Brand Name Origins: How 6 of Your Favorite Companies Got Their Names

Congratulations, everyone! We’re in the midst of the holiday gift-buying season! This not only means spending quality time with loved ones waiting in department store lines, but also visiting nearly every store imaginable to find just that perfect gift.

I don’t know about you, but the names behind stores and brands have always interested me. Where’d they come from? Who came up with them? Well, I finally sat down and did the research on brand name origins. I figured I would share my findings with you all as an early gift. Enjoy!

“Everything”-type stores


The man behind this brand, Maxwell Kohl, was a grocery store operator and opened his first Kohl’s Food Store in Southeastern Wisconsin in 1946. Sixteen years later, the first Kohl’s Department Store opened in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He decided to position Kohl’s between the day’s higher-end department stores and the discounters. Kohl’s sold everything that consumers were looking for, everything from candy to engine oil to sporting equipment.

This is much like today where you can find clothing for every age, make-up, jewelry, home décor, gadgets, and so much more! I think Maxwell Kohl would be very pleased to find that his company is still thriving in 2011.

"Treat others how you wished to be treated"

J. C. Penney

In 1902, James Cash Penney opened the Golden Rule in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902. He named his stores with this name because it was his personal and business philosophy to follow the “golden rule” of treating others the way he himself would want to be treated. It wasn’t until 1913 that today’s J. C. Penney Company, Inc. existed. He incorporated in Utah with the J. C. Penney Company, Inc. name and phased out the old Golden Rule name.

Even today they strive to keep the Golden Rule alive in each of their locations at their corporate level in Plano, Texas. They’re committed to making “Every Day Matters” for their customers.

Brands that we loved as children (and still secretly look at in the stores)

Nothing could beat a fresh box of oily chalk!


This immensely popular company was searching for a name to give their crayons — but they didn’t have to search too much. In 1903, Edwin Binney and his cousin C. Harold Smith, who helped invent the crayons, only had to ask Edwin’s wife, Alice for her suggestion. “Crayola” is a combination of ‘craie’ which is the French word for chalk, with ‘ola’ which is short for ‘oleaginous’ or ‘oily.’ The name literally means “oily chalk,” which if you think about crayons pretty much sums them up perfectly.

Along with LEGO, this is one brand that you’re never too old to play with – have you seen the awesome products they have now?! I was ecstatic if my box of crayons had a sharpener on the back. But, I digress. The Crayola brand is one that has survived for generations, and seems to be one that will continue to do so in the future.


For all the adults out there who remember playing with these mini cars, their name is one of those where you’ll think: “Oh, that totally makes sense!” This popular toy was introduced in 1953 and was so named because the original die-cast Matchbox toys were packaged and sold in box sizes and styles similar to actual match boxes.

Even though the packaging and company have changed (they’re now owned by Mattel, Inc.), the name has stuck.

Home furnishing stores

"Egads! I'm out of money!"

Crate & Barrel

Okay, confession time. I was a sales associate for Crate & Barrel for four years in high school and in college. Considering it was retail, I have very few stories to share about horrible experiences. With that being said, during my first few weeks there they gave me the typical speech on company history and practices. The one thing that stuck with me (along with being able to fold a fitted sheet in under 30 seconds) was how they arrived at the name for the company.

A newlywed couple, Gordon and Carole Segal, came back from their European honeymoon and wished there was a store that sold contemporary-yet-affordable housewares like they’d seen on their trip. Determined to bring that idea to life, they opened up their first store in Chicago’s Old Town area. With no money left to buy displays for their products, they reused the wooden shipping crates for shelves and barrels were used to showcase other fun merchandise. Viola, the name ‘Crate & Barrel’ stuck!

There are now over 170 locations in North America, Canada, and several more opening within the next decade worldwide. This company (which has their headquarters in the northern suburbs of Chicago) has grown so much since those early days of having to make due with reusing shipping containers for their displays. Isn’t this one of the best brand name origins? I thought so.


