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Renaming the company won’t fix Facebook’s image problem

“These kinds of name changes have always been a part of the technology landscape,” says linguist Anthony Shore, founder of naming company Operative Words. “Anytime companies outgrow and diversify from where they were, it makes it likely that they will have to change their original name, or the name of their holding company.”

Lately, Facebook has been talking about how it isn’t just building a social media company; it’s building the metaverse, leading some to theorize that this may be the new company name, if it does announce one.

Here’s what you need to know about this name change, the metaverse, and why this matters.

For Facebook, a company that started as a single social network and morphed into an enormous many-tentacled creature, with its Instagram and WhatsApp properties and more, having the same name for the parent company and one of its products is not optimal, says Shore, who’s created names for Adobe Lightroom, Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Accenture.

But it’s very likely you may not hear the name of the parent company very much. Those names are mostly used by investors and financial audiences. Like Alphabet, Facebook’s new name probably won’t make it into the mainstream.

It probably won’t change Facebook’s narrative either. “The social network will continue to exist under that name,” says Shore, “and as long as it continues to fail in its responsibilities, and continues to foment division, ignorance, and hate, that narrative is going to continue.”

The problem, Shore says, is that it isn’t just Facebook that is under fire. Instagram—to name just one other example—has received bad press as recent reports revealed it has contributed to poor self image among teens. “I think Facebook will remain a lightning rod for criticism,” he says.

Some companies change their name because they’ve created spin offs. PepsiCo’s restaurant division, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, wanted a new name, so Shore created Yum! Brands for them.

Some companies do it because the names have negative connotations. Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded to KFC, allegedly because of unhealthy perceptions around the word “fried.” Sugar Pops became Corn Pops, because parents were nervous about the sugar. It’s also happened with more pedestrian products. Rapeseed oil became canola oil. The Chinese gooseberry became the kiwi. Patagonian toothfish became Chilean sea bass.

Some companies do it for legal reasons, like Anderson Consulting, which Shore helped rename Accenture. Originally, people said the name sounded too much like “denture,” but over time, the name stuck.

Some companies just do it because they’re looking for a newer, fresher name. Federal Express rebranded to FedEx, because that’s what people called it anyway, and because having “federal” in the title had negative connotations in Latin American countries, says Shore.

But companies don’t always change their names. After the 1982 Tylenol poisoning, Shore says Johnson & Johnson made a strategic decision to not change the Tylenol name, just as Exxon made a strategic decision not to change the Exxon name after their catastrophic oil spill in 1989 with the Exxon Valdez ship. For a while, oil company BP, which originally stood for British Petroleum, was rebranded as Beyond Petroleum, though whether they’ve delivered on that promise to divest from fossil fuels is open to debate.

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