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Yes, Acme is an actual company name used by many real companies - bricks, bikes, food, real estate, etc.

But more relevant to this point, it has also been used for ages for fictional purposes - not just as a company making all kinds of dangerous stuff in Road Runner cartoons, but also as a fictional company in training materials, documentation, marketing, etc. And for that purpose, it's also quite long in the tooth. Even to me (not a boomer but definitely not "young"), it seems quaint if not archaic.

We need a fictional company name for marketing to college students in STEM fields. I'm wondering if there's a newer, kinda pop-culture fictional company name that serves a similar purpose as "Acme" used to? I'm not aware of any but I'm not remotely in that demographic.

I thought of "Skynet" but even that reference is 30 years old.

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  • Hi Jim, welcome to Writing Stack Exchange! +1 for a great first question. :) I too have wondered the same. – Nai45 Mar 11 at 1:21
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    Just to pick nits, Skynet is the name of the self-aware military AI created by Cyberdyne Corporation in the Terminator series, not the name of the company itself. It would be a great generic name for a tech product or service, especially if you want to connote that it is bound to have unintended disastrous consequences. Your students will probably still recognize it. – Seth R Mar 11 at 22:29
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    There actually is (or maybe was; their website apparently was last updated in 2014) a company named Amalgamated Consolidated, Inc.. – Pete Becker Mar 12 at 13:38
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    @SethR “Skynet” is the brand of some courier companies. Disturbingly, it’s also the name of a British military satellite network made and run by Airbus. (Of all the things to call “Skynet”…) – Richard Cosgrove Mar 12 at 14:02
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    @RichardCosgrove Skynet also used to be an ISP in Belgium (now taken over by Proximus). skynet.be email addresses still exist. – Tonny Mar 12 at 16:39

13 Answers 13

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Sure!

There's always one. This site is a great list, but here are a few:

  • Umbrella Corporation (Resident Evil)
  • Innovative Online Industries (Ready Player One)
  • Wayne Industries (DC)
  • Oscorp, Stark Industries (Marvel)
  • Union Aerospace Corporation [UAC] (Doom)
  • Spaceley's Sprockets/Cogswell's Cogs (The Jetsons)
  • Cyberdyne Systems Corporation (The Terminator)
  • Zorin Industries (James Bond)
  • Momcorp (Futurama)
  • Omni Consumer products [OCP] (RoboCop)

And these are just for starters. Pick your niche group. I've actually heard people use Umbrella Corporation this way, so that specifically meets your requirements (and is why I put it first).

PS: My initial reading of your question was that it was for a class, which would be unlikely to get you sued for using any of these names. If you are actually doing marketing, Laurel very aptly pointed out that they are likely coming with copyright and/or trademark issues that may make using them expensive or impossible. If so, you may want to go with more generic names that have a general connotation but no specific usage (like "Global Consolidated Conglomerates Incorporated")

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    Seems debatable whether you can freely use these. Being from an existing IP means they may be trademarks. writing.stackexchange.com/a/52405/34330 – Laurel Mar 11 at 5:35
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    Some of those might be a bit obscure for non-nerds, or just people not familiar with the particular franchise. Also, I thought Universal Exports was the canonical Bond one. It also seems to have the advantage that (appropriately for a front company), it's general enough to fit almost any context... – ilkkachu Mar 11 at 19:51
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    I'd also throw in Aperture Science and Black Mesa (both from Portal) – Polygnome Mar 11 at 21:47
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    These are fun, but seem to miss the point. ACME is generic. It sounds like a real company and everyone knew RoadRunner. You can use ACME in an example w/o snickering. Using Wayne Industries or OCP seems like an attempt to be funny or cool. – Owen Reynolds Mar 12 at 2:14
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    @Owen Reynolds Sounds like you have a vision. I like where you are going. I'll check back to see your answer! – DWKraus Mar 12 at 2:17
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The reason for Acme's use is two fold: First the name has a meaning of "peak or pinnacle of achievement" which is good for any standard, but also happens to be perfect for the obsolete search algorithm of "phone books." Back in the day before the internet was accessible to the general public on their phones, the phone book (specifically the Yellow Pages, so named because, well, the pages were yellow) were arranged alphabetically by service provided, then alphabetically again by business plumber. Acme was a popular name for a company because not only did it have a meaning of superiority, but given the AC letter combination, it was almost always going to be the first company listed in a phone book. Didn't matter if you were Acme Plumbing, Acme Grocery, or Acme Road Runner Hunting Equipment. You would likely be the first company that people saw when they flipped open the book to look for whatever you were offering.

Acme isn't the only name used for this nor does it have to be an AC letter combination. Disney shorts had their own "order anything" company in the form of Ajax, which had similar meaning and similar front page of the phonebook. It did differ in that it was never presented as a single company like Looney Tune's Acme morphed into being, as Mickey's various start ups of the short would often be named Ajax as well. If you want this "front of the phone book style" the "Ace [insert industry jargon here] Company/Corp/Inc" would fit the bill and have the double benefit of not being the silly Acme Company as people know it today. Generally, the meaning of the word was less important than the name and some real life companies were named for Phone Book search optimization. I had a family friend that ran the very successful "Apple Plumbing" and of course my phone comes from "Apple Computers" and what does Apple have to do with clogged sinks and computers? Nothing but being on the first page of the phonebook for those services.

