Insights from 20,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

Brand Names Matter: Nike


If you ask almost anyone on the street where they know the name “Nike” from, they’re likely to tell you about the sportswear brand, not the Greek goddess of victory from whom the company takes its name. In circles outside of the cult of classicists, the brand name Nike has eclipsed the original meaning.

NIke did not always have such a catchy, impactful business name, however. When the company was founded in 1964, it went under the name Blue Ribbon Sports.

While the is nothing objectively wrong with the name Blue Ribbon Sports, it is not as catchy and memorable nor as intriguing as the name Nike. Nike is a short, impactful name with a story behind it. It almost speaks to an ancient blessing–those that wear these shoes run with the winged goddess of victory behind them.  

The change was official in 1978 after Nike decided to start producing their own shoes rather than just reselling them. However, as successful as the name has been, the founders and original employees were not altogether convinced it was a great name.

A few ideas were being tossed around by the team, and no one could agree. Some of them wanted a simple, animal-based name like Puma, leading to the idea of “Bengal” as a name. Phil Knight, the founder, wanted to name the brand “Dimension Six,” and his colleagues attributed the idea to his love for the band, 5th Dimension.

None of them loved the name Nike, but the other ideas were not going over well, either. The deciding factor that pushed them to take the name Nike was the fact that the boxes were about to be printed, and the factory had a 9 a.m. deadline for the printing information.

Of all the names being thrown around, Nike was original, but few people knew what “a nike” actually was. This slight anonymity of the meaning ended up working to the company’s advantage, as they transformed the meaning of the word in the eyes of the public.

Despite initial reservations about the name, Nike has grown into one of the most successful athletic wear companies in the world. This just goes to show that sometimes, the right name does not seem perfect at first. When you’re coming up with business name ideas, don’t expect to experience love at first sight. The perfect name for your business might just grow on you.

About the author

Meghan O'Toole
Insights from 20,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

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