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'Sober' Rum, Googling and Amazon Diversity

NEW YORK (TheStreet ) -- Many of today's popular liquor brands got their names from their founders or owners: Bacardi, after Catalan Spanish-Cuban businessman Facundo Bacardi; Campari from the drink's Italian inventor, Gaspare Campari; and Hennessy, after the Irish cognac distillery founder, Richard Hennessy.

Not so with Mount Gay Rum. The world's oldest rum brand -- and Barbados' most successful export -- got its name not from its owner, but from its owner's trusted friend, Sir John Gay Alleyne.

Who was the owner? A man with the unlikely surname of Sober -- John Sober.

In the mid-1700s, Sober inherited the Mount Gilboa plantation and rum distillery from his father. He hired Sir John Gay Alleyne to run the business. Sober was so pleased with him that he decided to incorporate "Gay," Alleyne's middle name, into the brand.

The irony of a "Sober" man owning a rum brand is a recurring punch line at the Mount Gay Rum factory tour in Bridgetown, Barbados, which begins with the guide explaining the company's history. "Mount 'Sober' Rum just wouldn't sound right," a tourist from London said between chuckles. "Drink moderately. Stay sober with Sober Rum," joked another visitor from New York.

No one can really say for sure whether Sober's name bothered him enough to avoid using it for his brand. Would it have made a difference if he had used his name instead? Maybe. If you want to believe that "nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive," as Thomas C. Haliburton, a famous Canadian writer, once said.

"Often, it is not just the literal meaning of a word that makes a brand name compelling but the values that are invested in and around the brand," says Simon Mainwaring, founder and CEO of branding firm WeFirst. "But even if this were done here, I think Sober would have been an odd choice for rum."

"Mount Gay" doesn't seem like the best choice either. Some executives at its parent company, Remy Cointreau, recognize that in this day and age, people might consider it a strange and old-sounding name. However, they have no plans of renaming the rum.

"This is what the brand has always been known for," says Daniel Cabaleiro, global managing director for Mount Gay Rum. "It's intertwined with Barbados and the history of the country, and we are very proud of it." Rum, after all, was discovered in Barbados in the 17th century when the sugar industry was just flourishing.

"But I can assure you," Cabaleiro adds, "if the product were discovered today, it would not have that name."

What's In a Brand Name?

With more competition and more avenues to promote one's brand, Mainwaring says companies launching new products today should spend a lot of time thinking of their brand names. "Companies are often in an understandable hurry to get to market and don't interrogate the naming process sufficiently," he says.

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