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What Do Jamie Foxx, Google, and Blackwater Have in Common?
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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Whether you’re a Hollywood star or a well-established brand, there’s great merit in simply changing your name. To gain that extra mileage or wipe away a checkered past, a simple name change is one of the oldest PR tricks in the book. That’s because it works.

There are two tiers to the game. One is practiced routinely by aspiring Hollywood actors and musicians. They know — or their agents will tell them — that they are never going to make it with their original family-given names, which can lack lyricism, sound too ethnic, or are just plain dull. For all the acting/singing lessons, weight loss, surgeries, primping, and packaging to come, there is nothing simpler than a name change.

Can you guess these actors and musicians by their "real" names?*

1. Caryn Elaine Johnson
2. Joaquin Rafael Bottom
3. Kathryn Hudson
4. Eric Marlon Bishop
5. Carlos Irwin Estévez
6. Paul David Hewson
7. Stefanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta
8. Amanda Lee Rogers
9. Mark Sinclair Vincent
10. Peter Gene Hernandez

Brands do it too.

For brands, the name change is a bit trickier and usually far more complex. And they can be changed for myriad reasons.

It might be the result of a merger (United Telephone, Centel, Central Telephone, Carolina Telephone to Sprint); changing health and wellness concerns (Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC and Philip Morris to Altria); or by popular demand (Federal Express to FedEx).

It might be a strategic change in focus (Diet Deluxe to Healthy Choice); expansion of services (Apple Computer to Apple); or controversy or scandal (Blackwater to Xe, pronounced Zee, Andersen Consulting to Accenture; and ValueJet to AirTran).  

It might be the ideas just got too big for such a provincial name, such as when Larry Page and Serge Brin created the world’s number one search engine in 1996 under the name BackRub — then two years later renaming the technology behemoth Google.

Here are some other well-known brand change names.**

1. AuctionWeb
2. DrivUrSelf
3. Blue Ribbon Sports
4. Confinity
5. Peter’s Super Submarines
6. Sound of Music
7. Standard Oil Company
8. Datsun
9. Brad’s Drink
10. The Haloid Company

Change is not always good.

Sometimes, a name change doesn’t work at all. When the Royal Mail, for example, changed its name to the almost inexplicable Consignia in 2001, the British public and media went into full revolt. “A duffer. A howling waste of money. The most ruinous decision since the biblical scam that saw Esau swap his birth right for a bowl of stew,” wrote BBC News Online business reporter Mike Verdin. With a bewildered public and a scornful media, the company changed the name back just one year later.

Whatever the reason, a name change can be expensive and controversial — but also effective. In the end, it can be the savior of a brand.

The PR campaign supporting the change should be concerted, directed, and steadfast, as the public and the media will take some time to grasp the changes. Some say it can take up to three years before the change takes hold.

It can, however, give company stakeholders the opportunity to reiterate brand values, reinforce USPs, and push brand messaging out to the public, giving PRs a new opportunity to engage.

If done right, a name change can overcome scandals, anticipate global change and reinforce core offerings.

Can you say: Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web?***
*1. Whoopi Goldberg; 2. Joaquin Phoenix; 3. Katy Perry; 4. Jamie Foxx; 5. Charlie Sheen; 6. Bono; 7. Lady Gaga; 8. Portia de Rossi; 9. Vin Diesel; 10. Bruno Mars
**1. eBay; 2. Hertz; 3. Nike; 4. PayPal; 5. Subway; 6. Best Buy; 7. Amoco; 8. Nissan; 9. Pepsi-Cola; 10. Xerox

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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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