what, if anything, does your company name say about your organisation?
Being confronted with naming a start-up from scratch is no easy task: use the founders’ surnames? Perhaps some initials? Something descriptive or wilfully obscure? Add in the modern complexity of ensuring that your name appears top of any relevant Google search and you have opened a whole further can of worms.
When we started Codex in 2003 my business partner Rupert Foster and myself sat down together with a blank sheet of paper, perhaps believing that if we could not agree on a company name what hope was there for our future partnership? We discounted seeking professional advice as I had been down that road with a previous start-up a few years earlier, never quite liking the results and enjoying the bill even less. Using our own names in the title was quickly discounted: Palfreyman is far too much of a mouthful anyway, whilst I have just a little too much ego to consider Foster and Partner as a viable option. Christian names were a definite non starter, Duncan and Rupert sounding dangerously like an 80’s hairdressing salon. Codex was ultimately someone else’s suggestion, we felt it fitted the bill incorporating the image of accurate documentation without burdening future developments or diversifications by being overly descriptive.
So that was it, Codex it was and is. It’s very much like naming a child: you agonise over choosing something suitable but as soon as they are named they become that name.
So far so good, but then a few years further on we made an acquisition and the soul searching began all over again: should we incorporate the name of the new business in our title and if so how? We did, creating the terrible mouthful of CodexBilingua and it was probably a relief to customers and suppliers alike when we dropped the Bilingua after a couple of years to rebrand as Codex Global.
Clearly we are not alone in the naming dilemma after a merger or acquisition. I remember a few years back when lawyers Addleshaw Sons and Latham acquired Booth and Co to rebrand as Addleshaw Booth. Some time further on, by which time clearly feeling comfortable that the Booth name had served its purpose, they reverted to the far snappier Addleshaws. This lasted not much longer than a matter of months prior to a merger with Theodore Goddard and then the company was once again rebranded now as Addleshaw Goddard.
However this experience pales into insignificance against my personal favourite, again from the legal profession, DLA. How many out there still remember or even, as is my case, can claim to have worked with both Dibb Lupton Broomhead and Alsop Wilkinson? DLA was definitely a far simpler solution, however this was before the group embarked further on the merger and acquisition trail, briefly sporting the outstanding moniker of DLA Piper Rudnick Grey Carey LLP.
This naming sensitivity does not appear to concern our US cousins in quite the same way: when the world’s largest financial printer RR Donnelly acquired the second / third largest Bowne, the name? Straightforward – Bowne disappeared overnight to become RR Donnelly.
But how much does it really matter? I have personally known the recently renamed N+1 Brewin from when they were Charlton Seal & Dimmock, through Wise Speke, Bell Lawrie, Brewin Dolphin and now the current incarnation, yet have no difficulty in identifying them as the same, evolving organisation. I suggest that the majority of their customers feel in a similar way to me, as for the most part it is the individuals we deal with within these organisations, and the services / products delivered, which ultimately define who they are. N+1 Brewin may sound strange for a few months, but that’s what we all felt when accountancy firm Peat Marwick McLintock, who everyone referred to as ‘Peats’, rebranded – now the name KPMG is totally synonymous with the City and feels as if it has been around forever.
In conclusion, it is not so much the name but rather the corporate identity which is paramount. A company that demonstrates consistently strong core values may alter its name with seeming regularity, but so long as the business’ distinctive characteristics are maintained it will always be identified in the same positive way. The flip side is also true, changing names will not disguise poor corporate culture unless this is perceived as a genuine fresh start. Customers and suppliers alike recognise which are the good companies to deal with, irrespective of names!