Phila. firms go for the bland in name changes

What’s in a corporate name?

Not much, judging by some of the recent names picked by Philadelphia-area companies.

We have a disturbing knack of giving many of our companies bland, unmemorable names.
When Lockheed Martin Corp. sold off its former Enterprise Integration Group, an information-technology business based in Valley Forge, to a private-equity firm in November, the business was renamed the SI Organization Inc.

After Tower Bancorp Inc. completed its acquisition of First Chester County Corp. in December, the First National Bank of Chester County took on the name 1N Bank.

But the best example of an uncreative corporate name came Friday when Cohen & Co. Inc. said it would adopt a new name that sounds like the English translation of a Russian state-owned business that had been privatized: Institutional Financial Markets Inc.

Can you imagine trying to get city permission to hang that logo atop its offices at the Cira Centre near 30th Street Station?

Cohen & Co. announced the name change, which takes effect Friday, in a statement that discussed the completion of its acquisition of JVB Financial Holdings Inc., a Florida-based fixed-income securities firm, for a combination of cash and stock.

“Our new name … reflects our growing capabilities and broadening mission,” said Daniel G. Cohen, chief executive officer of the West Philadelphia company that bears his name.

It will be the second name change for his company in about 13 months. On Dec. 16, 2009, Alesco Financial Inc. changed its name to Cohen & Co. after Alesco had acquired an affiliated company, Cohen Bros. L.L.C.

Institutional Financial Markets joins a long line of forgettable local company names, including Innovative Solutions & Support Inc. (a maker of aircraft parts) and Central European Distribution Corp. (a vodka producer with operations in Poland and Russia).

To be fair, not all area public companies adopt invisible identities. I think Trevose-based Technitrol Inc. made a good choice when it adopted the name of one of its subsidiaries last year and rebranded itself as Pulse Electronics Corp.

By and large, our biggest companies don’t make the grade when it comes to branding. Only Campbell Soup Co. made the 2010 Best Global Brands list of 100 companies as compiled by Interbrand Corp., a New York-based brand consultancy. Other companies with major operations here that made that list were: Ikea, Johnson & Johnson, SAP and Siemens.

There is far more inventiveness in the small-business arena. Take tech start-ups. Here are the names of some companies, either locally based or ones that got their start here, that sound exactly like what they do:

  • Inc., an online service for last-minute vacation rentals;
  • Scvngr Inc., a mobile scavenger hunt game developer;
  • SeatGeek Inc., an online service that forecasts sports and concert tickets on the secondary market; and
  • Vuzit L.L.C., an online document-sharing service.

Fun names but descriptive, right?

Now jokey names and financial-services firms probably aren’t a good fit coming after an economy-crushing financial crisis. But must we persist in using say-nothing names for our moneyed institutions like “First Standard & Union Cos. Inc.” or “Indemnity Guaranty Associates Inc.”?

So help me, if Google Inc. had started in Philadelphia, it probably would’ve adopted “Search-based Advertising Solutions Inc.” by now to reflect its evolving mission.