Last Updated May 24, 2010 5:52 AM EDT
Would EasyJet be as popular under a different name? We may find out soon. The discount airline is in dispute with founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou on a range of issues, but one -- possibly the root of all other contentions -- concerns his licence for the company to use the Easy name.
The clash comes to court shortly, but if it cannot be solved by negotiation or litigation, the airline is considering rebranding the company and its service.
The dispute shows the danger of a third party having rights to a name, whether by association or legally. Granada had to decide after fighting the Forte family to buy their hotel chain whether to continue trading under its name -- and the family found when it wanted to re-enter the sector their name was attached to a rival brand. Sir Rocco Forte eventually bought back his own name.
Smiths News, the quoted publishing wholesaler, still has a licence with WH Smith to use the Smith name. But Virgin's record shops were rebranded as Zavvi and its radio stations became Absolute Radio when they were sold: Sir Richard Branson did not risk the remaining Virgin businesses being compromised by firms he no longer controlled.
But changing names is costly. It can destroy decades of goodwill with a direct effect on sales while publicising a new name can be extremely expensive. Mars paid dearly to turn Marathon bars into Snickers.
Those without big budgets risk obscurity: who knows that the well-known Corgi qualification for gas fitters if now called Gas Safe Registration?
Corporate names and product brands are different, though -- fewer people need to know the Plc title and they can be targeted. International Airlines Group may not trip off the tongue but the British Airways and Iberia brands it encompasses will continue. Diageo and Corus fought to become recognised.
Sometimes directors deliberately ditch a tainted parent company name to make a fresh start under a new identity with no history. Hence Marconi became Telent.
Sometimes a spin-off wants to differentiate itself from its old partner, as when Racal Telecom became Vodafone. Cable & Wireless recently demerged into two companies using that name: how long before one changes?
One way to change name while retaining a link with the past is not to change it too much - so Esso became Exxon and British Gas and British Petroleum turned into BG and BP.
But EasyJet could be in breach of Stelios's rights to the 'Easy' name if it adopts anything recognisable. That could rule out adopting its EZ flight code initials or even using the distinctive orange colouring.
Yet rebranding would be easier for the airline than for many other companies because it starts with such a high profile.
A brand so frequently checked by consumers and talked about can be changed more readily than one that customers rarely encounter.
So check the availability of LutonAir, CheapTravel or whatever name aptly describes EasyJet's future marketing face.