alphabet soup

Yahoo wants to rename itself Altababa. Here’s a look at some other unusual corporate renaming choices.

By Tina Irgang

This week, Yahoo announced that following the sale of its core business to Verizon Communications, its remaining assets would be combined under a holding company named “Altababa.” The decision prompted chuckles across the internet, but it’s hardly the first time a corporation has embarked on a widely mocked rebrand.

Evidently, Yahoo’s proposed name is a portmanteau of “alternative” and “Alibaba,” the Chinese e-commerce giant in which Yahoo holds a 15 percent stake, reports Quartz. The name “is awful, but perfectly epitomizes what Yahoo has become. … When [Marissa] Mayer stepped in as CEO, Yahoo was a company with $4 billion in annual revenue, $6 billion in cash, and a billion users. After it’s hacked to pieces, it will be nothing more than ‘alternative Alibaba,’” the article goes on to say.

(Ars Technica notes that whether or not the name change comes to pass depends on Verizon’s willingness to still go through with the deal. Given Yahoo’s recent troubles with major hacks of user information, that’s not at all certain.)

Twitter users quickly got to work mocking the Altababa plan. “‘Altaba’ is Latin for ‘We should have taken Microsoft’s $45 billion offer in 2008,’” wrote one user. And another: “So Yahoo’s now called Altababa — not to be confused with the Alt-crypto-white nationalist Swedish pop group with hits like #DanzigQueen.”

Tronc, Qwikster, Xe: Memorable corporate rebrands

Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable corporate renaming disasters:

  • Tribune Publishing becomes tronc. In 2016, the owner of venerable papers such as The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Baltimore Sun decided it needed a change, amid a takeover bid from rival Gannett. The new name, which stands for “tribune online content,” “was a kind of pledge of sorts, that Tribune would catch up with current technology and start using machine learning and artificial intelligence in its ‘content monetization engine,’” says Fortune.
  • Netflix’s DVD business (briefly) becomes Qwikster. Remember when Netflix decided it wanted to spin its DVD-mailing and streaming businesses into two separate entities? The decision, which would have renamed the DVD business “Qwikster” and “effectively [dumped] more than a decade of brand recognition down the tubes,” as Time puts it, was quickly reversed.
  • Blackwater becomes Xe. “After some major human rights violations tainted Blackwater’s name in 2007, the company … tried to rename itself,” according to Business Insider. Blackwater executives chose “Xe” because the word has “no connotations,” ABC News reported at the time. A year later, in 2010, the company’s name changed again, to Academi. “Then-CEO Ted Wright told the Wall Street Journal he was trying to make the company more ‘boring,’” says Fortune.
  • The SciFi Channel becomes Syfy. “Maybe the SciFi Channel should have checked out urbandictionary.com before it rolled out its new name. They would have discovered that, in most parts of the world, ‘syfy’ is a slang term for syphilis,” notes Business Insider. Nevertheless, the rebrand so far has stuck.

Maybe this is the silver lining Yahoo has been looking for: At the very least, its proposed new name doesn’t seem to remind anyone of a sexually transmitted disease.

Tina Irgang is SmartCEO’s managing editor. Contact her at tina@smartceo.com.