Name Game: A is for Alphabet, G is for Google and Y is for Y Not

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Google Alphabet announcement - August 10 2015

In an unexpected move, CEO Larry Page announced Monday on Google’s corporate blog the creation of a new holding company: Alphabet, Inc., which will replace Google as the publicly-traded entity and be the new parent entity to Google—a host of other brands.

Alphabet will be the corporate parent to collection of companies, and stand for prosperity through strong leaders and independence. While continuing their story of spelling out new ideas and pushing boundaries, the name is timeless and universal. It keeps in line with the naming trend of a real word that is unexpected for the (technology) sector yet is relatable in a human way, and suggests a story to be discovered, as Page wrote:

“For Sergey and me this is a very exciting new chapter in the life of Google — the birth of Alphabet. We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha-bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for! I should add that we are not intending for this to be a big consumer brand with related products—the whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands.”

Google’s challenge: how do you expand into new and exciting ventures without diluting the brands that got you there? The solution: Create a holding company to allow the heroes to exist independently and focus on their individual superpowers.

The news was so out of left field it caught the holders of the @alphabet and @alphabetinc accounts on Twitter by surprise.

But what about the brand names under Alphabet that still carry the “Google” brand name, but will be managed separately from the Google business? Google Fiber, Google Ventures, Google Capital and Google X, home to Moonshots and dreams, might need a little naming love so they won’t confuse folks in market by using the Google brand name (too late?). Then you have Nest and Calico—much like Alphabet, real and relatable words for names.

Alphabet is the beginning of a new chapter for Google’s cofounders, as they step up and name Sundar Pinchai as CEO of Google, now a fully owned subsidiary of Alphabet. Going forward, Page and Brin will focus on:

  • Getting more ambitious things done.
  • Taking the long-term view.
  • Empowering great entrepreneurs and companies to flourish.
  • Investing at the scale of the opportunities and resources we see.
  • Improving the transparency and oversight of what we’re doing.
  • Making Google even better through greater focus.
  • And hopefully… as a result of all this, improving the lives of as many people as we can.

How will we recognize a new Alphabet subsidiary brand name? One way may be to look to the URL. Google doesn’t own Alphabet.com, but it is using .xyz as a domain for the clever corporate URL, abc.xyz. In an inside joke on its original announcement blog post, Larry Page linked to Hooli.xyz, the “moonshot division” of Hooli, a fictional startup in HBO’s Silicon Valley series.

Google Alphabet Hooli

As The Verge notes, “It’s fitting then that the link to Hooli.xyz can be found after Page mention’s Alphabet’s own moonshoot division, the X lab, which is currently working on drone delivery… Yet another funny part of all this? Using hidden links is actually against Google’s Terms of Service.” (Can’t find it? It’s hidden after the ‘t’ in “effort.”)

As for the Alphabet name, it certainly has a big fan in Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who weighed in on Twitter and (of course) Google+ with his reaction:

Google Alphabet Eric Schmidt reaction

Penelope Davis is Senior Director, Verbal Identity at Interbrand.

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