Roots of the names of Japanese and overseas companies


goo Ranking recently took a look at how the names of comapnies came about, ranked by how surprising people found them.

I guessed that Sony was from Latin “sonus”, but I was surprised to see that it also came from the “sonny” of “sonny boy”. Lotte coming from a Goethe novel is a story I want to hear more about!

Here’s a random, but perhaps interesting shop name:

Boo Boo House

Ranking results

Q: What company name roots do you find surprising? (Sample size=500)

Rank RootsVotes
1GoogleAccidental misspelling of “googol”, 10 to the power 100, when registering the domain89
2Maruzen Junkudo (bookstore)The founder’s father’s name was Kudojun, so the name came from swapping around the letters62
3NikeFrom the Greek goddess of victory of the same name33
4Wacoal (Lingerie)The previous name was Wako Shoji, so they wanted the Wako part to remain forever, and the kanji for “remaining” is read as “ru”, so we get the Japanese name Wakoru. How they decided the English name should be Wacoal is another matter, as who wants coal in their undies?50
5SonyFrom the Latin for “sound”, “sonus”, and from “sonny”, as in “sonny boy”, etc49
6Bridgestone (tyres)The founder’s surname was Ishibashi, which literally translates as stone-bridge, then swapped around to sound better.47
7Yakult (yoghurt drinks)In Esperanto, yoghurt is “jahurto”.45
8=Calpis (soft drinks)“Cal” is from “calcium”, and “pis” from the Sanskrit word “sarpis”, meaning “ghee”, the greatest flavour it Buddhist teaching44
8=Calbee (potato snacks)“Cal” is from “calcium”, and “bee” is from the “B” in “vitamin B1”, of which potatoes have a large amount44
10=DHC (cosmetics)When founded, the company was actually a translation service, named “Daigaku Honyaku Center” (“University Translation Centre”)43
10=Lotte (confectionary)In the Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, the heroine is Charlotte, so the last five letters give “Lotte”. The “why” for this choice might be interesting, but no reason is given43
12=United Arrows (apparel)Mori Motonari, a daimyo, is said to have taught his three children about the strengths of working together by showing that each could snap an arrow in half, but if one combines all three they won’t break, thus United Arrows42
12=Coca-colaThe initial ingredients included coca leaves and kola nuts42
12=LEGOFrom the Danish for “Play well”, “Leg godt”42
15=Aeon (one supermarket chain, one English school)From the Latin “aeon”, “forever”41
15=Capcom (computer games)From “Capsule Computer”41
17Edwin (jeans)From “demin”, swap the first two letters, then rotate NIM through 180 degrees to get WIN.40
18=SEGA (compter games)Take the first two letters from SERVICE and GAMES37
18=Duskin (cleaning services)The first three letters from “dustcloth” and the last three letters from the Japanese translation of it to “zokin” or “fukin”37
18=Casio (electronics)From the founder Toshi Kashio’s surname37
21=Amazon.comThe Amazon river fits the company image of being characteristic and varied36
21=CoCo Ichibanya (curry restaurant)From the Kansai dialect “Amongst curry houses, this is the best!” (kare- hausu, koko, ichiban ya)36
23=HMV (music)From His Master’s Voice35
23=Bic Camera (electrical superstore)Apparently in some English dialect, “bic” means big not just on the outside, but inside too35
25=Nitori (furtniture superstore)The surname of the founder, Akio Nitori35
25=MOS Burger/MOS Food Services (burger chain)MOS is Merchandising Organising System34
27Adobe Systems (software)From Adobe Creek, the stream that runs through the founder’s back garden33
28=Tanita (health goods)From the founder Tanida’s name, but with the “d” changed to “t” to be easier to pronounce overseas. (Similarly, Toyota’s founder is Mr Toyoda)32
28Uniqlo (clothing)From Unique Clothing Warehouse32
28=Lawson (convenience store)In Idaho, J.J. Lawson opened a milk shop in 193932
31=Shochiku (cinema)From the first names of the co-founders Matsujiro Shirai and Takejiro Otani, the kanji for “Matsu-Take” may also be read as “Sho-chiku”30
31=IKEA (furniture)The initials of the founder’s name Ingvar Kamprad, the farm he grew up on Elmtaryd, in the town Agunnaryd30
33Megane Drug (drug store)Megane is the Japanese for spectacles, which the founder sold in his pharmacy28
34Aderans (hair transplants)From the French (and Eglish too) “adherence”, for the hair they glue to your head26
35Esaki Glico (confectionary)Esaki is the founder’s name, then “Glycogen” a form of glucose that supports children’s health25
36Sharp (electronics)Their first product was the Ever Ready Sharp Pencil (propelling/mechanical pencil)24
37=Risona Holding (banking)From the Latin “Resona”, to resound23
37=Seven-Eleven (convenience store)The first shop was open from 7 am to 11 pm23
39Dentsu (advertisement agency)An abbreviation of the old name, Nihon Denpo Tsushin Sha, or Japan Telegraphic Communication Co14


goo Rankings asked iBRIDGE’s Research Plus to conduct this survey, where between the 14th and 17th of February 2017 500 members, 50:50 male and female and aged between 20 and 39 years old, of their monitor group completed a private internet-based questionnaire. No further demographics were given.

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1 Comment »

  1. Janne said,
    April 5, 2017 @ 09:14

    For your sign, I believe ブーブー is the Japanese for “vroom, vroom”, or kids’ making a car sound.

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