9 People, Places & Things That Changed Their Names

iStock
iStock

When much-reviled security firm Blackwater changed its name to Xe last week, it wasn't just cleverly attempting to squash criticism by tossing out a name nobody would know how to pronounce. (Although that idea was probably a foreseen fringe benefit of the switch.) It was just joining in on a long tradition of corporations, places, and people opting to pick up a catchier, less tainted, or more unique name. Here are nine other famous entities that changed their names; you might not even recognize them by their original monikers.

1. BackRub

In 1996, Stanford computer science grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page started working on a new web crawling search engine. Since the engine used backlinks to gauge how important a site was, the enterprising pair called their creation "BackRub." By 1997 they decided this name wasn't so hot and brainstormed some new ideas before eventually settling on "Google."

2. Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web

"BackRub" sounds positively inspired compared to this behemoth of a title. When David Filo and Jerry Yang started a guide to Internet content in 1994, they christened it "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web." Like Page and Brin, they quickly realized they might need a name that took less than three minutes to say, so they switched to a word they liked from the dictionary "“ one that described someone who was "rude, unsophisticated, and uncouth." And that's how Yahoo! was born.

3. Jeff Gillooly

If ever anyone had good cause to change his name, it's Jeff Gillooly. While he was married to former figure skater Tonya Harding, Gillooly became a despised national figure for helping orchestrate the knee whacking of Harding's rival Nancy Kerrigan. To make things worse, he apparently sold a sex tape of one of his romps with Harding to a tabloid TV show. After spending six months in prison on racketeering charges, Gillooly returned home to Oregon, but picked up a new name, "Jeff Stone."

New name or not, he was still the same old Jeff Gillooly. According to a 2008 Newsweek report, Stone has been briefly married, divorced, twice arrested for domestic violence (although the charges were dropped), owned a tanning salon, sold used cars, and dated a stripper. Sort of makes Tonya's boxing career sound respectable.

4. Brad's Drink

In 1893, pharmacist Caleb Bradham created a new cola formula at his New Bern, North Carolina, business. Customers loved the sweet, fizzy libation, but the name "Brad's Drink" didn't really do much for them. After five years, Bradham decided maybe it was time to come up with a better brand name for his drink, so he started calling it Pepsi Cola.

5. Bombay

In 1995, millions of Indians went to sleep in Bombay and woke up in Mumbai. How did that happen? Since India achieved independence from British rule in 1947, various place names around the country have been changed to reflect Indian heritage rather than British colonial influences. When the right-wing Shiv Sena party romped in India's 1995 elections, one of its early acts was changing Bombay's name to Mumbai in honor of the city's patron Hindu goddess, Mumbadevi.

Mumbai's hardly alone in getting renamed, though. In 2001 Calcutta became Kolkata, while Madras became Chennai in 1996.

6. David Jones

Jones showed a certain flair for showmanship and songwriting in the early 1960s, but he was unfortunately named. Pop music already had a Davy Jones, the diminutive member of The Monkees. To spare himself any career-killing confusion, David Jones decided to adopt a stage name in 1965. He settled on the last name Bowie in part due to his fascination with Alamo-defending patriot Jim Bowie and his namesake knife. Jones wasn't instantly successful after he became David Bowie, but the Thin White Duke eventually rode his new name to stardom.

7. Andersen Consulting

In 1989, accounting giant Arthur Andersen spun off its consulting division into its own linked business that quickly grew into a juggernaut. When Andersen Consulting was raking in over $9 billion a year by the end of the 1990s, the consultancy no longer had much of a desire to stick with the accounting firm that incubated it. Following a rather acrimonious split in 2000, Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture.

Splitting up and changing names proved to be a stroke of luck for Accenture. Barely a year after the two companies parted ways, Arthur Andersen's name became inextricably linked to Enron-type accounting shenanigans, and by the end of 2002, the company's business was for all intents and purposes dead. Accenture, on the other hand, didn't suffer from negative associations with its document-shredding former brethren and remains on the Fortune Global 500.

8. David John Moore Cornwell

Cornwell enjoyed long, successful careers in the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and he started writing novels while he was with MI5. As it turned out, the novels were quite good, but he couldn't publish them under his own name due to British foreign office rules. Cornwell adopted the pseudonym John le Carre so he could stay in the good graces of his bosses, but it wouldn't matter for long. After achieving major commercial success and critical acclaim for his dazzling novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, le Carre quit his day job in 1964 to focus on writing full-time. The decision paid off when le Carre became one of the most successful thriller writers of his generation.

9. Blue Ribbon Sports

In 1963, an ambitious young runner named Phil Knight met with the Japanese running shoe company Onitsuka about distributing their sneakers in the U.S. The Japanese makers of Tiger running shoes decided to give Knight a shot, but they needed to know the name of Knight's company. He responded that he was running Blue Ribbon Sports, and he soon began selling Tigers out of his car at track meets around the U.S. By 1971, though, his business had grown to the point where Knight was making his own shoes. He decided to name the shoes and the business after the Greek goddess of victory, Nike.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Florence’s Plague-Era Wine Windows Are Back in Business

A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.
A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.

Many bars and restaurants have started selling takeout cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to stay in business—and keep customers safe—during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, 17th-century Florentines are surely applauding from their front-row seats in the afterlife.

As Insider reports, a number of buildings in Florence had been constructed with small “wine windows,” or buchette del vino, through which vendors sold wine directly to less affluent customers. When the city suffered an outbreak of plague in the 1630s, business owners recognized the value of these windows as a way to serve people without spreading germs. They even exchanged money on a metal tray that was sanitized with vinegar.

Wine not?sailko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Things eventually went back to normal, and the windows slowly fell out of fashion altogether as commerce laws evolved. This year, however, they’ve made a comeback. According to Food & Wine, there are currently at least four in operation around Florence. Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi is using its window to deliver wine and cocktails, for example, and the Vivoli ice cream shop, a go-to dessert spot since 1929, is handing out sweet scoops and coffee through its formerly dormant aperture.

Apart from the recent resurgence of interest, the wine windows often go unnoticed by tourists drawn to the grandeur of attractions like the Uffizi Gallery and the Florence Cathedral. So in 2015, locals Matteo Faglia, Diletta Corsini, and Mary Christine Forrest established the Wine Window Association to generate some buzz. In addition to researching the history of the windows, they also keep a running list of all the ones they know of. Florence has roughly 150, and there are another 100 or so in other parts of Tuscany.

They’re hoping to affix a plaque near each window to promote their stories and discourage people from defacing them. And if you want to support their work, you can even become a member of the organization for €25 (about $29).

[h/t Insider]