Fri04182014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Remember when there were no initials?

Summertime is often a quiet time for the press. This means reporters have to go farther down the pile of wire service clippings and press releases to find something to write about. Perhaps that’s why the media gave so much attention to National Public Radio’s decision to officially change their name to NPR. I have to admit, since I have referred to them almost exclusively by their initials for years, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. But to some, probably starved for something to fill copy space, this was a

big deal.
But as I thought about it, it’s remarkable how much of corporate America these days goes by initials or variations on initials. NPR may be making a big fuss over their decision, but ABC, NBC, and CBS, the big national broadcasters, have long since sacrificed their full names in favor of their initials. So, has CNN.
The oil giant Exxon, now Exxon Mobil was once known as ESSO. Unlike Exxon, ESSO meant something. It stood for Standard Oil. But in 1974, anxious to find a more international sounding name, they dreamed up Exxon. It doesn’t stand for anything, but I have to admit, its kind of a cool name.
Two initials, “BP,” have, in recent months, become infamous. But before they changed their corporate name to just BP they were known for decades as British Petroleum. Something, that given that the British government has no stake in the ownership of the company, the Brits wish everyone would forget.
One of my favorites was a small computer company that made one of the first word processors. This was before WordPerfect and Windows. Their name was NBI and my office bought one. It was a remarkable machine, but I kept asking, what does NBI stand for? My boss didn’t know, and the sales rep didn’t want to answer the question. I think he was enjoying the air of mystery to it all. Finally, I found out, it stood for “Nothing but Initials.” I don’t know who started the company, but I hope they made a lot of money.
In the fast food business, snappy nick names are in fashion. Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken, a staple food when I was growing up, is now, simply, KFC. I don’t know if I like it, but they still have ads with the Kentucky Colonel in the white suit, so I’m OK with it. Then there is McDonalds. The Golden Arches. Their corporate name is still McDonald’s, but they like to call themselves Mickey D’s. To which, quoting George Carlin, I say, “whatever.” Just keep serving your double cheeseburgers.
Many companies have long since gone to initials. IBM was once International Business Machines, AT&T stood for American Telephone and Telegraph and 3M was short for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. And someone close by, GEICO, began life as the Government Employees Insurance Corporation.
Of course, no one does initials like the government. They don’t do it for marketing purposes, they just can’t help themselves. The list of government initials could run into a dozen pages, so I will just stick to some of the better known ones. My two favorites are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These nick names are just too odd not to mention. They are the government chartered corporations that provide funding for mortgage loans and they are an important part of the banking business. Of course, they do have proper names, but almost no one uses them. Then there is the CIA and FBI. Everyone knows what they stand for, but their initials sound much more impressive. Besides, the shouted, with guns drawn, “Freeze, FBI,” just wouldn’t sound right if they had to use the agency’s full title.
Initials suit me fine. I don’t consider the trend at all disturbing. It’s perfectly reasonable for a society that e-mails and texts to want to go for sharper more quickly spelled and pronounced names. It is good marketing. But once in awhile, it’s nice to know what they stand for, or as is more often the case, what they once stood for.
You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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