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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 08:54 GMT
Nine new letters that will change The Post Office
Pillar box
British Steel became Corus, Unigate changed to Uniq, and now The Post Office will be called Consignia. Where do these strange new names come from?

It appears to go against all the rules of good communication, but in the world of global enterprise the less your company's name means, the better.

Which helps explain why The Post Office - an institution so ingrained in our lives that it is prefaced by the definite article - is re-branding itself Consignia.

Stamps
"I'll just consign these stamps to the customer"
Admittedly, this act of corporate re-invention will not change the face of our High Streets, since post office branches will continue to carry the old name.

The name is designed to reflect the changes in The Post Office's line of business. Gone are the days when it was purely a domestic operation concerned with handling posted letters and parcels.

In recent years it has acquired companies in Europe and North America and broadened its remit to e-commerce, billing, logistics and warehousing.

But, say doubters of the new moniker, at least the old name meant something. What does Consignia stand for?

The name is based on the word "consign".

A new stamp

"To consign means to entrust to the care of - which is what each of our customers does every day," says The Post Office's chief executive John Roberts.

But there's a lot more to it than that. The nine-letter word is the latest example of a trend for vaguely classical or futuristic-sounding company names, the meaning of which is entirely nebulous.

Sometimes they come from nowhere:

  • Centrica, one half of the old British Gas. Bosses prided themselves on it meaning absolutely nothing.

    Milk float
    As modes of transport go, it's Uniq
    Sometimes they are vaguely related to the English language:

  • Arriva, the British bus group once better known as Cowie, is based on the word "arrive".

  • Uniq. Remember Unigate milkfloats? When the company sold off its dairy arm to concentrate on others foods, it adopted this new name. The name took the first three letters of the old name, while the "q" stands for quality.

    A common technique is the merging of two words into one:

  • Accenture, which before the start of this year was known as Andersen Consulting, is a combination of "accent" and "future".

  • Diageo, created in 1997 from the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan, is derived from the Latin word "dia" meaning day, and the Greek word "geo" meaning world.

    Guinness ad
    "Ooh, I do like a nice pint of Diageo"

  • Invensys, the engineering firm that used to be called BTR Siebe, is a combination of "invention" and "innovation", with a dash of "systems" for good measure.

  • Innogy, used to be National Power. The new name combines "innovation" and "energy".

    Other techniques include playing around with a standard English word:

  • Corus, which resulted from the merger of British Steel and Dutch steel maker Hoogovens, is based on the word "chorus", and pronounced the same.

    Or cribbing from another culture (although this can cause pronunciation problems):

  • Hyder, formerly known as Welsh Water, is Welsh for "confidence". Although bosses said it should sound like "rider" in Welsh it rhymes with "udder".

    Thales
    Thales, known to many as a French technology firm

  • Thales, the new name for French-based technology firm Thomson CSF, which is taken from the name of the ancient Greek philosopher. It is pronounced Talis by the French, but not by everyone else.

    So what's behind the recent trend for company names?

    "The reality is that the whole naming game is becoming incredibly complicated because so many names have already been used and registered," says Patrick Smith, managing director of branding firm Enterprise IG.

    "The first thing you have to do is find a word that's free. Then it must be checked across linguistic and cultural barriers to make sure it doesn't mean something silly in another language."

    There is also a tendency for one-word names.

    Vowel factor

    "It's got to be distinctive and memorable. The simpler it is and the catchier, the better. Think of classics such as Nike, Kodak, 3M and IBM."

    And ending with a vowel, like Arriva or Diageo, is a nice touch. "It seems to finish on an up note that way," says Mr Smith.

    As for Consignia, Mr Smith thinks it could be a smart move

    "I think The Post Office will cop a lot of flak at home in the first few weeks, but they will ride it out. This name is for an international audience, who don't have the same associations with old name as most people at home."

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    09 Jan 01 | Business
    UK Post Office name change
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