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Origins of the Inc. 500: Company Names

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It's an oddity of Rochester, N.Y., that the names of its two premier corporations, Kodak and Xerox, are strangely symmetrical. Both contain five letters, consisting of three consonants that alternate with vowels, and each is two syllables long and begins and ends with the same consonant. That fact didn't escape Elena Prokupets when she was naming Lenel Systems International (#128), which is based in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford and provides security-management systems to corporations. "I wanted to imitate their success stories," says Prokupets. The name Lenel follows the winning letter-symmetry strategy and also happens to be a palindrome (a word that reads the same forward or backward). Plus it bears a scrambled resemblance to her first name, Elena.


Hunger Feeds the Mind

In 1993, when Tom Bush and Mark Schweiger quit their jobs at meat-processing giant Oscar Mayer and founded a company to sell precooked bacon, they had, between them, seven children: four for Bush, three for Schweiger.

They rushed to get their company up and running, not in the least because "we realized that we needed to feed seven hungry kids," says Schweiger. Picking the moniker for SHK Foods Inc. (#38), based in Madison, Wis., didn't require much thought. Schweiger says that when he divulges the origin of SHK (short for "seven hungry kids"), he "almost always gets a smile from even the crabbiest buyer."


Once Around the Zoo

Some entrepreneurs look to the animal kingdom, that age-old source of inspiration, for a company name. Take George Satornino, founder of engineering-services company Sierra Lobo Inc. (#343). Sierra Lobo comes from the Spanish for mountain and wolf, and Satornino chose it because wolves are known for the aggressiveness and resilience that he sees as his company's ethos. In a similar vein, Glenn Abel called on memories of the springbok, an agile breed of gazelle indigenous to his native South Africa, when he named Springbok Technologies Inc. (#397), a media-relations company that can "jump faster, higher, and farther than our competition." And Debbie Williams saw only good luck when the family's black cat, Magic, jumped onto the dining-room table while she and her husband were groping for a name for their company, and Black Cat Computer Wholesale (#445) was christened.


Pun Doubles the Fun

Even when she was deep into negotiations with vendors for her chain of espresso-cafés-cum-newsstands, Alisa Lippincott still didn't have a name for her then-nascent company. Frustrated by the haggling, she quipped to her husband, "What a brouhaha I had today!" Out of that came the zany pun that stuck as the name of Brew Ha Ha (#320), based in Wilmington, Del., and evinced its founder's zest and the kaffee-klatsch sociability she imagined for her stores.


For more articles about the origins of this year's Inc. 500 companies, see:

"Inc. 500 Origins: Globe-trotters"
"Inc. 500 Origins: Partners"
"Inc. 500 Origins: On the Road"
"Inc. 500 Origins: Fresh Starts"

Last updated: Oct 15, 1999




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