BOSTON (MainStreet) -- What's in a name? When companies pick a stock ticker, a lot may be riding on that symbol.

The prime real estate of stock tickers belongs to the one-letter IDs of top companies --

(T) - Get Report

for

AT&T

,

(C) - Get Report

for

Citigroup

and the like.

Then there are companies whose tickers either help pronounce the company name or trigger instant recognition --

(MSFT) - Get Report

for

Microsoft

,

(GOOG) - Get Report

for

Google

and

(YHOO)

for

Yahoo

. Others come close, but for whatever reason don't go with the obvious. Hence

(AAPL) - Get Report

for

Apple

, instead of APPL or APPLE.

Sometimes a company will even change its formal name to better match the trading ticker. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. was quite a mouthful, until, taking a cue from its MMM exchange name, it renamed itself as the much catchier

3M

(MMM) - Get Report

.

Then there are the corporate punsters and clever fund managers who have some fun with the name game.

Mattress maker

Sealy

chose that old comic strip trope for a snoring character when it picked

(ZZ)

for its trading symbol.

Magma Design Automation

played off its name with

( LAVA).

Internet America

, an ISP, broke out the pocket protectors when deciding to brand itself with

(GEEK)

.

Dynamic Materials

went

(BOOM) - Get Report

, a reference to its "explosive metalworking" segment.

Natus Medical

, which specializes in pediatric and newborn healthcare products, went with

(BABY)

. Auctioneer

Sotheby's

chose the apropos

(BID) - Get Report

.

Harris & Harris Group

is

(TINY)

, a name meant to remind you that that the venture capital firm specializes in nanotechnology. Piano maker

Steinway

chose

(LVB)

in honor of Ludwig van Beethoven.

A few others of note: the specialty of

Advanced Medical Optics

is summed up with

(EYE) - Get Report

; online game company

Shanta

scored with

(GAME)

; Footwear company

Steve Madden

tied up

(SHOO) - Get Report

; amusement park owner

Cedar Fair

has

(FUN) - Get Report

and

Olympic Steel

dug into mythology with

(ZEUS) - Get Report

.

The alphabet soup of company ticker may be even more important than the companies may realize.

Research by Gary Smith, Alex Head and Julia Wilson of California's Pomona College found that clever tickers can actually help boost the value of a stock. The easier a ticker is to remember, the more likely a company will be a go-to play for some.

The professors write that "eye-catching" ticker symbols "might be a useful signal of the company's creativity, a memorable marker that appeals to investors," even if there is a risk investors could alternately think that a "company feels it most resort to gimmicks to attract investors." Among the possibilities are that "investors recall a memorable ticker symbol when they decide which stocks to buy," the authors suggest.

In their research, the authors of

Would a Stock by Any Other Ticker Smell as Sweet

studied the performance of stocks with clever ticker symbols from 1984-2004. That portfolio of stocks, they found, would have "beaten the market by a substantial and statistically significant margin," nearly doubling the annual compounded return of a broader array of NYSE and NASDAQ stocks. Overall, 51 of the 82 "clever-ticker" stocks beat the NASDAQ/NYSE index.

"Over the past 20 years, a substantial number of companies have chosen clever ticker symbols for their stocks," the researchers wrote. "On average, these stocks have outperformed the market by a substantial and statistically significant margin. We do not know why these stocks have done well. Perhaps a clever ticker symbol has been a useful barometer of the managers' ability -- ability that revealed itself over time as the company repeatedly exceeded investors' expectations. Or, perhaps, a clever ticker matters because it is memorable and has a subtle, but persistent, influence on investors who buy the stock and on those who are considering a merger or acquisition ... If the latter is correct, then perhaps companies can use a memorable ticker symbol to attract attention."

At times ticker symbols, clever or not, can stir up controversy.

Transcontinental Realty

, which uses the ticker symbol

(TCI) - Get Report

, was apparently confused for Tele-Communications Inc. during an ultimately failed merger with BellAtlantic in 1994. Shares of the Realtor spiked -- for a while.

More recently, lawsuits have sought to protect a company's good name (literally).

In August of last year, Select Sector SPDR Trust

sued

Invesco PowerShares Capital Management for trademark infringement over a series of ETFs they claim were intentionally given similar names (an XL prefix and, in some cases, an added "S" at the end of ticker were the only differences). Courts didn't get the chance to decide whether ticker symbols can be protected or treated as trademarks; the two companies reached an agreement. As part of a deal, the contested PowerShares SmallCap Sector ETFs changed their symbols.

Some sectors and business categories tend to attract creative ticker names, while others are more thematic. We took a look at five such groupings.

