As far as I know, Exxon was the first company whose executives realized that they lacked the necessary creativity to think of a good name, and so turned the process over to a computer. They gave the computer a few simple conditions.

  • It had to be two syllables.
  • It had to have a double consonant.
  • It had to start with an E and have an O in the second syllable. (These preceding conditions were to keep it sounding like Esso, which did not meet the some of the following conditions, thus necessitating the search for a new name.
  • It had to be an unused name throughout the entire world.
  • It had to not mean anything in a foreign language
  • And probably a few more that I can't think of.

So we can hardly blame the executives for handing this task over to a computer, which by the way could not come up with any name besides Exxon. This conveniently saved the executives from themselves by circumventing any long, painful, Dilbertesque name selection process.

Note: Having searched the web and ExxonMobil's web site, I have only been able to find anecdotal sources. There are a good number of these, plus I heard the story from an ExxonMobil executive, so I am relatively confident of its truth. However, anecdotal details differ from account to account, so mine may not be completely correct.

To get to the bottom of the Exxon name, I wrote a letter to ExxonMobil asking them where the name "Exxon" came from and I received the following reply:

EXXON, a registered trademark of the Exxon Mobil Corporation is really not a word at all, for it means absolutely nothing in any known language of the world. The name was created by computers randomly combining letters of the alphabet. The reason why Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) decided to change the name of its corporation to EXXON, and to market in the United States exclusively under the EXXON trademark is because the trademark ESSO represents the phonetic spelling of "S - O" representing "Standard - Oil" The Supreme Court of the U.S. determined in 1911 when it broke up the large Standard Oil Company that each of the 34 companies making up the Standard Oil Company could only market in certain geographic areas of the U.S. using the name "Standard Oil". So, Standard Oil of New Jersey could only use ESSO in 19 states in the U.S. But the company wanted to market everywhere in the U.S.

In 1966 the company decided to change its name in a way that would be a registerable trademark in any country of the world, but most importantly, allow it to market petroleum products in the U.S. under one brand name. The name EXXON was chosen by the company in 1970 and the shareholders approved the name-change in 1972. And the name was introduced for all service stations, etc. in late 1972 and early 1973. Of course, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 1911 only applied to the United States, there was no need to change the marketing brand name in other countries in the world, only the United States. The decision to select the name EXXON was a marketing choice: The average customer was able to associate the two names in brand recognition because there are many similarities between ESSO and EXXON: Each name is two syllables, each begins with the letter "E" and each name contains a double consonant, "eSSo" / "eXXon". Our company was not the only oil company that needed to change its name: The Standard Oil of California also wanted to market all over the U.S. so that company changed its name from Standard Oil of California (SOCAL) to the new name "Chevron." Standard Oil of Indiana changed to "AMOCO" (American Oil Company)(now owned by BP); Standard Oil of New York changed to Socony-Mobil and later to MOBIL.

Thank you for contacting ExxonMobil.

Susan Mitchell
Exxon Mobil Corporation

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