Last week Taser International, maker of stun guns, body cameras, and technology for transmitting law-enforcement data, announced that it was changing its corporate name to Axon, the name of its body-cameras. As part of the rebranding, the company is offering a free body camera to every police officer in the U.S. for one year, plus a year of free data storage.
Axon pursued a popular renaming strategy for companies that are shifting their product focus: Elevate the name of the product that’s going to carry you into the future. “Axon” is not a brilliant name; its dictionary meaning is “the long process of a nerve fiber that conducts impulses away from a nerve cell,” and that’s sparked the synapses of a lot of other companies. (A sampling: a company that makes “nutraceuticals for Baby Boomers”; a kiteboard company; a bedbug-extermination company; and Dolby, for its surround-sound VOIP program, which the company shut down late last year.) And Axon pales in comparison with Taser, which has a vivid name story: The word was coined in 1974 by the device’s inventor, Jack Cover, who created an acronym from the title of one of his favorite childhood books, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, originally published in 1911. Cover bestowed a middle initial on Tom, and a name was born. It couldn’t have hurt that “Taser” echoed two slightly older science-y names: maser and laser. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that Taser “threatens to escape the cage of its copyright [sic; should be “trademark”], despite the strenuous efforts of the owners, who are within their rights to fight to hold it.” Among other trademark no-nos, Taser has spawned a backformed verb, to tase.
Taser will live on as a product name, and I have no quarrel with Axon as the corporate name aside from its boring corporate-ness. I do, however, worry a little about the company’s tagline.