Blog posts about language

Five Star Brand Renaming

There are several reasons for renaming your company or product. Among them, a merger between two companies, legal troubles, a public relations nightmare, or negative political or cultural associations. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that a name change can have serious consequences — from lost equity and consumer recognition, to a precipitous drop down Google’s SERP (search engine ranking page).

However, if you find yourself in need of a name change and go about it the right way, you can come out the other side with a mark that’s even stronger mark than the original. Below are some examples of companies who undertook five star name changes and came out on the other side.


It’s hard to believe, but the world’s highest ranked search engine entered the world with the unlikely moniker of Backrub. We love allusive names at River + Wolf, but they must lend themselves to some sort of brand storytelling—e.g. Apple speaks to simplicity of design, the Tree of Knowledge metaphor and so on—but Backrub? We can’t think of any legitimate connection between a backrub and search technology.

Five Stars: Besides its relevancy to the infinite possibility of search (Google is a play on the mathematical term “googol” which is a number represented by one followed by one hundred zeros) the name is fun, playful, and, at the time of its launch, a category breaker. It also lent itself easily to verb usage. Can you imagine saying, “Just Backrub it?”

Research in Motion/ Blackberry

The first wireless data technology developer in North America was originally christened Research in Motion. Not a terrible name–it played well to the device’s function, but its unwieldy length and tone wasn’t exactly welcoming. So the company underwent a rebrand and in January 2013 announced a new moniker: Blackberry.

Five Stars: Not only does this fresh, summery name reference its small size and color, but it also alludes to tangled vines, a trope often used (now overused) to suggest interconnectivity. No doubt the naming expert who developed the mark, knew that the blackberry is a fruit consisting of many individual small fruits derived from separate ovaries within a single flower, borne together on a common receptacle. Given the tiny keys on the device, BlackBerry proved a metaphorically juicy name.


Naming by committee is never a good idea. Conversely, naming your company or product solely on personal passions or interests without any consideration for marketing objectives isn’t such a great approach either. Kevin Systrom, the founder of the app that eventually became Instagram, was a big fan of Kentucky whiskeys—hence the name. Flaws in the original app, however, led to an overhaul, and during this process, an interesting discovery was made: people were using the app’s photo-sharing function as a main, not ancillary feature.

Five Stars: Instagram immediately conveys the app’s function. The clipped form of “instant” and “telegram” was so successful that a deluge of “insta” type names soon followed–though heads up: while imitation is a form of flattery, it is to be avoided in brand naming.


When Elance and oDesk merged in December 2013, a new mark was in order. After trying on Elance-oDesk and finding it a mouthful, the company saw the need for a rebrand–an idea that was spurred with a $30 million funding round.

Five Star: “Up” is a positive, lively word with lots of can-do energy. Paired with “work”, a word not necessarily associated with fun, the result was a fresh and surprising moniker. The new name gets kudos for sounding like a unified company rather than a merger between two behemoth freelance platforms.


This well-known browser originally took its naming inspiration from a Russian fairytale —The Firebird. An evocative name for sure, but one that ran into legal issues as an open source company had already claimed the name. Firefox, one of several terms for the cat-sized carnivorous creature also known as the Lesser Panda and the Red Cat-Bear, proved perfect.

Five Star: The new name retains the word “fire” and pairs it without another animal. While not always necessary, it can be helpful to keep some element of the former name in a rebrand. Firefox accomplishes this. Even better, it is a more unusual name than Firebird and thus the name gets high marks for uniqueness.