How Shoe Companies Got Their Name

It's a classic research article by Lars Hindsley

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Shoe Name Pop Culture Trivia

How Shoe Companies Got Their Name

What is it with strange shoe names? No… not types like galoshes or sneakers. More like Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and others. Who thinks of these names?

The truth is stranger than fiction is an expression fitting to many of these brands. From underpaid artists to Nazi politics, the names of the shoes you wear may embarrass you.

Is your brand on this list? If it isn’t let us know. We’ll get to the bottom of it for you.

Adidas:  When the two Bavarian brothers of the Dassler shoe company split in 1947, Adolf (started Dassler) continued on under the name Adidas which brought his nickname, “Adi” and part of his surname, “Dassler” together to form Adidas. When you pronounce Adidas, it should be in two parts, Adi & Das. A children’s brand Addas also had some influence.

ASICS: Japanese sporting goods manufacturer Asics or ASICS is another name spawned from an acronym in a latin phrase: Anima Sana In Corpore Sano which means You should pray for sound mind in a sound body. It was formed by Kichachiro Onitsuka in Kobe Japan in 1949 with the purpose of rehabilitating juveniles after the second world war.

Avia: In 1979 Jerry Stubblefield of Oregon founded Avia while his son Don and engineering graduate developed the shoes. Jerry came up with the name while on a jet flight following the prevailing naming device of using the Latin root word Avia which means “to fly”. He felt the name would imply quick movement by flight. Avia was briefly owned by Reebok in 1987 but sold in late 1990’s to American Sporting Goods Corporation.

Birkenstock:  Another shoe with a strange name but it’s not an athletic shoe, it’s a sandal.  The name is drawn from the German shoemaking family name Birkenstock. This shoe’s foundation goes back to the 18th century with Johann Adam Birkenstock a German cobbler, born in 1754 which is why the logo includes that date.

Converse: Named after its founder Marquis M. Converse in 1908. Now owned by Nike it was originally named Converse Rubber Shoe Company a.k.a. Boston Rubber Shoe Company and made Tennis shoes. In 1921 basketball player Chuck Taylor approached Converse complaining of sore feet.  Converse gave him a job.  His star and signature were added to the shoe in 1923.

Doc Martens: OK, it’s actually Dr. Marten’s and they are not sneakers or tennis shoes at all.  But the name really begged an explanation so here it is. Thankfully there is actually a Dr. Klaus Martens. He served in the German army in the second World War. He created the boot out of necessity when he was injured on leave while skiing the Bavarian Alps. He modified his standard issue boots with air-padded soles.

Fila: South Korean Fila was once an Italian fabric and clothing company conceived in 1911 by the Fila brothers in Biella Italy. Fila made its name as a tennis shoe in 1973 on the feet of legend Bjorn Borg.

Keds:  Another long standing company established in 1916, Keds are produced by The U.S. Rubber Company which became Uniroyal and now owned by Michelin. Keds has the dubious honor of coining the name “sneaker”. Henry Nelson McKinny an advertising agent came up with the term as the Keds brand rubber soled canvas top shoes made no sound on walking surfaces. The name Keds was meant to be foot in Latin; peds. Due to competitive trademark concerns they went with Keds instead.

K-Swiss:  Founded in Los Angeles California and based in Westlake Village California. Formed in 1966 by two Swiss immigrant brothers, Art and Ernie Brunner. The two had an interest in tennis and created the first leather tennis shoe. They imported their leather from the Swiss shoe manufacturer Kuenzli. K-Swiss is the pairing of the first letter in Kuenzli and Swiss. K-Swiss. Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Elastics.

New Balance: Boston based New Balance Arch Support Company has been around since 1906.  NB focused on arch supports until 1961 and shoes were manufactured in mass production. New Balance has a ubiquitous approach to sales and the origin of its name is based on that company philosophy of revolutionary arch support.

Nike:  Still operating from its original base in Beaverton Oregon where Blue Ribbon Sports opened in 1964 and was renamed to Nike in 1978 taking its name from the Greek goddess of victory. Warriors would call out “Nike!” to each other in victory. Few know the swoosh story. Originally red in color, it debuted in 1972, created by graphic design student Carolyn Davidson. She was paid a mere $35 for the design.

Pony: Perhaps the youngest of shoe companies, Pony was founded in Brooklyn NY in 1972 with its roots in basketball.  Pony is an acronym for Product Of New York (PONY). Pony’s logo is a chevron, quite similar to Nike’s swoosh.

Puma: In 1924 two brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler opened the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. They split up in the mid 1940’s as they just did not agree on anything. Rudolf bolted leaving  the younger brother Adolf to rename the business Adidas in 1947. The older Dassler brother Rudolf (Rudi) created Ruda in 1948, later renaming it Puma after a brand shoe he founded in 1928. Puma and Adidas still reside in Herzogenaurach Germany.

Reebok: Founded in the 1890’s the original name was J.W. Foster & Sons. They supplied the 1924 Olympic athletes featured in the Oscar winning movie Chariots of Fire. In 1958 the grandsons started a companion company and named it after the fast moving Reebok Gazelle. They won a South African (Afrikaans/Dutch) dictionary in a race and found the name of the Rhebok explaining the spelling.

Saucony:  The word means, “mouth of a creek” or “mouth of a river”. It’s translated from the Native American Indians of the Saucony Creek in Kutztown Pennsylvania where the company was founded in 1898.  In 1968 Saucony is acquired by Hyde and relocated to Cambridge Massachusetts. In 1998 Hyde changes its name to to Saucony, in 2005 is purchased by Stride Rite.

Skechers:  Perhaps the only meaningless name.  Started in 1992 by ousted L.A. Gear founder Robert Greenberg and based out of Manhattan Beach California.  Originally intended to be a distributor for Dr. Martens shoes, the brand was built primarily as a trend and marketing based initiative targeting a youth market with no regard for actual shoe performance; hence the hip name.

Top Siders: Also called by its long name, Sperry Top Siders, are canvas boat shoes.  The front half the name Sperry is from the shoes designer Paul Sperry an avid boater who created the shoe in 1935.  The back end the name Top-Sider is a reference to a boat’s surface or deck.   The shoes are designed for traction on boat decks.   Top-Sider is owned by Stride Rite.

Umbro: The Humphrey Brothers Clothing started retail sportswear in 1920 based in Cheshire England. Four years later in 1924 the company name became an abbreviated portmanteau for marketing purposes, combining UM (Humphrys) and BRO (Brothers). Umbro is now owned by Nike.

Vans: Named after Californian Paul Van Doren. He and three partners opened up the first shoe manufacturer that sold directly to the public in 1966. That day 12 customers bought shoes made that day. The checkered shoes that Ed Spicoli of Fast Times At Ridgemont High made famous is now a surf and skate brand owned by Hurley Surfboards a new incarnation of the Billabong brand.

The running thread in these shoe company names is laziness and shortcuts prevail. So it seems. UMBRO, Adidas, Keds, Puma, everyone made a change without much consideration.

If you see any mistakes that need to be addressed, drop us a note. Is there a brand you’d like added? Let us know. We’ll add more shoes to this list of how companies got their shoe names.