Pop Quiz: Do You Know the Weird History of These Companies' Names?

Milhouse Van Houten and Bart Simpson displays sit atop a Simpsons-styled Kwik-E-Mart

The origins of company names are often unknown to the public at large, and that's especially true with older companies: When a business has existed for as long as you've been alive, you just take the name for granted. But many of today's prominent firms could easily have ended up with very different names.

One major tech company settled on its name by flipping a coin, for instance. A well-known coffee shop chain came close to putting a very peculiar name on its storefronts. And other businesses spent years operating under different names before settling on the ones we all recognize. It's not uncommon for founders to name their ventures off the cuff while sitting in a dorm room or garage, then reconsider once the businesses start to take off.

With that in mind, we've put together this short quiz to test your knowledge of how various companies got their names ... and the strange names they went through to get where they are today.

Pop Quiz: The Weird History of Big Companies' Names
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Pop Quiz: Do You Know the Weird History of These Companies' Names?

A. Qwik-e-Mart
B. Tote'm
C. Seven-Eleven
D. S-Mart

According to 7-Eleven's website, the convenience stores were initially named Tote'm, due to the fact that customers could "tote" their groceries away. (Some stores were even decorated with totem poles, a far cry from the endlessly rotating hot dogs that now define the chain's convenience stores.) The name was changed in 1946 to reflect the new, extended hours the stores were open: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

(Qwik-E-Mart is the fictional Springfield convenience store manned by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on "The Simpsons." But it's worth noting that several 7-Eleven locations were briefly rebranded as Qwik-E-Marts to promote The Simpsons Movie in 2007. If you chose this option because your local 7-Eleven once called itself Qwik-E-Mart, you can give yourself partial credit.)

A. Ernst & Young
B. ConocoPhillips
C. Hewlett-Packard
D. Johnson & Johnson

A. Melville
B. Pequod
C. Ahab
D. Queequeg

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded the company in 1939, and flipped a coin to decide whether it would be called Hewlett-Packard or Packard-Hewlett. With another half-rotation of the coin on the way down, we would have had PH printers instead.

A. PageRank
B. StanfordSearch
C. Googol
D. BackRub

While the company has always been called Google, the search engine that launched the tech giant on its way was originally known as BackRub when Sergey Brin and Larry Page created it at Stanford in 1996. In 1997 they changed the name to Google – a misspelling of Googol, a very large number (1 followed by 100 zeros).

(If you chose "PageRank," give yourself partial credit: That's the name of the algorithm that underlies Google's search results. And yes, it was named after Larry.)

A. Silver Dollar
B. The Penny Shop
C. Golden Rule
D. Cash's Clothier

James Cash Penney opened his first store in Wyoming in 1902. And much like 7-Eleven, the stores initially operated under a different name, in this case, Golden Rule. He began to phase out the name after incorporating as the J.C. Penney Company in 1913.

A. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing
B. Mass Medical Manufacturing
C. Multi-Media Metals
D. Metal Manufacturers of Missouri

The company was founded in 1902 to mine mineral deposits in Two Harbors, Minn. But according to the company's website, the deposits "proved to be of little value," so the company moved to nearby Duluth to make sandpaper. As it diversified, the company became widely known as 3M, though it didn't get around to officially changing the name until 2002.

Starbucks was named after Starbuck, the first mate on a whaling ship called the Pequod. But the company was almost named after the ship itself. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz writes that company co-founder Gordon Bowke wanted to call it Pequod, but was overruled by a business partner who argued that "No one's going to drink a cup of Pee-quod!"

(Ahab was captain of that boat, and Queequeg was a harpooneer. The book was written by Herman Melville.)

A. MasterCard
B. American Express
C. Visa
D. Diner's Club

MasterCard was originally founded as the Interbank Card Association in 1966, and in 1969 bought the rights to use the "Master Charge" name. The card and network were renamed MasterCard in 1979.

Visa, meanwhile, was originally launched by Bank of America in 1958 under the name BankAmericard. It didn't become Visa until 1976.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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