Brand Name Origins: Intentional or Backfilled?

By Mark Skoultchi

March 3, 2009

I love Mental Floss — Everyone should read it. They ran a fun naming piece yesterday on the origins of eight high-tech brand names. The brand names origins they illuminate include: TiVo, Bluetooth, Hulu, Blackberry, Wii, Wikipedia, Asus (um, what?), and Prius.

The post is a fun one, giving origin stories that savvy name aficionados already know. My beef is not with Mental Floss or their fun article. Instead, I have a bone to pick with the companies who pick random names at will, and then backfill meaning into their brand name.

Do you really think the folks at pre-Hulu really knew that the word meant “interactive recording” and “a hollowed-out gourd used to hold precious things” in Mandarin Chinese? If so, then they probably also knew that it meant “butt” in Indonesian and would never have chosen the name for a global brand. Hulu is a fun, four-letter word that recalls Hula ad Lulu (which is probably the real name origin). It has a consonant-vowel structure and is meaningless enough for them to build any brand personality they want around it. They probably picked Hulu as their name and then discovered that it had these other meanings when they conducted brand name linguistic analysis before launching. Which is fine, but just own up to the truth. The truth will set you free, Hulu!!!

And the story about Toyota believing “the Prius was going to be the predecessor of the cars of the future,” so they chose the Latin word for “before.” Um, so not plausible. Nice story though.

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