LUV is in the air

Among the more colorful tickers is

Southwest Airlines'

symbol,

(LUV) - Get Report

. Though an obvious use of the word "love," the connection to the budget airline isn't all that obvious.

The origin involves a bit of trivia: The company is based in Dallas, Texas, at Love Field. As the researchers from Pomona University found, the company also used the ticker to reflect its random, open seating policy and the claim that it has led to romances among passengers whom fate seated together. Early on, in-flight snacks and drinks were called "love bites" and "love potions."

In a 2004 story, Reuters reporter Jon Herskovitz wrote of how the airline "has received thousands of letters and scores of wedding invitations addressed to top executives from couples who met on one of its flights." An airline spokesman was quoted as saying: "At times we feel that we are the love brokers of the sky."

Other transportation-related companies went with more obvious choices.

Avis

uses

(CAR) - Get Report

and

the Guggenheim Shipping ETF

sails with

(SEA) - Get Report

.

Motorcycle maker

Harley-Davidson's

old ticker, HDI, didn't quite capture the company aesthetic. So in 1996 it started trading by the symbol

(HOG) - Get Report

, the nickname for the style of bikes it specializes in as well as a homage to the

Harley Owners Group

.

Animal spirits

Onomatopoeia reigns when companies take their cue from the animal kingdom.

The

Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF

chose the appropriate symbol

(MOO) - Get Report

, while the competing

iPath Dow Jones-AIG Livestock Total Return ETF

uses the more direct

(COW) - Get Report

.

Blackstone's

Asia Tigers Fund

plays off its name with

(GRR)

.

VCA Antech

, which owns and operates veterinary hospitals, goes with

(WOOF)

.

Alphabet soup

Food inspires a healthy serving of unique stock tickers.

Brinker International

, owner of the Chili's and Maggiano's restaurant chains, has

(EAT) - Get Report

. Another national chain,

O'Charley's

, goes by

( CHUX).

Origin Agritech

planted itself with

(SEED) - Get Report

and the

Teucrium Corn Fund

sums up its commodity specialization with the easy-to-remember

(CORN) - Get Report

. The

PowerShares Dynamic Food & Beverage ETF

hearkens you back to your school lunchbox with its ticker,

(PBJ) - Get Report

.

Cheesecake Factory

went with the obvious choice of

(CAKE) - Get Report

, while the parent company of KFC broadened its horizons beyond chicken and showcases its other fast food brands as

YUM Brands

and the ticker

(YUM) - Get Report

.

Molson Coors Brewing

is on

(TAP) - Get Report

, while

National Beverage

has nonalcoholic Faygo and other sodas shaking up

(FIZZ) - Get Report

.

The

Dow Jones-UBS Coffee Subindex Total Return ETF

trades as

(JO) - Get Report

(as in "a cup of ...") and focuses on futures contracts for the mighty coffee bean. Don't be confused though,

( JAVA) has nothing to do with caffeine; it is the name of the programming language and platform developed by

Sun Microsystems

.

Fund-loving people

Fund managers may be serious, all-business sorts, but there is still opportunity for some creativity when naming their offerings.

In March, Pimco's

Enhanced Short Maturity Fund

became the very first actively managed ETF to exceed $1 billion in assets under management. The ticker,

(MINT) - Get Report

, might make you think of printing money, which was the intent for the near-cash, capital preservation strategy of its investments in money markets, longer maturity bonds and investment-grade fixed income securities.

SPDR Barclays Capital 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF

went with the simple

(BIL) - Get Report

while

WisdomTree International Hedged Equity Fund

, a "fund of funds," sounds out its strategy as

(HEDJ) - Get Report

.

U.S. Global Investors

, an investment management firm that includes emerging markets among its focus areas, has the ticker

(GROW) - Get Report

, exactly what one might hope those foreign investments will do for the mutual funds it manages.

Putting some energy into it

The

iPath Dow Jones-UBS Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN

is a mouthful, but its intentionally misspelled ticker,

(GAZ) - Get Report

, tells you all you need to know.

Depending on what commodity or energy specialty you want a fund to track, the tickers can guide you right to them. There is

(OIL) - Get Report

for

iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return

,

(WOOD) - Get Report

for the

iShares S&P Global Timber & Forestry Index Fund

and

(KOL) - Get Report

for the

Market Vectors Coal ETF

.

Green-energy advocates can similarly check into

(GRID) - Get Report

for the

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Smart Grid Infrastructure Index Fund

,

(TAN) - Get Report

as in exposure to the sun and the

Claymore MAC Global Solar Energy Index ETF

and

(FAN) - Get Report

for the

First Trust ISE Global Wind Energy Index

.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Joe Mont

.

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http://twitter.com/josephmont

.

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.

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