In 1893, drugstore owner Caleb Davis Bradham created ‘Brad’s drink’, made from a mix of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg and other natural additives. It became an overnight sensation. Despite its name and hearsay, pepsin was never an ingredient of Pepsi-Cola. On 28 August 1898, Bradham renamed his drink “Pepsi-Cola". He believed the drink was more than a refreshment but a “healthy” cola, aiding indigestion, getting its roots from the word dyspepsia, meaning indigestion. The company took the name PepsiCo in 1965.
The Kmart Corporation (simply known as Kmart) is one of the biggest names in US retail. The company started life in 1899 as the S.S. Kresge Company, with its first store opening in Detroit. The first store with the Kmart name, referencing the 'K' at the start of founder Sebastian Spering Kresge's surname, opened in Graden City, Michigan in 1962 and the company was subsequently renamed as the Kmart Corporation in 1977. At its peak in 2000, Kmart operated 2,171 stores, including 105 Super Kmart Center locations.
Best-selling tissue brand Kleenex didn’t get its unusual name straight away. Instead, the company founded in 1924 sold its first product under the name Kotex, which was supposed to symbolise its soft texture while being an easy name to remember. The shift to Kleenex came about when the company started selling tissues that were designed as cream removers and wanted to emphasise cleanliness, adopting the “Kleen” prefix. They kept the “ex” at the end to show it was from the same family of products.
To this day, no one knows the exact reason behind the carbonated lemon and lime drink’s unusual name. 7 Up was invented in October 1929 by Charles Leiper Grigg and there are several theories about the name, including: it was chosen because there are seven ingredients in the products; its inventor claimed it could cure "seven hangovers"; and that Grigg won a lot of money at a game of craps, a dice game, thanks to all the sevens that were rolled.
Samsung, which was originally founded as a grocery trading store in 1938, entered the electronics industry in 1969 when its first products were black-and-white televisions, before it began making the smartphones it's now renowned for in the early 2000s. In Korean, the word "samsung" translates as "three stars". It was picked by Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull when the company was created, with the idea of it one day becoming as powerful and ever-lasting as the stars in the skies. In Korean the number three is used to represent something that is big and powerful.
Known throughout the world for its flatpack furniture and egalitarian design aesthetic, the furniture giant IKEA’s first shop was set up in Almhult, southern Sweden in 1943. IKEA is named after the initials of its founder Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, the farm on which he grew up, and Agunnaryd, the nearby village. Simple and practical, just like the company's aesthetic.
Read more about Ingvar Kamprad's life and the business he built
Aldi started life in 1946, when Karl and Theo Albrecht took control of their mother’s grocery store in the German city of Essen. From the small provincial store, they built one of Germany’s biggest retailers, which became renowned for its low prices. The name Aldi is simply a combination of the "Al" from Albrecht and the "Di" in Discount.
The history of Aldi and how the German supermarket took over the world
CVS Pharmacy is a subsidiary of the American company CVS Health. It was also known as, and originally named, the Consumer Value Store and was founded in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1963. Its owner Melville Corporation later changed its name to CVS Corporation in 1996 after Melville sold off many of its non-pharmacy stores. The last of its non-drugstore operations were sold in 1997. CEO Tom Ryan has said he now considers "CVS" to stand for "Convenience, Value, and Service".
Founded in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman as Blue Ribbon Sports, the company was initially just a distributor. By 1971, Knight and BRS wanted to manufacture their own shoes. That June, the company was ready to ship their first load and it desperately needed a new name for the next day. At 7am, a colleague suggested the name "Nike", the Greek winged goddess of victory. And even though Knight and Bowerman only considered it the best of a bad bunch, Nike duly became the brand name.
In 1970, when Richard Branson and his team were teenagers sitting in a room joking about tradenames for their record company, they initially considered "Slipped Disc". As Branson himself points out: "But how could we have grown that brand from music into all sorts of different areas? Slipped Disc Airlines – now that’s not so good!" Instead, they picked the name Virgin as they joked that everyone was a virgin in business. As they'd hoped, the brand name’s been able to grow into multiple sectors.
Discover more about Richard Branson and his Virgin empire
Brainstorming ideas for their coffee company, Gordon Bowker considered the name Cargo House, until friend Terry Heckler mentioned that he believed words that started with the prefix “st” were powerful. Then someone else in the group brought out an old mining map, finding a town named Starbo. Seeing the town of Starbo immediately reminded Bowker of the first mate, Starbuck, in Herman Melville’s classic American novel Moby Dick, and a megabrand was born. The first Starbucks opened in Pike place, Seattle, in 1971.
