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.

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

11 Absurdly Awesome Inventions

Google Patents/Erin McCarthy
Google Patents/Erin McCarthy

They say necessity is the mother of invention, but some of these are making us think twice.

1. “Animal-trap”

Don't mess with this mousetrap.Google Patents

Mousetraps can be so anticlimactic, but this one, patented in 1882, goes off with a bang. The frame is designed to hold your favorite peashooter. When a rodent steps onto the treadle, a spring yanks on the trigger and sets off the firearm. The inventor, James Williams, suggested it would make a good burglar alarm.

2. “Flatulence Deodorizer”

Confidently cut the cheese with this 2001 invention, which masks the smell of your personal potpourri. A simple charcoal pad clings to the back of your underpants, stopping the aroma before it reaches your boss’s nose. Benjamin Franklin would be proud.

3. “Apparatus for preventing collisions of railway trains”

This contraption was meant to scare cattle off of train tracks.Google Patents

It’s like a scarecrow—but for trains. Patented in 1888, J. W. James’s invention features an electric dummy riding in front of the train. The dummy is “made to throw up both hands at each revolution of the wheel and strike the gong with a hammer for the purpose of frightening cattle from the track and to announce the approach of the train,” James wrote.

4. “Fresh-air breathing device and method”

Take a deep breath.Google Patents

Smoke inhalation causes most fire-related deaths. Knowing that, William Holmes found out how to keep you conscious while you wait for rescue—as long as you can handle having toilet breath. In 1981, Holmes patented a snorkel-like device that supplies fresh air from your sewer. Just feed the tube past your throne’s water trap. Although you won’t die from a lungful of smoke, you might get woozy after huffing all that sewer gas.

5. “Wearable device for feeding and observing birds”

The ultimate accessory for bird watchers.Google Patents

As long as you’re okay with hanging a few birdfeeders from your dome, you can get a front row seat to all the action. David Leslie patented the contraption in 1999. Apparently, it’s also handy for butterfly hunting.

6. “Graffiti prevention apparatus”

Henry Hunt called graffiti “an assault on the visual pleasures of man.” So in 1997, he patented a system [PDF] that could kill the career of any wannabe Banksy. When a vandal approaches a potential canvas, a sensor embedded in the wall activates a magnetic field to repel the paint. There was one issue, though: Spray paint isn’t magnetic.

7. “Motorcycle Safety Apparel”

Dismayed by how dangerous motorcycle crashes can be, Dan Kincheloe patented an inflatable safety suit in 1987. Basically an airbag for your body, the suit has an “umbilical cord” that connects to a supply of compressed gas. When a biker flies off, a shorter pull cord snaps that rapidly inflates the suit. Pro? It could save your life. Con? You’ll look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

8. “Process for the utilization of ruminant animal methane emissions”

This contraption collects cow emissions.Google Patents

Forget windmills and solar panels. Harness the beautiful power of cows! Ruminant animals—which have four stomachs—account for 20 percent of the world’s methane emissions. (Most of that methane doesn’t come from their behinds, actually. They exhale and burp it out.) To harness all that lost gas, Markus Herrema patented a bovine gas collector in 2006. The gas is channeled to a chamber full of methane-loving microorganisims, which can be used later in “nutritional foodstuff or … other useful products, such as adhesive or cosmetics.”

9. “Improvement in Vehicles”

If cow power isn’t your thing, go to the dogs. In 1875, Parisian inventor Narcisse Hueet patented the “cynophere,” a dog-powered velocipede. Hueet wrote, “My invention contemplates the employment of dogs or other animals, working within a cage or cages, forming part of the wheels of the vehicle to be propelled.” 

10. “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force”

What can you say but "yikes"?Google Patents

If the thought of childbirth makes you dizzy, look away. This will make it worse. In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky patented a turntable that gives pregnant women an, um, extra push. The mother-to-be is strapped onto the turntable, which spins fast enough that G-forces help ease the baby out. A “pocket-shaped reception net” catches the newborn and triggers the machine to stop. (But in case that doesn’t work, there’s a handbrake!)

11. “Double Bicycle for looping the loop”

You can never have too much bike.Google Patents

“I heard you like bicycles, so I put a bicycle on a bicycle so you can stay upright while you go upside down.” Patented in 1905 by Kael Lange.