A "modern" gag take would be a company named soley to comply with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that when you google it's industry, it pops up as on the first page (more so than the phone book, it's common knowledge that if you're not in the top five results for a google search, you're not gonna be seen at all.).

The Looney Tunes cartoon Acme Corp was actually mocking both this trend and the "Sears Magazine" which was THE shopping for specialized products product for almost 100 years of American Industry. You could buy a prefabbed house from Sears Magazine (some assembly required, batteries not included) and cars! While the higher end stuff did cease in the 1890s following an economic recession, the Sears Magazine still went with and the company opened physical department stores across the nation with a selction of their at times 523 page magazine's popular offerings. The cartoon ACME (which the animators gave said was an acronym for American Corperation Makes Everything... because half the memorable gag of Acme products was "Acme" was not the most apt adjective for their shoddy work) was spoofing the sheer variety of Sears and similar products. Today, the closest thing we have to SEARs Magazine would be Amazon, however, they don't have much in the way of the Amazon logo slapped on all of their available products.

A modern trend to the ACME [product] would be the Apple computer naming conventions of a lowercase "i" prefixed to the product (iPhone, iPad, iMac) so perhaps the Modern Coyote has an app on his aPhone brand phone to swipe right on road runners he wishes to eat?

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    As an addition, the triple-A "AAA", and, less common, "Aardvark" were both apparently used for the same purpose. – Michael Richardson Mar 11 at 22:37
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    Fun true story - my uncle started a flood restoration company prefixed with 'AAA' so that he'd be listed first in the phonebook, only to have a competitor change their prefix to 'AAAA' a month later. Rather than escalate one letter at a time for another name registration, he jumped straight to "AAAAAAAAAAAARGH My Carpet Is Wet!" – brichins Mar 12 at 0:21
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    @brichins: My grandfather worked for an ACME Grocery store. When my father told me this as a kid, I thought it was the real company that inspired the one Coyote shopped from. – hszmv Mar 12 at 1:10
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    Re the SEO thing: A popular real-world trick is [product name].com. Of course, that only works if you can buy the domain name, but lots of companies did exactly that. – Kevin Mar 12 at 4:48
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    I always thought it was "Sears Catalog", not "Sears Magazine". – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Mar 12 at 16:15
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James Bond is a big fan of Universal Exports.

First used in Fleming’s novels, Universal Exports operates as the cover for MI6. M is referred to as the “managing director” and Bond is a field agent. Although Fleming changed Universal Exports to “Transworld Consortium” in his novel The Man With The Golden Gun, this change was never reflected on in the films.

It's a very non-descriptive name of a company that probably does something international with goods (exporting). They could be doing anything! They actually had their name printed on buildings and vehicles (including the well-known helicopter from For Your Eyes Only (with Blofeld going down the chimney)):

Helicopter Universal Exports (1/2) Helicopter Universal Exports (2/2)

(YouTube)

While the origin of the name is quite old of-course, it's in the original novels by Fleming, some of the movies were released quite recently.

This shot is from Quantum of Solace (2008):

Business card from Universal Exports

Considering how non-descriptive the name is and that the referenced site is actually a fansite, I doubt you'd get into any copyright trouble for using it either. It has the added benefit of being recognized in a wide range of demographics.

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My own preference is TLC -- which stands for Three Letter Corporation (not to be confused with TLA, Three Letter Agency, which is a super-secret government operation).

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    To me, TLA will always be "Three Letter Acronym", thus describing itself. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 11 at 21:24
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    some would confuse it with TLC (US girl group, 1990-) – smci Mar 12 at 6:40
  • Do you treat such corporations with Tender Loving Care? – Barmar Mar 12 at 14:37
  • The DOD, FBI, DEA, DOE, and DHS are TLAs which are definitely not super-secret. – RonJohn Mar 13 at 13:18
  • @DarrelHoffman that's the beauty of TLA. – RonJohn Mar 13 at 13:18
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One take I've seen on this is to use a well known company and then make a pun and go from there.

For instance, in William Hertling's sci-fi series about a Google-like company who inadvertently creates an AI from a simple e-mail autocomplete system, he started with Google's name. Google, from Googol in math, meaning a really big number (10100).

So in his series, the company is called Avogadro Inc, named after Avogadro's number, the number of protons and neutrons in one gram of ordinary matter. There is a lot of potential for other math related company names as a stand in for Google.

FaceBook, Apple, Amazon and Google are commonly referred to as FANG. So you could make a play on FANG Inc which would be a clever wink to those in the know, and would clue them in to what you're going for

Also, in the world of software, there are a couple commonly used company names which might help.

