No longer content with acronyms or surnames, companies now hire brand consultants to name their children. The best and the worst of new-age monikers, including those easily pronounced as ass-enter.

When the partners at PwC Consulting decided to split off from PricewatershouseCoopers earlier this year, one of their first orders of business was a new name. It had to be striking and distinctive, and it had to distance the new company from the thick pall of scandal currently suffocating the accounting/consulting industry—preferably something that avoided the term ‘consulting’ completely. At first the partners opened the process up to an employee competition, but soon scrapped that idea in favor of the branding outfit Wolff Olins. After several months and more than $100,000 in fees, Wolff Olins delivered the results: Monday. A few months later, IBM bought PwC Consulting and the name was dropped completely. $100,000, down the crapper.

If $100,000-plus seems a steep price to pay for a name, then you don’t know the branding industry. Backed by such high-concept phrases as ‘speech stream visibility’ and ‘multilingual functionality’ and ‘phonetic transparency,’ companies like Landor, A Hundred Monkeys, Interbrand, and Nametrade are raking in the dough by churning out fancy handles, complete with exegeses reminiscent of a wine column—Landor Associates says of a recent ‘branding’ for the aerospace company Astrium that its name ‘is coined from ‘astro,’ [meaning] triumph, and ‘atrium’ to reflect the company’s new positioning: all encompassing, powerful, structured and open, bringing things together. The name has a strong association with ‘space,’ while at the same time expressing a European flavor.’ And how.

What’s amazing about the branding industry is not so much the amount spent on names, but just how bad many of those names are—particularly in consulting, whose bread and butter is supposed to be clear, no-nonsense thinking. Many riff on an ‘in’ suffix (Sapient, Viant) or prefix (Navigant, Naviant); others ‘have roots’ in exotic languages (Xansa, Avaya). And, despite their extensive justifications and esoteric roots, none seem to make very much sense. Some are better than others; some are painfully awful. Here are some of the worst:

Name: Accenture
Old name: Andersen Consulting
What the company does: Management and technology consulting
According to the website: ‘Accenture is a coined word that connotes putting an accent or emphasis on the future, just as the firm focuses on helping its clients create their future.’
Grade: For the same reason you’ll never see a school named for Richard Butkus, companies should be smart enough to avoid easily slurrable names like Accenture. Having spent more than $175 million on its re-branding efforts while laying off thousands of employees and freezing salaries for many others, it was all but inevitable that the former Andersen Consulting would be known on Internet message boards as ‘Ass enter.’ C

Name: Answerthink
Old name: None
What the company does: Business consulting and systems integration
According to the website: ‘We deliver solutions using an innovative approach we call ‘answer-thinking,’ which has roots in the philosophy of Georg William [sic] Friedrich Hegel. When faced with a challenge, we start with answers, based on the best conventional wisdom about this particular issue or problem and innovating from there. That explains our name, Answerthink.’
Grade: Not only is this explanation vague and pompous, but it’s also complete BS: there is nothing in Hegel’s work that even resembles ‘answer-thinking.’ According to noted Hegel scholar Terry Pinkard, ‘of course, one could say that one ‘finds’ this in Hegel (with a lot—underline ‘lot’—of interpretive license), but then one could find ‘answer-thinking’ in just about anyone.’ And without Hegel to fall back on, how many clients would hire a company that claims to ‘start with answers?’ D-

Name: Aquent
Old name: MacTemps
What the company does: Provides temporary and permanent technical staffing (originally only for Apple systems, hence the former name)
According to the website: ‘The name is unconventional—and intentionally so. ‘Aquent’ means ‘not a follower,’ and you can always look to us to lead the way with innovations to help both our client and our talent win.’
Grade: Aquent is a combination of the Greek ‘a’ for ‘not’ and part of the Latin ‘sequent’ for ‘something that follows.’ Being an awkward combination of words from two languages, it doesn’t actually ‘mean’ anything. Of course, the folks who came up with the name are entitled to a measure of creative license, but only if they do their homework. Which, in this case, they haven’t; ‘aquent’ actually does have a meaning in English: It’s a geological term for poorly drained human-altered soils—in other words, landfill. F

