Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 12-01-2019, 01:06 AM
dtilque is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: My own private Nogero
Posts: 7,292

First corporate acronym


What was the first company name to be acronymized? Either officially or in informal use, it doesn't matter.

Some time back I compiled a list of plane names derived from company acronyms. I later tried to find the earliest one of those. I could only find dates for a small number, but the earliest was in the early 1890s (1892, I think). Unfortunately, I can't find the file that has that info, so I can't say which one it was without redoing the research. At any rate, it's unlikely the earliest example was used for the name of a town, but that gives a target date to beat.
  #2  
Old 12-01-2019, 04:21 AM
Banksiaman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Australia
Posts: 1,062
I'd offer SPQR, except its not a company. You'll still find it on drain covers and such, so not too shabby.

As a starter let's try VOC - Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or the Dutch East India Company, which managed Dutch trading networks in Asia as well as possessions in island Southeast Asia, now Indonesia. Set up in 1602, the VOC mark appears on company-owned goods, in naming and all sorts of other ways.
  #3  
Old 12-01-2019, 04:31 AM
Alessan's Avatar
Alessan is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tel Aviv
Posts: 24,876
The British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company, both founded in the early 17th Century, were referred to at the time as the EIC and the VOC, respectively.
  #4  
Old 12-01-2019, 08:25 AM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 85,739
OK, both of those beat out the National Biscuit Company, which is what I was going to suggest.
  #5  
Old 12-01-2019, 10:23 AM
dtilque is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: My own private Nogero
Posts: 7,292
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
The British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company, both founded in the early 17th Century, were referred to at the time as the EIC and the VOC, respectively.
Right. And this makes me think of HBC (Hudson's Bay Company), although I don't know when they started using the acronym.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
OK, both of those beat out the National Biscuit Company, which is what I was going to suggest.
Yeah, Nabisco dates from around the turn of the 20th century. Way too late.

So we have the probable earliest; what about US companies? What's the earliest for them?

Last edited by dtilque; 12-01-2019 at 10:24 AM.
  #6  
Old 12-01-2019, 11:08 AM
Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 31,828
The Insurance Company of North America was formed in 1792. All the cites I find refer to it as INA, but none state explicitly that it was known by its initials from the beginning.

It's now part of Cigna. The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, also a part of Cigna, formed in 1865. It is always referred to today as CG but again I can't find a first mention. The modern name Cigna is a meld of CG and INA. My guess is that the initials have a very long history
  #7  
Old 12-01-2019, 03:39 PM
The Other Waldo Pepper is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 16,852
For a start at something American, can we place BVD’s origin at 1876?

Last edited by The Other Waldo Pepper; 12-01-2019 at 03:39 PM.
  #8  
Old 12-01-2019, 05:26 PM
Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 31,828
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Other Waldo Pepper View Post
For a start at something American, can we place BVDís origin at 1876?
That has the same problem as the ones in my post. Just because the company started in 1876 doesn't mean that people used the initials starting in 1876. I didn't find any 19th century hits in Google Books.
  #9  
Old 12-01-2019, 11:31 PM
Banksiaman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Australia
Posts: 1,062
Based on a steady diet of black and white westerns, which may or may not bear some relation to reality, various railroad companies were usually referred to by their initials, often in conversations involving railroad barons or train robbers.

Also, people were usually just too plum lazy to say Old Kindersley Corral in full [1872].
  #10  
Old 12-01-2019, 11:53 PM
engineer_comp_geek's Avatar
engineer_comp_geek is offline
Robot Mod in Beta Testing
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 25,481
Quote:
Originally Posted by Banksiaman View Post
Based on a steady diet of black and white westerns, which may or may not bear some relation to reality, various railroad companies were usually referred to by their initials, often in conversations involving railroad barons or train robbers.
Starting in about the mid 1800s, it was very common for companies, especially railroads, to be known by acronyms or abbreviations. It's not just a movie thing.

The earliest reference I could find for the B&O Railroad was 1832. Are you counting something like B&O as an acronym?
  #11  
Old 12-02-2019, 12:36 AM
UDS is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Australia
Posts: 9,014
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
The Insurance Company of North America was formed in 1792. All the cites I find refer to it as INA, but none state explicitly that it was known by its initials from the beginning.

It's now part of Cigna. The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, also a part of Cigna, formed in 1865. It is always referred to today as CG but again I can't find a first mention. The modern name Cigna is a meld of CG and INA. My guess is that the initials have a very long history
They do. People have already pointed to the Dutch East India Company, which was using the cypher "VOC" pretty much from its inception in 1602, and in doing so it was only observing a practice already well-established in the political and civic fields - royal cyphers ("H.R.", for example, used by Henry VIII of England, "R.III" used by Richard III), all the way back to the "S.P.Q.R." cypher adopted during the late Roman Republic and in use pretty much consistently ever since. And we have the Chi-Rho and Iota-Chi cyphers used by Christians, both very ancient.

So, really, pretty much as soon as commercial corporations got going, they were likely to start using cyphers to badge their buildings and property in the same way that political, civic and ecclesiastical corporations were already doing.

