I spent the early part of the summer writing 400-word summaries about several hundred leading companies operating in the UK. Surprisingly, the job was fascinating first because I realized quite how much the economy of my country of birth has been transformed in the last couple of decades. A number of large banks and companies that were household names have simply disappeared, while insurance brokers, payday lenders and internet betting shops now form a major part of the economy (the long-term implications of which I won’t go into here). Just one example: Stoke-on-Trent is a city of a quarter-of-a-million people. It used to be famous for its pottery, coal and steel industries. Now the largest employer is the online gambling company Bet365.
Anyway, along with new companies come new names and it is these that are the subject of this rambling article. Specifically, I want to consider some of them in the context of Alexandra Watkins’ book Hello, My Name is Awesome (2015). Most of the new names continue the traditions of using euphony, acronyms and wordplay.
A good example is the name of Mitie /’maiti:/, the outsourcing company, which is a felicitous acronym for “Management Incentive Through Investment Equity” with a pun on ‘mighty’. Another successful brand name is that of the discount website ‘Groupon’, a clever portmanteau word. It comes from ‘group’ fused with ‘coupon’. A final example of an effective name is Npower, which stands for “national power”. However, the name has echoes of ‘empower’ as it is often mispronounced (“enpower”).
HungryHouse is also a pretty successful company name. It connects with the moment in which potential customers are likely to purchase takeaway food – when they are hungry – and offers alliteration for memorability. Finally, there are echoes of the simile “as hungry as a horse”. However, the rhyme in GrubHub makes that name even more inspired: ‘grub’ is a colloquial word for food and ‘hub’ means ‘centre’. Both names are better than Deliveroo, though. Kangaroo’s transport their young, not food – Hamster would have been more appropriate!
GoSkippy seems a singularly stupid name for an insurance company. First, why refer to a TV character who disappeared back in 1970? – only a small part of your potential customer base – those over 55 who grew up in Britain or Australia – are going to relate to it. Moreover, what do kangaroos have to do with insurance? Maybe I just don’t like kangaroos!
Some names are less successful because, though they are highly ingenious, ordinary English-speakers need them to be explained. For instance, the logic behind the name of ‘Airbnb’ becomes evident with a little explanation. The idea behind the company is that anyone can turn their apartment into a bed and breakfast (b’n’b) by putting an inflatable mattress in their sitting room (the ‘air’ in the name).
The name of the classified ads website, Gumtree, betrays its origins. It was set up by expatriate Antipodians in London to help other expatriate Antipodians with accommodation, employment and so on. The name comes from the New Zealand expression ‘to be up a gum tree’ (= be in a predicament).
Personally, I find ‘ipostparcels’ extremely irritating. I’m no fan of starting a name with a lowercase letter or running three words together, so to me it looks like the efforts of a small child who is just learning to write.
However, for me at least an example of crass company name is ‘Missguided’. Yes, OK, it includes the ‘miss’ suggesting that it is oriented towards young women, though it is telling that they never use ‘miss’ on their website, only ‘babe’. But the pun is on the word ‘misguided’, which means ‘ill-advised’ or ‘foolish’ – what sort of a connotation is that? In fact, ‘Missguided’ commits three of Alexandra Watkins’s seven deadly sins of brand names: it looks like a typo, it’s annoying and it’s uninspired.
The Limits of Clever
The name ‘Quickquid’ sounds like an effective use of allitero-assonance with the allusion that they will lend you money rapidly and nothing more. However, it might just also be an allusion to the Latin word Quicquid (= whatever) – but I doubt it! Sometimes a name is just a name and you shouldn’t over-interpret.
 summary – synopsis
 to realize – (false friend) become conscious
 large – (false friend) big, important
 to be a household name – be well–known, be recognized by practically everyone
 payday lender – a company that lends customers small sums of money at high interest rates, on the agreement that the loan will be repaid when the borrower receives his/her next salary payment
 internet betting shop – type of online casino
 to go into sth. (go-went-gone) – examine, investigate
 pottery – ceramics
 coal – pieces of carbon used as fuel
 steel – type of extra-strong ferrous metal
 largest – biggest, most important
 online gambling company – type of internet-based casino
 rambling – digressive, discursive
 euphony – sound parallelisms (e.g. alliteration, assonance, etc.)
 outsourcing – contracting out, paying another company to do part of one’s production process
 pun – piece of homophonic wordplay
 mighty – powerful
 brand name – trademark, commercial name
 portmanteau word – term formed by fusing together parts of two existing words
 a gas and electricity company
 to stand for (stand-stood-stood) – represent
 to empower – emancipate, give sb. control over his/her life
 brain (adj.) – mental
 fodder – food for animals
 an online platform for takeaway food
 pretty (adv.) – reasonably
 are likely to – will probably
 to purchase – buy
 takeaway food – food that is prepared at a restaurant but is brought home by customers or delivered to their homes by the restaurant
 memorability – being memorable, being easy to remember
 as hungry as a horse – very hungry, famished
 an online and mobile food-ordering company that connects customers with local restaurants, a rival of HungryHouse
 an online food-delivery company; a competitor to HungryHouse and GrubHub. The name is a portmanteau word19 based on ‘delivery’ + ‘kangaroo’
 their young [U] – their babies
 an insurance company. The name refers to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, an Australian TV series (1968-1970)
 to relate to sth. – identify with sth. , feel a connection with sth.
 what do kangaroos have to do with…? – how are kangaroos related to…?
 just – (in this case) simply
 an online marketplace for buying and selling second-hand CDs, DVDs, etc. A magpie is a species of black and white bird (Pica pica) related to crows (Corvidae) that is known for taking bright objects
 recommerce – buying and selling of second-hand products online
 highly – very
 for instance – for example
 to turn – (in this case) convert
 bed and breakfast – small private hotel
 mattress – the soft part of a bed
 made-up – invented
 intended to – designed to
 ad – advert (UK English), advertisement
 an online company for people to buy and sell things within their local communities. A gum tree is literally a eucalyptus tree or similar
 to betray – (in this case) reveal
 to set sth. up (set-set-set) – create sth., establish sth.
 and so on – et cetera, etc.
 to be in a predicament – be in a difficult or embarrassing situation
 a package-delivery company
 lowercase – minuscule
 to run together (run-ran-run) – fuse, combine
 just – (in this case) in the process of
 crass – stupid, showing no intelligence
 a clothes store for women aged 16 to 35
 miss – an unmarried woman
 telling – revealing, significant
 babe – (potentially sexist) young woman who is considered sexually attractive. The term, of course, infantilizes women.
 pun – piece of homophonic wordplay
 ill-advised – imprudent
 Hello, My Name is Awesome (2015)
 deadly sins – (in this case) cardinal mistakes
 brand name – name of a product or service
 typo – spelling mistake
 annoying – irritating
 a payday lender. Literally, a ‘quid’ is, colloquially, a pound (sterling).
 whatever – a. under any circumstances; b. anything; c. (an exclamation expressing total indifference) I don’t care!
 just – (in this case) only
 to over-interpret – find camouflaged significance where none was intended