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Names, Names. Names

Names, Names, Names

Names that are distinctive in not describing the product or service are always the best choice from a legal perspective.

So, I wondered how a sandwich outlet like Subway managed to come up with such a distinctive name.

The business was founded in 1965 as ‘Pete's Super Submarines’ in Bridgeport, Connecticut, by 17-year-old Fred DeLuca and family friend Peter Buck. It went through a few name changes till it became Subway.

Looking into the company’s history I soon discovered that the company did in fact start out using a descriptive name because the terms ‘submarine’ and ‘sub’ have always been in widespread use in the US to describe a popular type of American sandwich. These are made from a cylindrical bread roll split lengthwise and filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments.

The sandwiches are called Submarines (or subs) because the roll resembles the shape of a submarine. A party sub is a particularly long submarine sandwich, usually cut into pieces and served to guests at parties.

So, Fred and Pete, embarked on the journey of opening their sandwich shop in Connecticut using an entirely descriptive name ‘Pete’s Super Submarines’. The name was only ownable because of the presence of ‘Pete’s’ in front of it.

The name was later shortened to “Pete’s Submarines”. But apparently it sounded like ‘pizza marines’ when advertised on radio, so was shortened to “Pete’s Subs”.

By 1966 the shops became Pete’s Subway and then two years later the Pete’s element was dropped so that it became just Subway from 1968 onwards.

But why Subway?

The choice of Subway was a clever way to use the generic element ‘Sub’ to allude to sub sandwiches (which were a central part of the business’ menu) while turning it into a dictionary word that made sense for the business.

The word Subway evoked images of speed and efficiency which are essential qualities for a fast-food restaurant.

The company also wanted to be associated with fresh ingredients to denote a healthy fast food chain. That’s why they chose the slogan “Eat Fresh”.

However, to my mind the name Subway (which the company later connected to actual subways by decorating the shops with maps of the New York City subway system), doesn’t have connotations of health and freshness.

If anything, it creates a downmarket impression that’s the opposite of healthiness. Subways are underground and dirty. So, I’m not sure it was such a good choice of name after all.

In contrast a name like ‘Pret a Manger’ (French for ready to eat) works much better to suggest fresh ingredients. People associate French food with good food, and the name ‘Pret a Manger’ itself evokes a high-end impression. It was inspired by the term Pret a Porter and in my view, was an excellent choice of name to denote quality fast food.

Even though the founder who originally chose the name ‘Pret a Manger’ went into liquidation, the name and visual branding lived on. It was intrinsically such a clever choice of name for a fast-food outlet that I’m not surprised the name and visual branding had value. They were purchased from the company liquidator by the founders of the Pret food chain we know today.

It’s not easy to choose entirely distinctive names that are meaningful without blatantly describing the product or service.

What is a name that you rate and why? I’d love to know as I’m very interested in names.