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written by Sam Greenspan

The meanings behind GEICO, Sprint, Coleco and more.

Over the weekend, my friend Jared was joking with me about my difficulty finding topics for 11 Points lists now that I’m 3+ years, 500+ lists, and 1 book deep. “The lists always seem to start like, ‘So I was accidentally watching Portuguese bullfighting and I got to thinking about the designs on matador trousers…'”

Valid point there. Unfortunately, my matador trousers research isn’t done yet so I had to go with an alternative. Which I don’t have a flowery origin story for. The idea just popped into my mind, I researched it, I wrote it. Ever so boring. If they ever make a VH1 Storytellers about this blog (which they probably will), I won’t include this story.

Here are 11 interesting/funny/little-known stories behind the initials in company and brand names. Tomorrow, we bullfight; today, we play with letters. If I were Hemingway I could do both.

1 | GEICO: Government Employees Insurance Company

That’s such an un-fun name. It feels so regimented and formal that it almost conjures up images of a communist bloc insurance company. It would be funny if in addition to their current mascot lineup of the gecko, the cavemen, and the “Could switching to GEICO?” guy they also added a member of the proletariat drudging from Housing Unit #8336 to the factory. Wonder if ABC could turn that into a sitcom.

2 | Coleco: Connecticut Leather Company

They started off as a leather goods company in the 1950s, then switched to making wading pools in the 1960s, dove into home video game consoles with the infamous ColecoVision in the early 1980s, then switched to Cabbage Patch Kids in the mid 1980s. Now THAT’S a lot of pivoting. And we all thought it was a big deal when Starbucks started selling breakfast sandwiches.

3 | T.G.I. Friday’s – Thank Goodness It’s Friday

The founder originally picked the name because of the phrase “Thank God It’s Friday.” But as the company evolved, they realized you need a separation between church and extreme pizza shooters, and decided to keep God out of it. (I could not confirm whether, before this initial change, all of the walls were covered in crosses and Biblical art instead of antique road signs, license plates, and banjos. Calls to T.G.I. Friday’s headquarters were not returned.) (Or made.)

4 | IKEA: Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtayard, Agunnaryd

That’s the first initials of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, the name of the farm where he grew up (Elmtayard), and the name of the parish in Sweden where that farm was located (Agunnaryd). In other words, Kamprad basically picked the name of his multi-billion dollar cheap furniture emporium virtually the same way we all figure out what our porn star names would be.

5 | YKK: Yoshida Manufacturing Corporation

Why does the “YKK” zipper company’s name extrapolate out to Yoshida Manufacturing Corporation? It’s the same reason that the Soviet Union was abbreviated CCCP. It apparently has something to do with other countries daring not to speak our language or something. Side note: YKK also might be tied to the manufacturers of Mr. Sparkle.

6 | Sega: Service Games of Japan

Few know the genesis of Sega is that it was initially founded by an American to import pinball games to Japan to use on American military bases. I think it was that level of convoluted inefficiency that finally cast the final dagger through Sega’s dreams so many years later.

(Nerd joke tangent! They also didn’t pick the name Sega CD because of the device’s wisdom.)

7 | Arby’s: Raffel Brothers (get it? R.B.’s)

It’s not, as popular colloquial legend might state, because the phonetic “R.B.” stands for “roast beef.” So let’s just draw the curtains on that roast beef theory once and for all.

8 | Sprint: Southern Pacific Railroad Intelligent Network of Telecommunications

I never knew Sprint really stood for something. Finding that out was almost as jarring as when I moved to Los Angeles and found out Sprint didn’t work here.

9 | Lego: Leg Godt

That phrase means “play well” in Swedish Danish. In a dollop of serendipity, turns out “lego” means “I put together” in Latin. The company says that’s just a coincidence, especially since they started off by making wooden toys (as Scandinavians are wont to do) and not interconnecting plastic blocks. The fact that “lego” also has a meaning in waffle-speak is also reportedly a coincidence.

10 | P.F. Chang’s: Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang

The “P.F.” comes from Paul Fleming (who abbreviated to hide the fact that he’s not even remotely Chinese). The Chang is a version of “Chiang” so that everyone says “Chang” and no one accidentally uses the name’s proper pronunciation. All of the Westernizing makes sense for the chain which, of course, was founded in a little city in the Szechuan province known as Scottsdale.

11 | HTC: High Tech Computer

I love this one because they didn’t choose the name “High Tech Computer” back in, like, 1971 when people said things like “high tech computer.” They picked that name in 1997. Look… if I could download a Third Eye Blind mp3 the year you founded your company (which I did), then no one’s going to be charmed or even semi-charmed by the phrase “high tech.”