In 1947, Chuck Williams came to Sonoma, California with the hope of building homes. He became a contractor, then owned and operated a hardware store, and finally became the founder of the Williams-Sonoma stores (clever, huh?) that we know today, which are known for their cooking items as well as some home furnishings.

This is another fun store to walk through and just look around at all the various cooking doo-dads and whatnots. Mr. Williams’ store has come a long way from his quaint hardware store to where it is now.

Whether or not the name of a store or brand is enough to sway you to enter and spend your money is another blog for another day. However, these brand name origins sure give a more humanistic feel to the large corporations that they have become today.

Do any of these brand name origins surprise you? Was there one not mentioned that you’ve always been curious about? Sound off below!

Amy Hoidas

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ Community Manager. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    As a former employee, I’m interested in hearing about how Target got its name. It’s an easy word, to be sure, but I’m curious as to why they ultimately chose it. Not so shockingly, Target was too busy showing us anti-union videos to tell us the history of their name. 🙁

    But great post, Amy! I learned a lot of things today!

    • amy

      Ohh, C&B went through that anti-union phase too. I also remember the videos and the discussions. Yep, good times. Target’s name is one of those that is short, sweet, and to the point. I can’t imagine it not being named Target actually haha.

      I’m so glad today was such an informative day, yay!!

  2. Jenna Markowski

    This is a really interesting post, Amy! The ones that are just named after the person who founded them aren’t too exciting, but the back stories there are pretty cool. I think my favorite ones here are Crayola and Crate and Barrel. I had never thought of crayons as oily chalk, but that is exactly what they are!

    After reading your post I was inspired to look up some others, and I learned from the trusted, reliable source, Wikipedia (haha), that Best Buy was originally called Sound of Music, and got it’s current name after there was a tornado and they had a “Tornado Sale” that they described as a “best buy.” The sale became a yearly thing, and then they decided to go with Best Buy for the name of the store. Pretty kewl! 🙂

    • amy

      That Best Buy name history is beyond interesting. I had no idea! I just thought that it summed up exactly what they were hoping customers would associate with their brand, “oh, this is the best buy out there!” Craziness! Thanks so much for searching that, Jenna!!

  3. Rachel

    Great post, Amy! I think the origin story behind Crayola is my favorite. “Oily chalk” really is perfect! 🙂

    • amy

      After I read that I was like, ‘that totally makes sense!!’ I always thought the company was named after a Mr. Crayola or something like that. Nope, instead it’s named after two words to sum up its consistency. Perfect! I’d love to do another blog with some other companies some day, this was too interesting to not do again LOL

  4. Amanda

    Awesome blog post Amy!! I’m also super interested in how things like this come to be. As you all know, I love Crayola crayons! I was so happy to see them on the list!! =) The Crate & Barrel story shocked me–I had no idea that’s where the name came from–I like it though! I’ve never been in a Crate & Barrel store–do they still use some kind of crates or barrels in them?? That’d be sweet!

    • amy

      I’ve only worked at the outlet in Naperville, but all the shelving units there are wood and reminiscent of crates. We used to have actual wooden barrels on the floor for merchandise, but last year they switched over to metal barrels. Customers actually try to buy the barrels that we use for displays hahaha

      They’ve done some updating but have kept it pretty true to their beginnings. I’m biased but they really are a good company to work for and shop at. Okay, shameless plug done 😉

  5. Stantz

    I think we need also need to cover the origin of the QLP name! 😉

    • amy

      I think between the name and our mascot, QLP has some pretty interesting stories LOL Good call!

  6. Andrew W

    Good read, I enjoyed it.

    • amy

      Thanks so much for stopping by and reading, Andrew! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  7. Bret Bonnet

    The origins of QLP… That’s top secret… That is, buy me a case of beer (I prefer “312”) and you MIGHT just get me talking… 🙂

  8. david k waltz


    Thanks for the interesting history – I love “oily chalk”!.

    As for the golden rule, in the business world it seems more and more that is being converted from its traditional definition to “he who has the gold makes the rules”.


    • amy

      Hey David, thanks for stopping by! Crayola and Crate & Barrel’s are my favorite I think 😉

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