A case of identity: new monikers and new directions

What's in a name? The answer is, plenty, as it happens, writes Glenda Kwek.

What's in a name? The answer is, plenty, as it happens, writes Glenda Kwek.

It has been said that words have meaning and names have power. When the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles released a press statement this month announcing it was dropping the name "Manly" in favour of sponsors Kaspersky, there was immediate shock - and derision.

It took less than two hours for the rugby league club to issue a second media release, clarifying that the new name would only be used internally and at corporate events.

"Kaspersky Sea Eagles" wasn't the only tongue-twisting, and a bit short-lived, name change this year. OneSteel morphed into Arrium, Intersuisse and Austock into Octa Phillip Securities, and Photon into Enero.

Whether to distance themselves from past problems or to reflect a company's new outlook, corporate name changes are not uncommon. But as the reaction to the Sea Eagles announcement showed, not all are well received.

"When companies choose to rename, it's a clear and overt signal of change," said Tom Brigstocke of consultancy Principals. "[But] naming is always a far more demanding process than most people realise."

Mr Brigstocke, whose firm was responsible for naming UBank, NAB's internet-based subsidiary, and remodelling Clay Brick and Pavers Institute into Think Brick, said the best names had to be memorable, authentic, simple, and mean something.

Centro Retail switched to Federation Centres, a move its chairman, Bob Edgar, said was not just a "simple name change" but about demonstrating the transformation the once debt-plagued shopping centre owner had taken in the past year.

"We now have a clear path forward with a new board, refreshed management team and a clear strategic direction," he said.

Paul Harrison, a marketing lecturer at Deakin Business School, said Centro's renaming was a reasonable decision, given the firm's need to jettison its troubled past.

"It's fairly naive to think that by changing the name itself, you'll change everybody's attitude to it," he said. "But I guess in this situation it's about who the target market is. Does it really matter if they change from Centro Retail to Federation Centres? Probably not, for their target market."

OneSteel's decision to choose Arrium as its new name in April was for a different reason - it said the old name made attracting overseas investors harder. The firm wanted to distance itself from the struggling steel industry, while reflecting its exposure to iron ore and the mining services sectors. The choice of Arrium was strategic, its chief executive, Geoff Plummer, said.

"It's a made-up word. But when it has to work in all those countries and it's got to be safe when you Google it, you often fall back [on] made-up words," he told the ABC. The letters "ium" were meant to sound like an element on the periodic table.

Mr Brigstocke said Arrium was one example of how we are now in the world of neology - the coining of new words - brought about when the dotcom boom "sucked up most words in the dictionary".

A new name also comes with a price tag. OneSteel's rebranding exercise was "quite cheap" at about $1 million; other firms could pay between $5 million and $10 million for a name and image overhaul.

But ultimately, whatever name is chosen, companies needed to own it, Mr Harrison said. "Just coming up with a new name isn't enough. Once you decide that this is the name you want, you have to own it and live with it and work with it for as long as you possibly can, because if you don't believe in the name, then your target market won't believe in it either."

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