A number of factors are spurring the shifts. Among them: The need for corporate names to take on new business roles and to provide greater marketing support; a dramatic surge in new business, contributing to a sharp rise in name registrations; globalization and the need for names that can be used worldwide; and the influence of the Internet and growing online activity.
According to recent figures compiled by Anspach Grossman Portugal, New York-based identity management consultants, 593 major companies engaged in name changes during the first six months of 1995, up 5% from the same period in 1994. The 1,114 corporate name changes in 1994 were up 11% from 1993.
"Corporate names are being treated like other resources," said Anspach President-CEO Jim Johnson. "If they don't fit the repositioned, re-engineered or merged organization, they get the pink slip."
As companies evaluate names, they are applying different criteria. Probably the strongest new trend involves using corporate names as marketing tools.
"Corporate names today are increasingly recognized as dynamic brands in their own right," said Anspach Exec VP Larry Ackerman.
This notion also is steering companies to make more use of corporate names as umbrella brands for products.
"We are seeing more and more use of the name of the corporate parent combined with a generic descriptor of a product or service," said Dave Hurlbert, director of naming at Landor Associates, a San Francisco consultancy.
Finding a good name is getting tougher.
"The availability of names [in the past year] has declined by a shocking degree, and it is true both for corporate names and for product names; it is the hardest part of naming," Mr. Hurlbert said. He blames the shortage on the explosion of new companies and products in recent years.
As recently as a year ago, a short list of 50 names would be sufficient, he said. Now, lists have 80 to 100 names "just to get a few good candidates.
"What has especially surprised me is that it has spilled over from the high tech industries into almost every other sector: Energy, financial, health and beauty, telecommunications."
Ongoing changes in the popularity of words also have an effect, said Alvin H. Schechter, chairman-CEO of Interbrand Schechter, a New York consultancy.
Predictably, there has been a surge in the use of high tech terms such as Internet, virtual, cyber and multimedia.
"Corporate names are getting shorter, under six letters, so as to be suitable for an Internet address," said Mr. Schechter. Companies are concluding that "if you are going to change your name, why choose one that has to be abbreviated" on the Internet.