Service of Leaving Well Enough Alone: Why Change a Good Name?

October 11th, 2018

Categories: Common Sense, Name

Photo:boldmatic.com

I’ve written about name changes before. There have been a bunch of bridges in New York: the 59th Street Bridge aka Queensboro Bridge to Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge; the Triborough Bridge to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and this summer the Tappan Zee Bridge became the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. I wonder if map makers use both old and new names and if there have been so many changes lately because maps are rarely printed these days and digital changes are easy to do.

Ed Koch Bridge. Photo: nyc.gov

I have frequently griped about NY Now because it in no way describes the trade show that was formerly the New York International Gift Fair.

Some years ago Rupert Murdoch considered changing the name of The Wall Street Journal, the paper he’d bought from the Bancrofts, and he wasn’t the first. In the 1940s some names being looked at were World’s Work, The North American Journal, Business Day or Financial America. They all left well enough alone.

This wasn’t the case at the Tribune Publishing Co. that changed its name in 2016 to Tronc. The company owns the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News and sold the LA Times this summer.

This week it’s back to Tribune Publishing Co.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Lukas I. Alpert wrote about it in The Wall Street Journal: “When the new name was announced, the company’s then-nonexecutive chairman and largest shareholder, Michael Ferro, said the phrase was a British term for the box in which tips are collected at a restaurant and are later doled out to staff.” Nice to know—but who but anglophiles here knew the word?

Alpert continued: “The Tronc name soon became the subject of jokes on late-night TV and online. Comedian John Oliver said it sounded like ‘a stack of print newspapers being thrown into a dumpster.’”

Photo: logos.wikia.com

In addition to selling the LA Times, since 2016 Ferro stepped down as chairman just before sexual misconduct charges were made public. In addition, Alpert reported that the Tribune Publishing Co. has put the remaining papers up for sale.

Should well-known companies change their names? What do you think of cutesy names for corporations? What about selecting what amounts to a foreign word for a company that does business largely in the US? What other name changes—or company names, for that matter–make little sense?

Photo: thesellerslawfirm.com

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13 Responses to “Service of Leaving Well Enough Alone: Why Change a Good Name?”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Like most men, I don’t do well with change, especially when it’s not necessary.

    While I admired both Mayor Koch and Robert F. Kennedy, I still refer to the bridges as the 59th Street Bridge and the Tri-Boro Bridge.

    For years, I would always call Avenue of the Americas 6th Avenue, until several years ago the city went back to using that name again.

    To me, it’s still the Pan Am Building straddling Park Avenue.

    And re. the L.A. Times/Tribune Publishing…what the hell is a Tronc anyway?

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    David,

    According to Lukas Albert of The Wall Street Journal, a tronc is a British term for the box in which tips are collected at a restaurant and are later doled out to staff. What that has to do with newspaper publishing…….hmmmmm.

    As for bridge and building names I’m with you. I like the ones I’ve heard and used all my life.

  3. Protius Said:

    You touch upon two very different subjects, namely the honoring of individuals, or less tangible subjects like war events, by naming things after them, and the naming of companies. I think remembering this is essential to any conversation on the subject.

    I think naming things with people’s names is fine. However, I myself, were I wealthy, would make gifts anonymously, and I still refer occasionally to JFK as Idlewild.

    On the other hand, a company’s name can be one of its biggest marketing tools, Choosing the right name is a crucially important management prerogative. I’ve been lucky enough to have been part of that process a couple of times and found it unexpectedly complex but fascinating especially when a good name does eventually emerge.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Protius,

    In addition to my two businesses, I’ve named a product line and it is fun. The key is to find a good name if you are replacing an existing one and I don’t think that NY Now or Tronc fit the bill. And the important question is why change the name except in the case of a merger where all parties want to be included?

    As for naming buildings and bridges, if new, fine, and honoring someone, fine. But change a perfectly good existing name isn’t necessary. I would be sad if Park, Fifth, Lexington, First and Second Avenues changed their names as David pointed out happened to 6th. The folks who would benefit most are the sign makers and graphic designers who would change, in the correct fonts, the addresses of businesses on those streets on digital and printed materials.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    This post reminds of the old phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

    A well-known business name seems to have intrinsic value. If a company has a history and a following with a particular name why confuse its public? Why go to the effort and expense of redesigning everything from logos to stationary to digital ads to weaken an identity?

    Cutesy names are suitable for really cutesy children’s products.

    It might be best to spend business time on quality control and innovation rather than creating awkward nomenclature because of awkward mergers and buyouts

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I agree. The amount of money spent to establish a name over years combined with the heritage of that name makes it almost invaluable, unless it has done something wrong. There are lawyers and PR people who own businesses named after other people and they don’t change the company name for that reason.

    I imagine the change to Tronc and back to Tribune Publishing cost a pretty penny and a lot of meeting time. Other mergers, like the ill-fated Time Warner one, made more sense in the day.

  7. Hank Goldman Said:

    This is great, thank you! I always liked the historic country name of Burma! And I think it will be forever called the Tri-Borough bridge! Not RFK. Etc. etc.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I totally forgot to mention changed names of countries. Good point! So easy to get lost keeping track of all of them.

  9. ASK Said:

    What were they smoking? Tronc sounds like the name of an alien invader or a new video game,,,,As if we need either.

  10. jmbyington Said:

    ASK,

    The newspaper industry suffers from real challenges but with decision makers who think a name change might help—and such a name change—I feel despair for an industry I love.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    Sure, household name companies should change their names if they want to sharply curtail sales or go out of business. As for “Tronc,” blogger ASK says it all!

    If it’s a fight you’re looking for, how about changing a long standing bridge name? While honoring a deceased parent is praiseworthy, the Guv would do well to consider a less controversial and more intimate solution. Has he forgotten Election Day looms? Insistence promises to cost votes.

    Leaving well enough alone is usually the best way to proceed — however, it’s not a human trait. Too bad!

  12. jmbyington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Some feel they must make their mark and others think that they appear to be working hard if they make a change, any change, even if damaging. I wonder what the advisors to these people are doing. They clearly are not doing their jobs!

  13. Kathleen Said:

    What about Overstock? One would assume the online home store sells only “overstock” items. Recent TV commercials spell out the message that unlike their name, they sell “stock” items. They are a candidate to change their name!

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