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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Named After Tennis, Towns and Teller Machines

Ever bought a yogurt from Wimm-Bill-Dann and wondered which part of Germany it came from? Or pondered why anyone thought Yandex was a good name for an Internet search engine?

You wouldn't be alone: Even company employees are often at a loss to explain the names of the companies they work for.

Take the very Russian food giant Wimm-Bill-Dann. Speculation in the Russian business community often links the name to the London borough of Wimbledon -- but no one can agree on what the connection is.

One story has it that one of Wimm-Bill-Dann's founders went to the Wimbledon tennis championship around the time that the company was created in 1992. He was apparently so impressed with what he saw that he used the word Wimbledon in naming the new company.

Another theory also links Wimm-Bill-Dann to Wimbledon, only more implausibly: Having figured that the name should sound foreign, the company's founders sat down in front of the television to wait for the first foreign-sounding word to be spoken. That word happened to be Wimbledon, and it went on to become the basis of the new company's name.

Even Wimm-Bill-Dann's press service cannot give an entirely satisfactory explanation for the name. A spokesman said the goal of the company's founders in choosing a name was to disguise the fact that it was a Russian business and to make it sound foreign -- a key to success in the early 1990s. The choice of sounds and letters was pretty much random, the spokesman said. That makes sense since Wimm-Bill-Dann did go so far as to name its top-selling juice J-7.

Alexei Moiseyev, an economist with Renaissance Capital, said the name Wimm-Bill-Dann had nevertheless proven to be a good one.

"It is catchy, well-known and boosts consumers' trust in Wimm-Bill-Dann's brands," he said.

According to Sergei Topilin, head of the client services department at Mikhailov & Partners PR agency, company names have only recently become a serious issue.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, companies did not waste much time on choosing a name because they were in a rush to register themselves and begin work, Topilin said. But now names have become an essential part of a company's image, and they are often chosen with the help of professional analysts and focus groups, he said.

"Giving a name to a company is like naming a baby. It takes a serious amount of thought about the meaning and perception of the name," Topilin said.

When it comes to the amount of thought going into a name, Internet portal and search engine Yandex scores highly.

According to company employee Alexei Amilyushchenko, the name is a complex creation based on the word "index."

Amilyushchenko said the "Ya" part of the name represents the last letter of the Russian alphabet and symbolizes the fluency of the Russian-language search engine.

It also has a double meaning as the translation of "I" into Russian, he said. And if that's not enough, the name can also be read to mean "yet another indexer."

A more confused etymological history is offered by media and banking empire Media-MOST.

Exiled tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, the founder of the Media-MOST group, once told the American journalist David Remnick that the company's name was spotted in downtown Washington.

One afternoon in 1988, Gusinsky saw a line of people waiting to use a bank machine, Remnick wrote in his book "Resurrection: Struggle for a New Russia." The future oligarch was so impressed with the machine that he walked up to inspect it.

According to Remnick, the word "most" was written on one of the decals near the machine, and it subsequently became the brand name for Gusinsky's empire.

But Media-MOST's official explanation differs from this version. Spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky said that MOST, which means bridge in Russian, stands for just that, a bridge, and was the name of a first joint venture set up by Gusinsky in 1989 with U.S. consulting firm Arnold & Porter.

In Soviet times, things were a lot less complicated. Company names were based on where the companies came from and what they did. After that, the names would just be turned into acronyms -- for example, Ingosstrakh, or Foreign State Insurance Company, Vneshtorgbank, or Foreign Trade Bank, and Aeroflot, or Air Fleet.

Even these abbreviated versions could sometimes turn into tongue twisters, however: Take the company Arkhangelskgeoldobycha, or Arkhangelsk Geological Research and Production, which is controlled by LUKoil and recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.

The tradition of creating acronyms for inefficient enterprises was so widespread in the Soviet Union that people came up with an umbrella term to cover all of them -- Siziftyazhkamen, which translates as Sysiphus' Heavy Rock, a play on the Greek myth of Sysiphus, a man who is condemned to spend his days fruitlessly pushing a rock up a mountain.

Soviet-style acronyms have outlived the regime and can be seen in many names of modern companies that reflect their geographical area of operations or nature of business.

Examples include gas giant Gazprom and oil majors Tatneft, Sibneft and LUKoil, whose names stand for Gas Production, Tatarstan Oil, Siberian Oil and Langepas-Urai-Kagalym Oil, respectively. Lugansk, Urai and Kagalym are the three cities around which LUKoil's activity was initially centered.

No. 2 cellular operator Vimpelcom, known for its Beeline brand name, also derives its name from the place where it was founded. The company originated at a Soviet research and production facility called Vympel that was involved in missile defense technologies.

Sometimes attachments to geographical places can prove problematic enough to warrant a name change, however.

Bashkreditbank, for example, has in recent months rebranded itself UralSib. According to Topilin, the bank simply outgrew its origins, and being called Bashkreditbank started to obstruct business development.

"Imagine when they had to attract new clients, especially foreigners," he said. "They would have first to explain where and what Bashkiria [a Volga River region] is. At the same time, Urals is well known and a strong reference that also projects stability."

Other banks suffer more from the pitfalls of abbreviations than unfashionable origins.

For example, Bank Investitsy i Novatsy is known to most people as B.I.N. Bank.

A bank spokeswoman defended the name. "We do have dots between the letters and our reputation should allow us to dissociate ourselves from the word [bin]," she said.

The Armenian Nakhichevansky Investment Bank, meanwhile, is often referred to as Naibank.

To a Russian ear, this sounds close to the English equivalent of Fu Corp.