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Melded names follow trend


DALLAS - Squashing company names has become the hippest revolution in the corporate world. Just look at the logos from ExxonMobil, DaimlerChrysler and Price- waterhouseCoopers.

Experts say fusing names is a quirky shorthand that helps merging companies show they're on the cutting edge. The design is considered fresh and allows the newly joined corporations to keep their brands while insinuating an association with the Internet in-crowd.

"People think, 'Oh, that's cool,'" said Jim Parkinson, a type and logo designer in San Francisco. "It's an economy of space, and it looks faddish like Internet addresses."

Designers have been using crammed-together names for some time. And the public has accepted new combo words such as database and online without requiring spaces or hyphens. But the trend has only recently been accepted in the button-down business world.

"What's accelerated it is the whole dot-com thing," said Jim Albright, chairman of the journalism department at the University of North Texas and author of "Creating the Advertising Message."

Companies are willing to try out slightly futuristic, spaceless names to show they're part of today's global, wired world, he said.

ExxonMobil says it wasn't trying to be particularly up-to-date when it coupled the names of Exxon Corp. and Mobil Corp. into the ExxonMobil logo during the companies' merger last year. Instead, it was a way to keep both well-known brands.

"It clearly signifies the unity of the combined corporation," company spokesman Tom Cirigliano said.

Even as some big names are eliminating spaces, a couple of companies have opted to ditch the crammed look.

When NationsBank Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. joined in 1998, the combined banking behemoth separated the words in its new name and became Bank of America.

About three years ago, USAir found it could add space for its passengers - at least on the ground - and became US Airways.

No matter the change, the name game is played frequently.

Last year, more than 400 U.S. companies changed names due to mergers, acquisitions, spinoffs or reorganizations, according to Enterprise IG, a name consulting firm based in New York.

Experts say many of the changes are made because companies find that logo designs and company names can have a limited shelf life.

Universal Leaf Tobacco of Richmond, Va., for example, changed its name to Universal Corp. as it moved away from its origins.

Likewise, Kentucky Fried Chicken simply became KFC as a health-minded public began shying away from anything "fried."

KFC made the change about a decade ago when the name game favored initials over words. Companies such as Electronic Data Systems, American Airlines, International Business Machines, Federal Express and General Motors either changed their names to initials or adopted a letters-only identity - EDS, AMR, IBM, FDX and GM, respectively - in public.

But that practice became passe by the mid-1990s, when initials were suddenly perceived as too impersonal.

"There was a kind of backlash," said Michael Solomon, a human sciences professor of consumer behavior at Auburn University. "It got so no one knew which was which. You want to stand out from the pack, but everyone else is trying to stand out from the pack."

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