Lately I've been looking covetously at netbooks—the lightweight mini-laptops designed for email and web browsing and not much else. You can get one for as little as $300 or so, which on good days, when the DJIA drops only a percentage point or two, seems like a bargain.
The first netbook I ever saw, about eight months ago, was an Asus Eee. I liked the machine but was perplexed by the name, which I couldn't figure out how to pronounce (AY-suss? az-OOSE?). Not only that: "Asus" struck me as slightly smutty, like a blend of "ass" and "anus." And "Eee"? A bra size, maybe. Or a squeal of fear.
Here's the official story: Asus (officially AsusTek; it sometimes appears as ASUS) takes its name from Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. The name was truncated to improve its position in alphabetical lists. Mental Floss concludes: "It was an unusual strategy, but it apparently worked."
That depends on how you define "unusual" and "worked." Truncated names aren't as common as, say, blends, but they exist. (Pict and Dex, truncations of Picture and Index, respectively, are two relatively new Web 2.0 companies; you could also argue that Mac, for Macintosh, is a successful truncation.) As for the name's effectiveness, Asus's ambiguous pronunciation works against its success, not for it; besides, alphabetical positioning is largely irrelevant in a non-Yellow Pages universe.
I discovered some discussion forums devoted to the pronunciation of Asus and to its spelling and meaning. Apparently some people think it's an acronym or a blend of "Asia" and "U.S." The back-and-forth is amusing, but I'll cut to the chase: the approved pronunciation is ah-SOOSE. (UPDATE: In December 2010 the company changed the approved pronunciation to eh-SUS.)
And the Eee? The company says it stands for Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play. And it's pronounced "eee," not "e, e, e."
That's their story. Here's my hypothesis.
Asus was founded in Taiwan in 1989—13 years after the birth of another Taiwanese computer company, Acer. Acer, which is about seven times bigger than Asus, uses the "e" in its logo as its brand symbol. Acer is aggressively marketing its own netbook, the Aspire, at prices lower than the Asus Eee.
By the way, I couldn't determine what Acer is supposed to mean. Acer is the Latin word for the genus of maple trees; it also means "one who aces something"—does it well. On the other hand, "Acer" could just sound good in Mandarin. Possibly "ah-SOOSE" does, too. I've been told by well-placed sources that that's the reasoning behind the English names of many China-based multinational companies. According to this Wikipedia entry, the first word of the company's Chinese name transliterates as Huáshuo, which may sound close enough to ah-SOOSE for the home-country market.
Acer, Asus. Eee, "e." Coincidence or cunning strategy? You tell me. I do know that the Asus Eee owners I've talked to are happy with their choice. At least until they have to utter its name.²
UPDATE, December 2010: Asus has changed the pronunciation of its name to EH-soos. Listen to the video and ignore the written phonetics on the board, which suggest a stress on the second syllable.
² Personally, I'm not crazy about that wordmark, either.