What’s in a Name?

By Nathan Burstein

Published January 21, 2009, issue of January 30, 2009.

The United Kingdom’s largest insurance company is changing its English name to a Hebrew one. Sort of.

Norwich Union, founded in 1797 to provide protection against highway robbery and rural fires, will officially be redubbed Aviva on June 1, giving the company a moniker shared by generations of Jewish women. A feminine form of “spring” in Hebrew, the new name is being publicized with a massive U.K.-wide ad campaign that kicked off on December 26 and features such celebrities as Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey), Elle Macpherson (born Eleanor Gow) and Bruce Willis (born Walter Willis) talking about their own name changes. “Would Walter Willis have got to play the leading man?” the “Die Hard” star asks in one commercial.

If Norwich Union’s new name bears a pleasant ring for Hebrew speakers, that’s precisely the idea, although the name itself was “created internally” rather than being specifically taken from the Hebrew language, said Vanessa Rhodes, a senior group relations manager for Norwich Union.

“A few of the reasons the name was chosen included that we were looking for a name that worked in many languages,” Rhodes explained. “This was a name people could pronounce whether it was in Asia or Russia or the U.K., so it can work on an international basis, given the growth of the company.”

That growth will continue in coming months, with the Aviva brand soon to replace the original names of affiliated companies in Ireland and Poland.

Test groups in a number of countries responded positively to the name change, Rhodes said, noting that some associated “Aviva” with “vitality” and with “vivo,” Latin for “to live.”

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