Name: Avanade
Old name: None (joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft)
What the company does: Technology integration
According to the website: ‘Avanade is derived from two words that collectively convey the company’s future-oriented and proactive approach to driving customer value: avan-, advance, advantage, avenue + -ade, action, act.’
Grade: This doesn’t even make sense. What are the two words? Avan and ade? Maybe the website is just punctuation deficient, but if we take it at its word, one possible meaning for ‘avanade’ is ‘avenue action.’ Avenue Action … just the people I want to set up my office LAN! C

Name: BearingPoint
Old name: KPMG Consulting
What the company does: IT Consulting
According to the website: ‘The new brand underscores BearingPoint’s global commitment to set a clear direction for clients so they achieve desired results with their business systems.’
Grade: After splitting off from the accountants at KPMG LLC, the new firm had a limited timeframe to pick a new name … and, given the field, did a pretty good job. While the combination of ‘bearing’ and ‘point’ in one word is a little strange, the name does a decent job of evoking the vague, high-concept work in which the firm engages. A-

Name: marchFIRST
Old name: Whittman-Hart and U.S.Web/CKS (two companies)
What the company did: Internet strategy
According to the website: The company went out of business in 2001, but according to the ITSMA newsletter, the name was chosen from 4,000 possibilities because it ‘represent[s] that the company helps its clients be first to market, first to an idea and first to shareholder value; that the company itself is moving forward; and to highlight the founding date of the revamped company—March 1, 2000.’
Grade: According to a survey by the marketing firm Brand Fidelity, 60 percent of people who had previously heard of marchFIRST had no idea what it did. Even worse, the survey found, ‘the most popular associations with the name marchFIRST were ‘military’ and ‘marching without thinking.’’ It’s small wonder that the company blew through several hundreds of millions of dollars and within a year was so cash-strapped that it couldn’t mail W-2s to laid-off employees. D

Name: Xansa
Old name: F.I. Group
What the company does: Information technology services
According to the website: ‘The name is easy to say [!] and read in all major market places and has clear phonetic links with ‘answer.’ The other inspiration has been the Sanskrit word ‘sanskar’ which, among many meanings, also refers to culture and values which are internalized from past experience and determine future action.’
Grade: Oh, right, sanskar—I was never very good in Sanskrit class. Xansa’s explanation is virtually a parody of attempts to rationalize awkward handles. ‘Sanskar,’ as the website points out, has many meanings, not all of them Sanskrit: in Hindi, it connotes the various rites that Hindus perform at key stages in a person’s life. Does it count as sacrilege if you plunder someone else’s religion for a corporate brand? D+

Name: Zentropy Partners
Old name: None
What the company does: Communications consulting
According to the website: ‘The name ‘Zentropy’—created from ‘zen’ and ‘entropy’—means ‘bringing order to chaos,’ a motto that has struck a chord with the firm’s roster of clients.’
Grade: ‘Zentropy,’ of course, doesn’t mean anything, in any language. Nor does it seem kosher to appropriate multifaceted religious concepts for bald-faced profit-making. But in any event, this name’s a stinker—zen would, if anything, imply wise acceptance of the cruel nature of reality. And entropy, which the firm seems to think means chaos, actually refers to the inexorable thermodynamic movement of the universe toward heat death. In short, then, if Zentropy ‘means’ anything, it’s ‘calm acceptance of our inevitable and complete destruction.’ Not exactly a name to inspire client confidence. F

Names like these make you long for the days of the American Motor Company and Philip Morris (which, by the way, is in the process of ‘rebranding’ itself as Altria). And it’s hard to tell what’s worse: that these firms spend boatloads on ridiculous names, or that, despite all that money and effort, clients still turn to them for advice on how to run their companies. For those trying to figure out what makes American business not tick, look no further.


TMN Contributing Writer Clay Risen’s first attempt to build a website fell apart after he learned that risen.com had been bought by a hardcore Christian rock band. Clay is a senior staff editor at the New York Times and the author, most recently, of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. He lives in Brooklyn. More by Clay Risen