Amancio Ortega opened the first store under the Zara name in 1975 in A Coruña, Spain, although the company had been operating as a textile manufacturer in A Coruña since 1963. Initially, Ortega had named it Zorba, after the classic film Zorba the Greek (1964). However, he soon realised that, just two blocks away, there was a bar called the exact same thing. He already had the letters made for the store sign, so he simply re-arranged them to form the word "Zara" (it’s thought the extra 'a' came from a spare set of letters).
There's no great mystery to this one: it's an amalgam of microcomputer and software. Although originally it had a hyphen and a capital S, so was spelled Micro-Soft. "It seemed like a law firm or like a consulting company to call it Allen & Gates. So we picked Microsoft even before we had a company to name," Bill Gates told Forbes in 1995. The company was founded in 1975.
Jeff Bezos originally incorporated the company as Cadabra, Inc. but when his lawyer misheard the word as "cadaver", he realised it wasn’t going to work. Bezos came up with the name Amazon, founding the company in 1994, reasoning that it was "exotic and different", just like his business. The Amazon river was the biggest in the world, and he planned to make his store the world's largest. Plus, he realised that a company name beginning with "A" would make it to the top of alphabetised lists, which were popular in the early days of the internet.
Back in 1994, Yahoo! started life as Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web, after co-founder Jerry Yang. He and David Filo soon renamed it Yahoo!, an acronym of "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle". The use of "hierarchical" referred to the fact that the site's database was arranged in various subcategories, while "oracle" was supposed to mean "source of truth and wisdom", and "officious" was supposed to refer to the office workers that used the database.
The name "eBay" comes from the domain the founder Pierre Omidyar used for his site. His company, founded in 1995, was originally named Echo Bay, and the "eBay AuctionWeb" was originally just one part of Echo Bay's website at ebay.com. The site quickly became popular and in 1997 Omidyar changed AuctionWeb's, and his company's, name to eBay, which is what people had been calling the site for a long time anyway.
In the late 1990s Larry Page and Sergey Brin were working on a search engine called BackRub. Realising it was a poor name, they got help from friend Sean who suggested the word googolplex. Googolplex means 10 to the power of googol, and googol means 10 to the power of 100. Larry liked "googol" and Sean, getting the spelling wrong, searched to see if the domain google.com was available. Larry liked the new word Sean had accidentally come up with, so in August 1998, after receiving a $100,000 investment, the company was born.
The now-ubiquitous online payment service started life in 1998, when founders Max Levchin and Peter Thiel created a mobile money transfer company called Field Link. This name didn’t last long, and the company was renamed Confinity, with its electronic transfer service aspect named PayPal in reference to “paying your pal”. Roughly a year after launching, the company merged with Elon Musk’s X.com Corporation and decided to focus solely on the PayPal aspect of the business – hence the name Confinity was dropped.
In 1999, two British men started a fashion business which copied clothes worn by popular celebrities. The name ASOS is actually an acronym for "As Seen On Screen". By 2001, the website was officially www.asos.co.uk, and the AsSeenOnScreen name had well and truly gone. In 2003, everybody agreed that ASOS was the name by which customers should recognise the company, and it was formally changed on the legal documents. The brand has since branched away from copying celebrities for its designs.
The freemium communication service Skype was created in 2003. Unlike other similar services, Skype is a hybrid peer-to-peer and client-server system. The founders wanted its name to reflect this. Initially, they called it ‘Sky Peer-to-Peer’. But it’s not exactly the easiest name to remember or spell and wasn't the fun name they'd hoped for. So they eliminated the “to-peer” ending, which shortened it to Skyper, but as skyper.com was already registered they simply removed the "r".
One of the social media company’s co-founders Jack Dorsey came up with the idea for the platform during a day-long brainstorming session. The original name was “Status”, but after searching through the dictionary he found the word Twitter. The definition was “a short burst of inconsequential information, and chirps from birds”. That’s exactly what the product was. Inspired by flickr, Dorsey initially called it “twttr” but later changed it back to Twitter for simplicity. The company was founded in 2006.
It’s the largest subscription music streaming service in the world. But do you know how Spotify got its name? According to a Quora response by co-founder Daniel Ek, in April 2006 he and fellow co-founder Martin Lorentzon were brainstorming ideas for the company, when Ek misheard one of Lorentzon’s ideas as Spotify. They liked the name so registered the domain just minutes later, although the pair admitted they were embarrassed by its accidental origins and told people that it’d been conceived as a combination of “spot” and “identify”.
When Kevin Systrom began creating the app that would eventually become Instagram, it was initially called Burbn, in a nod to Systrom’s favourite drink, bourbon. Yet when they began to streamline the original app – which had been focused on location sharing – and started to emphasise the photo-sharing element, they decided to give it a different name. Instagram is supposed to combine the words “instant camera” and “telegram”; it was chosen because it’s easy to pronounce and spell.
Now read about the humble beginnings of the world's biggest businesses