I suppose the question is, at what stage did people make the transition from simply using these as badges and marks to "sounding them out", so that they become a spoken name for the corporation concerned? There's unlikely to be much direct literary evidnce of this; we can find all the "VOC" inscriptions we want, but they can't tell us when, or if, people started to talk about "the Vee Oh See" (or Netherlandish euquivalent") to name the company. Unless we find some contemporary writer commenting on this trend, or on the cypher being used, say, in poetry or song lyrics in a way that suggests it will be read out this way, this is going to be a hard phenomenon to date. But I think we can guess that it doesn't happen until basic literacy is fairly widespread. "The Vee Oh See" is meaningless to somebody who doesn't know the alphabet.

Last edited by UDS; 12-02-2019 at 12:37 AM.
  #12  
Old 12-02-2019, 01:40 AM
md2000 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 15,223
Might be a different approach - if the acronym becomes the word because it's foreign or not easily understood. (INRI comes to mind - everyone probably recognizes it from context but fewer know what it literally stands for. )
  #13  
Old 12-02-2019, 12:15 PM
Exapno Mapcase is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 31,828
Quote:
Originally Posted by UDS View Post
They do. People have already pointed to the Dutch East India Company, which was using the cypher "VOC" pretty much from its inception in 1602, and in doing so it was only observing a practice already well-established in the political and civic fields - royal cyphers ("H.R.", for example, used by Henry VIII of England, "R.III" used by Richard III), all the way back to the "S.P.Q.R." cypher adopted during the late Roman Republic and in use pretty much consistently ever since. And we have the Chi-Rho and Iota-Chi cyphers used by Christians, both very ancient.
You're misreading what I wrote. Of course the history you cite is true, but that's already been mentioned in this thread.

When I wrote "My guess is that the initials have a very long history" I was referring specifically to the initials of the two predecessor Cigna companies, not any company anywhere at any time.

Quote:
Unless we find some contemporary writer commenting on this trend
And again, that's my point. I did a quick search through newspaper databases to see if those companies were referred to by their initials. No such its came up, but I admit I didn't spend much time looking because "INA" gives hundreds of thousands of false hits. Limiting the parameters to Pennsylvania newspapers of the 19th century (INA was a Philadelphia firm) made the numbers more manageable but nothing other than the full formal name appeared.

I like the suggestion that railroad companies were the first in America to be known that way, though. That makes a lot of sense.
  #14  
Old 12-02-2019, 02:11 PM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 85,739
There's also a distinction that might be made between sounding out the letters one at a time, versus pronouncing them as a single word. On the one hand, nobody would ever refer to a coherent light beam or the device that generates it as an "Ell Ay Ess Ee Ar", but on the other hand, neither would anyone refer to the US intelligence agency as the "Seeah". "Laser" is always pronounced, but "CIA" is always spelled out.
  #15  
Old 12-02-2019, 02:26 PM
dtilque is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: My own private Nogero
Posts: 7,292
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
There's also a distinction that might be made between sounding out the letters one at a time, versus pronouncing them as a single word. On the one hand, nobody would ever refer to a coherent light beam or the device that generates it as an "Ell Ay Ess Ee Ar", but on the other hand, neither would anyone refer to the US intelligence agency as the "Seeah". "Laser" is always pronounced, but "CIA" is always spelled out.
That distinction is mainly made by pedants; your average person will call either an acronym. So let's just ignore it for this question.
  #16  
Old 12-02-2019, 08:23 PM
UDS is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Australia
Posts: 9,014
Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
You're misreading what I wrote. Of course the history you cite is true, but that's already been mentioned in this thread.

When I wrote "My guess is that the initials have a very long history" I was referring specifically to the initials of the two predecessor Cigna companies, not any company anywhere at any time.
Oops. My bad.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
And again, that's my point. I did a quick search through newspaper databases to see if those companies were referred to by their initials. No such its came up, but I admit I didn't spend much time looking because "INA" gives hundreds of thousands of false hits. Limiting the parameters to Pennsylvania newspapers of the 19th century (INA was a Philadelphia firm) made the numbers more manageable but nothing other than the full formal name appeared.

I like the suggestion that railroad companies were the first in America to be known that way, though. That makes a lot of sense.
I think corporations that trade in goods or handle goods have a much greater use for initialisms, e.g., to stamp on the side of packing cases, or to mark plant and equipment belonging to them. A company that deals largely in financial services or other intangibles doesn't have the same requirement and perhaps, for them, the utility of an initialism is not so obvious until the telegraph comes along, and then an abbreviated name becomes very convenient for use in communications.

Other possibly relevant data points:
- OED's first cite for "U.S.": 1834
- "U.K.": 1892

Last edited by UDS; 12-02-2019 at 08:24 PM.
  #17  
Old 12-02-2019, 09:52 PM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 85,739
When's the OED's first cite for OED?
  #18  
Old 12-02-2019, 10:09 PM
UDS is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Australia
Posts: 9,014
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
When's the OED's first cite for OED?
1898, in another dictionary.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:54 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2019 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017