Now in his 80s (he doesn’t like to reveal his age, but Wikipedia tells all), Maurice Kanbar is the brains and drive behind Quad Cinemas (the first multiplex on the East Coast), Tangoes (a puzzle game based on tangrams), SKYY vodka (which Kanbar loaded on his scooter and sold to San Francisco bartenders, one by one), and at least 30 other inventions.
The first of those inventions was a humble one: a little device that removes pills from knitwear. Kanbar tells the story of its inception in Secrets from an Inventor’s Notebook, a charming and informative first-person account of his life of invention. The tale includes this anecdote about how the device got its name:
I actually wanted to call my invention “Balls Off!” but this was 1964 and everyone said, “Are you crazy? [I get asked that a lot.] You can’t call it Balls Off!” For once I relented and went with a name my friend Helen Shufro came up with: the D-Fuzz-It® Sweater and Fabric Comb.
Later in the book, Kanbar relates how SKYY got its name (“Adding an extra ‘y’ to ‘sky’ gave the name a twist and made it even more distinctive. It worked for Exxon, didn’t it?”). He also dispenses advice about naming, some of it useful (“You have to imagine your name being used in the situations your customers will find themselves in”). But I must take issue with Kanbar’s dictum that “commonly used words can’t be trademarked.” Nonsense, as a glance at the roster of famous trademarks—from Apple to Virgin, from Dove to Gap, from Twitter to, yes, single-Y Sky—attests.
Read more about Maurice Kanbar in this 2012 profile in the San Francisco Chronicle.