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Harris Blackwood: Alphabet soup with American businesses
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In 1991, American Telephone and Telegraph Co. announced it sent its last telegraph. In the same news release, the company said while telegraph messages were going away, the company would keep the name because it was a part of their heritage.

However, the formal name has gone away, too.

AT&T is the name of the company today. Technically, it is not the same company that had the name in 1991. But the letters don’t really stand for anything.

One of the companies that led to the breakup of the original AT&T was MCI, which stood for Microwave Communications Inc. No, it didn’t have anything to do with the little oven we use to heat leftovers or make bags of popcorn. Most people never knew them as anything but MCI.

CVS, the pharmacy giant, was originally known as Consumer Value Stores. Now, it is just CVS.

I don’t know where the whole fascination with letters came about, but we know more and more outfits by just a cobbled together set of initials.

When I was a kid, a lot of men used only their initials and not their names. The same is true for a handful of women. Popular radio personality B.J. Williams is only known as B.J. That’s OK.

Then, some letters are just thrown together to make a new word. Exxon, one of the major oil companies, is just a name someone concocted. The two predecessor companies did business as Enco and Esso. Enco was an abbreviation for Energy Company. Esso was an abbreviation for Jersey Standard Oil Co.

At first, they were going to call the new company Enco, but someone found out Enco sounded like the Japanese slang term for stalled car.

Next, they were going to name the company Exon, but a Nebraska governor was named James Exon. Someone thought it might not be good to name your oil company for a sitting governor, so they added another “x.”

I thought about this whole alphabet stew the other day when I saw a building in downtown Atlanta that once carried the name of accounting firm Ernst and Young. The firm, which is known for tabulating the results of the Golden Globe awards, now wants to be known only as EY. They took down some nice letters with the full name and replaced it with EY and a graphic symbol.

One of my mama’s first jobs was working as a clerk for the Atlanta Gas Light Co. I don’t know of anyone who uses only gas for lighting anymore, but that name is etched in my mind. They now go by AGL. They are merging with the Southern Co., parent of Georgia Power. No one calls Georgia Power “GP” because it might get confused with Georgia Pacific or Gordon’s Pharmacy, located in Bloomingdale.

The fast food chain, Dairy Queen, is now more widely known as DQ. This was not always the case. In my high school days, we knew it as “The Brazier,” which was a trademark for the company’s burger cooking process. It was one of the places you might hang out on a Friday or Saturday night.

Despite my lamenting about the loss of names in favor of letters, I doubt we have seen the last of the lettering of American business. Until next week, this is HB saying GBFN.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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