What's in a corporate name? For many the answer has always been simple: At Ford Motor, you find Fords; at Coca-Cola, Cokes; at Campbell Soup . . . you guessed it.
Then a decade or so ago, many companies took a detour into a land of strange, foreboding names like Primark, Unisys, Allegis and alphabet-soup names filled with X's, like CSX and USX.
As they ballooned into conglomerates, companies did not want their identities linked to a solitary product. The companies grasped for something universal, compact, unrecognizable.
But just as hemlines that go up must sooner or later head down again, the name game is coming full circle. A growing number of consumer-product companies are seeing the names of their primary brands as the best ones to hang on the door.
Castle & Cooke Inc., for example, was reborn last month as Dole Food Co.; United Brands Co. has been rechristened Chiquita Brands International Inc.; and Consolidated Foods Corp. has renamed itself Sara Lee Corp.
The latest company to join their ranks is Amstar Sugar Corp., which announced earlier this week that, effective Sept. 20, it would be known as Domino Sugar Corp., in honor of its familiar Domino line of sugars.
The change "makes sense in line with how we are known to the public," said Chris G. Gunderson Jr., the company's assistant general counsel in New York. "Domino is our principal trademark and has been for over 90 years."
Behind the opaque, made-up names of the '70s and '80s were people known as corporate image consultants -- the very ones now advising clients to revert to simpler, brand-name names.
Of the made-up names, "one of the all-time great boners" was Allegis, which was briefly used by the corporate parent of United Airlines, said Don Casey, president and chief executive of Landor Associates, aSan Francisco image-management consulting concern.
It "was an inward-looking name, not an outward-looking name," he said.
"It didn't deal with the consumer," he continued, adding that it was "so pretentious sounding."
Amstar, the name being jettisoned in favor of Domino Sugar, dates to 1970, Mr. Gunderson said.
He described it as a "fanciful name" based on letters from the company's traditional name, American Sugar Co.: the "Am" from "Amer
ican," plus the "s" and "ar" from "Sugar."
"And in place of the 'ug,' they put a 't,' " he added, chuckling.
The trend now is toward "warmth and emotional names," said Aubrey Balkind, president and chief executive of Frankfurt Gips Balkind, a New York communications agency that works on corporate-identity projects, "and away from made-up names that don't mean much except to people inside the company."
For their part, the consultants cite several reasons why the namesnow being derided seemed like good ideas at the time.
"Companies were diversifying," said Clive Chajet, chairman of Lippincott & Margulies, the New York corporate-identity consulting firm that coined Allegis, "and it was too narrowing to identify your company -- if it was much broader-based -- with a single brand name."
Allegis, he noted, was meant to convey an identity of a travel company that offered one-stop shopping, from United Airlines to Hertz car rental to Westin hotels.