  • Contoso Corp
  • NorthWind Traders
  • Fabrikam
  • ProseWare
  • AdventureWorks

These are all very commonly used in Microsoft docs and training materials.

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    Here's the official list from Microsoft's website. I don't know how free these are to use outside Microsoft, but I thought I'd include the list since a few were mentioned in the answer: social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/… – A N Mar 12 at 17:09
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    Typo: "Avogardro's number" => "Avogadro's number" – Mast Mar 13 at 10:22
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Since the word acme means the best, but is kind of dated. You can get the same effect as Acme Co. With a more modern, word for the best. Like Pinnacle Corp. Or Peak Technologies. Or Zenith (a real company that made televisions that is out of business.)

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A lot of the existing answers suggest names I've never heard of before, and I think you'll have that issue with any audience. There will be a subset that gets it, but a decent amount who aren't "in" on the reference.

What I suggest is to use a name that's not a pop culture reference, but rather that the generic-ness is implied in the name itself. Milwrdfan has a good idea with "Widget Manufacturing." To add, you could go with any combination of:

  • Stuff and Things, Inc.
  • Miscellaneous Manufacturing
  • NotACompany Co.
  • WhatchaMaCallIt Assembly
  • Random Engineering Foundation
  • FooBar, LLC (if your audience is in software development)
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4

The current trend in fiction is to depict parodies of specific existing companies and products (with parodies of Walmart being the Walmart of such parodies, I suppose). This is done by changing a letter or series of letters in the name (thus sidestepping a lot of potential trademark issues):

  • McDonald's becomes WcDonald's
  • Instagram becomes Outstagram
  • Google becomes Boogle

For inspiration, a few hundred examples of this can be found on TV Tropes' Bland Name Product and many more (specific to anime) can be found on the Fictional Companies Wiki.

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  • McDowell's – Mast Mar 13 at 11:00
  • Crocrosoft, Windiis XXXP and Crocrosoft Mord in Happy Lesson. – Wow. – forest Mar 14 at 10:02
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    WcDonald's actually happened in the real world - McDonald's flipped their arches for one day as a publicity stunt on International Women's Day in 2018. (It was not well-received, but still less embarrassing than what Burger King did this year...) – Darrel Hoffman Mar 15 at 14:12
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It's quite possible that there are other "generic" names out there that would apply to any industry. But for airlines, the go-to is Oceanic

There are occasionally cases where companies take names from pop-culture references (like Brawndo), but Oceanic is fairly safe as if it were a real airline, it would have to overcome their horrific safety record set by so many movies & tv shows.

Another brand name that is widely used is Morley cigarettes.

4

You can make your own.

Just take a word related to what the fictional company does and attach "-dyne" to the end. You automatically have a company name that sounds modern and on the bleeding edge of their industry. We see this is existing fiction already with names like Cyberdyne and Yoyodyne. You don't even need to ask what they do, the name tells you they are the leaders in their field.

Have a high-tech pizza company? "Pizzadyne". Automobile manufacturing? "Autodyne". Use a company name like "Aardvarkdyne", now they sound like they could use the help of some imaginative students in class. You can have fun with it.

Alternatively, you can also take a name and add "-corp" to the end. It sounds like a big corporation. Existing fiction gives use names like MomCorp from Futurama, the giant corporation run by Mom, or Oscorp from Spirderman, the business venture run by Norman Osborn. Why not give your students your own company? Let them work with "JimCorp". Again, you can have fun with this.

The names sound fictional, but at the same time you know exactly what they are.

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I've thought that calling a company "Widget Manufacturing" would be a very generic name.

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  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Please exaggerate on your answer and provide more detail.. - From Review – Nai45 Mar 11 at 23:07
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    'expand' or 'enlarge'. Not 'exaggerate' :) @Nai45 – smci Mar 12 at 6:44
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    @Nai45 Saying that this is a great answer would exxagerate it. – Barmar Mar 12 at 14:38
  • @smci Oops, I meant 'extend'. I must have misspelled 'extend' and autocorrect changed it to 'exaggerate'. – Nai45 Mar 12 at 15:19
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    @Nai45: no worries, happens to me multiple times a day... and that ain't no exaggeration... – smci Mar 12 at 16:42
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If you want to stick to a generic name that can still be a modern reference I would suggest E Corp. It appears in the American cybersecurity drama Mr Robot in which it is often referred to as "Evil Corp".

It fits the bill for generic name and the "E" itself could stand for a number of things, including but not limited to:

  • Electronic Corporation
  • Entertainment Corporation
  • Engineering Corporation

By keeping the "E" unknown, it means the name can play whatever role you want it to.

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Seinfeld is still current in our cultural consciousness, so: Vandelay Industries, Kramerica, Kruger industrial Smoothing, Van Nostrand

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  • Hello Robert Barnes and welcome to Writing Stack Exchange. In order to improve your answer, I would recommend extending it with more detail behind your thinking. – Nai45 Mar 14 at 16:29

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