What's in a name?

The business world in Switzerland has been shaken up over the past few years with a spate of new company names and name changes. While some have caught on, others have clearly backfired, leaving many people shaking their heads in bewilderment.

This content was published on March 29, 2001 - 09:27

Unaxis (formerly Oerlikon-Bührle), Swisscom, the SAirGroup, Atraxis, Novartis, Syngenta, Clariant, Unique Zurich Airport and Ruag are just a few examples of new or recent names on the scene.

Only this week, cement manufacturer Holderbank announced it was changing its name to Holcim and Air Engiadina rebaptised itself Swisswings.

There a number of good reasons for the changes, according to public relations expert Klaus Stöhlker.

"A name is important for a company because today a name is a brand. Brands mean money, so if a company is able to promote a name, the company gets known," he told swissinfo.

Some changes have taken place because of mergers, while others have appeared because companies want to give themselves a more modern image. Many of the new names are just one word.

"Our time has turned towards the English language and in the English-speaking world, most people say that short words are much more impressive and easier to understand than long German or Latin words," Stöhlker told swissinfo.

However, companies have to find the right word. "As we know from fairy stories, if you have the magic word you can win the world, so companies are looking for that one word that will be the key to success for them and their employees," he added.

Swiss companies have gone to great length to explain why they make their changes. When Oerlikon-Bührle restructured away from weapons to high tech, the company said that its new name Unaxis had been derived from the terms "united" and "axis".

"The name Unaxis also brings to mind other words including "universal", "unique" and "axiom" (derived from the Greek word meaning worthy)", the company explained.

And it probably spoke for most name-changing companies when it said that the word had to be "internationally understood, be short, associative, easily remembered and it should also be clearly distinguished from the competition".

The costs involved in a name can be huge because once having found the magic word, companies have to sell it to the market. That involves not just changing letterheads and telling the telephone company, but also creating a company logo and advertising it.

For example, the new Axpo electricity company has spared no expense in a major television and newspaper campaign to explain that it supplies electricity to some of Switzerland's largest cantons. It is gearing up for recognition before liberalisation of the Swiss electricity market.

Stöhlker said the transformation of the Swiss Credit Bank into the Credit Suisse group will probably cost close on SFr1 billion ($580 million) over time and he puts the average range of new corporate indentity costs in Switzerland at between SFr50 and SFr300 million.

Despite the huge amounts spent, not every new name is a winner. Stöhlker cites the transformation of Swissair into the SAirGroup.
"SAirGroup was a huge failure and the new chairman and chief executive Mario Corti is going to turn the wheel back," he said.

While there seems to be a new name in the Swiss business world every week at the moment, some companies can sit back and wonder what all the fuss is about.

For example, Nestlé, Rolex and Omega are such household names that most people agree it would be stupid to even consider a change.

by Robert Brookes

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know:

Share this story

Join the conversation!

With a SWI account, you have the opportunity to contribute on our website.

You can Login or register here.