News of Facebook potentially changing its name starting next week may seem shocking to some who question the dramatic shift from such a widely recognized brand, but major companies have undergone these types of transformations for decades for a variety of reasons.
Citing an anonymous source, The Verge reported Facebook is planning to change its company name to facilitate a broader shift toward creating a “metaverse,” an idea for a world that blurs the lines between the digital and the physical.
Similar to Google’s relaunch as Alphabet in 2015, Facebook will reportedly create a new company which will encompass all its existing brands, including Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus (Facebook told Forbes it will not comment on “rumor or speculation”).
Companies have undergone this sort of name change for internal restructuring many times in the past: Japanese automaker Nissan made the controversial (and expensive) decision to nix one of the country’s most popular car brands, Datsun, in 1981, a change made in the name of unifying the company’s global image.
In other instances, name changes came as the consequence of a legal battle, such as the World Wrestling Federation’s 2002 emergence as World Wrestling Entertainment (it lost a trademark lawsuit to the World Wildlife Fund) and Andersen Consulting’s rebrand as Accenture in 2001 (the result of a court order).
But all in all the most common reason major companies appear to shed their names are to shake off bad publicity or sever negative associations, as highlighted by a 2015 Washington Post article which collected multiple examples of this.
Among them were the rebranding of Tobacco giant Philip Morris as Altria in 2003 and the multiple name changes initiated by Blackwater Worldwide, a private security company myred by controversy over its work in Iraq.
The racial justice protests that swept the nation last summer initiated a new wave of these changes as multiple companies ditched the names of brands criticized as offensive or insensitive, including popular syrup and pancake brand Aunt Jemima, which was re-named Pearl Milling Company, rice brand Uncle Ben’s, which is now known as Ben’s Original, and Eskimo Pie, which has become Edy’s Pie.
The Verge report characterizes Facebook’s allegedly impending name change as the consequence of its already publicly outlined shift toward fostering the so-called metaverse. The company earlier this week unveiled plans to hire 10,000 people across the European Union for this purpose and may funnel billions of dollars into the efforts, according to Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer David Wehner. But the reported changes are also coming at a time when the company’s business practices are under intense scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators worldwide. A recent series of reports published by The Wall Street Journal outlined issues like a reluctance to change the Facebook algorithm to reduce divisive content and misinformation and previously unpublished internal studies on the harmful impact of photo-sharing app Instagram on young users. A former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, testified about these alleged problems before Congress earlier this month, accusing the company of putting “astronomical profits before people.” Facebook has in turn batted away many of these accusations, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg decrying Haugen’s testimony as a “false picture of the company.”
Commentators immediately highlighted the rocky backdrop of the reported change. “Even if it does end up thriving in the metaverse, Facebook won’t be able to shake its name—or the controversies that will forever be tied to that moniker,” wrote Yahoo News Technology Editor Daniel Howley.
“Facebook Is Reportedly Planning To Change Its Company Name” (Forbes)
“Facebook’s New Metaverse Project Will Cost ‘Billions’ Of Dollars” (Forbes)
“Eskimo Pie Becomes Edy’s Pie: Here Are All The Brands That Are Changing Racist Names And Packaging” (Forbes)