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 AT&T Inc. Report




(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report



and the like.

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

(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report




(GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report







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

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report



, 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


(MMM) - Get 3M Company Report


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

Mattress maker


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


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



Dynamic Materials


(BOOM) - Get DMC Global Inc. Report

, a reference to its "explosive metalworking" segment.

Natus Medical

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


. Auctioneer


chose the apropos

(BID) - Get Sotheby's Report


Harris & Harris Group



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




in honor of Ludwig van Beethoven.

A few others of note: the specialty of

Advanced Medical Optics

is summed up with

(EYE) - Get National Vision Holdings, Inc. Report

; online game company


scored with


; Footwear company

Steve Madden

tied up

(SHOO) - Get Steven Madden, Ltd. Report

; amusement park owner

Cedar Fair


(FUN) - Get Cedar Fair, L.P. Report


Olympic Steel

dug into mythology with

(ZEUS) - Get Olympic Steel, Inc. 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 Transcontinental Realty Investors, Inc. 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


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'


(LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Co. 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.



(CAR) - Get Avis Budget Group, Inc. Report


the Guggenheim Shipping ETF

sails with

(SEA) - Get Invesco Shipping ETF Report


Motorcycle maker


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

(HOG) - Get Harley-Davidson, Inc. (HOG) 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.


Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF

chose the appropriate symbol

TheStreet Recommends

(MOO) - Get VanEck Vectors Agribusiness ETF Report

, while the competing

iPath Dow Jones-AIG Livestock Total Return ETF

uses the more direct

(COW) - Get iPath Series B Bloomberg Livestock Subindex Total Return ETN Report



Asia Tigers Fund

plays off its name with



VCA Antech

, which owns and operates veterinary hospitals, goes with

(WOOF) - Get Petco Health & Wellness Co. Report


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 Brinker International, Inc. Report

. Another national chain,


, goes by

( CHUX).

Origin Agritech

planted itself with

(SEED) - Get Origin Agritech Ltd. Report

and the

Teucrium Corn Fund

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

(CORN) - Get Teucrium Corn Fund Report

. The

PowerShares Dynamic Food & Beverage ETF

hearkens you back to your school lunchbox with its ticker,

(PBJ) - Get Invesco Dynamic Food & Beverage ETF Report


Cheesecake Factory

went with the obvious choice of

(CAKE) - Get Cheesecake Factory Incorporated 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 Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM) Report


Molson Coors Brewing

is on

(TAP) - Get Molson Coors Brewing Company Class B (TAP) Report

, while

National Beverage

has nonalcoholic Faygo and other sodas shaking up

(FIZZ) - Get National Beverage Corp. Report



Dow Jones-UBS Coffee Subindex Total Return ETF

trades as

(JO) - Get iPath Series B Bloomberg Coffee Subindex Total Return ETN 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 PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active ETF 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 SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF Report


WisdomTree International Hedged Equity Fund

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

(HEDJ) - Get WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity Fund Report


U.S. Global Investors

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

(GROW) - Get U.S. Global Investors, Inc. Class A Report

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

Putting some energy into it


iPath Dow Jones-UBS Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN

is a mouthful, but its intentionally misspelled ticker,

(GAZ) - Get iPath Series B Bloomberg Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN 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 iPath Series B S&P GSCI Crude Oil ETN Report


iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return


(WOOD) - Get iShares Global Timber & Forestry ETF Report

for the

iShares S&P Global Timber & Forestry Index Fund


(KOL) - Get VanEck Vectors Coal ETF Report

for the

Market Vectors Coal ETF


Green-energy advocates can similarly check into

(GRID) - Get First Trust Nasdaq Clean Edge Smart GRID Infrastructure Index Report

for the

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Smart Grid Infrastructure Index Fund


(TAN) - Get Invesco Solar ETF Report

as in exposure to the sun and the

Claymore MAC Global Solar Energy Index ETF


(FAN) - Get First Trust Global Wind Energy ETF Report

for the

First Trust ISE Global Wind Energy Index


-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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Joe Mont


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