> 24 JUNE 2009 | 14:08 GMT

The Bug, the Worm and the Death Star

by editor Jerry Kuyper

I was shocked the first time I heard someone say, “Put the bug in the corner.”  The bug!

As professionals, we prefer logo, logotype, mark, symbol, wordmark, icon, visual identity or signature. With this many choices it is no wonder others have settled on the irreverent bug. Incidentally, a long-time friend in Mumbai told me of some of the general names for logo in India include pintu (pint sized), chintu (tiny), dabboo (fat) and kaka (small one). (But depending on the specific region, language and even community in India, kaka also can mean poo-poo, as elsewhere. I guess context is everything, when calling a logo kaka in India.) 

But whether we designed it, manage it, or just live with it, having a name for the logo appears to fulfill some human need. Some companies provide a formal name, such as The Monogram (GE).  Here are a few logos and their officially sanctioned names:

GE - The Monogram; Bank of America - The Flagscape; BP - The Helios
More often, there are names that percolate up from either within or outside the company. These nicknames tend to be more colorful and memorable, but often are edgy, even derogatory. Individuals develop strong allegiances to these names as well. My discussion of this posting with friends stirred up a spirited debate about who, in corporate America, owns the moniker Meatball.

Many nicknames are purely descriptive, such as two and a half hotdogs on a plate (Warner Communications) or the hockey sticks (Rockwell). Others take on a more associative approach. I winced the first time I saw the nickname Death Star printed, of all places, in a Bloom County comic strip:

AT&T - The Death Star! - as nicknamed in an old Bloom County comic strip
The serious question, for designers and brand managers:  Is it better to conjure up an official name, as a preemptive strike, or to leave the naming door open to others?

As a designer I have struggled with the very idea of naming logos. Leaving the logo untitled (the work speaks for itself) is tempting; but I find the same approach to be annoying on real works of art. Other choices range from ploddingly descriptive such as the Oval (Pfizer) to PR-driven names that would send the BS meter off the charts - shining, polished orb of wisdom. I made that one up but you get the point.

Years ago at Lippincott, we developed a new corporate identity for Becton Dickinson. An employee wore the symbol as a costume for the company Halloween party. The term demonic clown was overheard, but fortunately dissipated quickly:

Becton Dickinson; LodgeNet
Personally, I err on the side of a preemptive name. When I consulted with LodgeNet Interactive, we learned that the term “digital pipelinewas used by their senior management to describe how they distribute their products and services. This term became an inspiration for the logo and was leveraged to become the name for their symbol:

A few of the classic nicknames:

GE, NASA, Continental - The Meatballs
NASA - The Worm; Previous SAP logo - The Anvil; AT&T - The Death Star
Motorola - The Batwings; IBM - The Venetian Blinds; Xerox - The Bocce Ball
And what are your favorite logo names?

68 Remarks:

  1. By joel portugal
    24 JUN 2009, 22:27 GMT

    Some nicknames showup more than once.  for example, the hockey stick was used in the 6o’s for the
    then newly designed Eastern Airlines logo.  as far as disparaging nicknames go how about The Toilet Seat for the then newly designed Olin logo.

  2. By Denis Riney
    24 JUN 2009, 22:30 GMT

    Bravo Jerry - my fave is from the airline industry.  After Landor updated the Aer Lingus identity about 12 years ago, I’m told their staff refers to it as the “drunken shamrock”

  3. By Gabi Toth
    24 JUN 2009, 23:55 GMT

    This post reminded me of one of my dearest clients - Electroalfa International.Back in 2005, prior to their rebranding, I first met ‘The Squid’ - their old logo. Some employees were even calling it ‘The Sphinx’, although neither of the two nicknames had anything in common with their business - automation, controls, stations and other equipments for power generation, transmission and distribution. Others never managed to solve the puzzle and find out what it was all about. I tried, and was surprised to find out that the meaning of the old symbol was swamped somewhere in the company’s history, and nobody could precisely recall it, apart of some adjectives, like: ‘dynamic’.

    The new logo had to clear all nicknames and replace with the abstract ’Waves of Blue Energy’, and it did. Can’t help wondering if somebody in the company does still remember a thing about Squids or Sphinxes; maybe I’ll run a short test on my next visit.

  4. By Paul Woods
    25 JUN 2009, 1:09 GMT

    Jerry, I also like the idea of the preemptive name for a logo or symbol. We can’t forget the ubiquitous Nike stand alone “Swoosh” symbol. However, to me it looks a little like a boomerang.

  5. By Chris Palmieri
    25 JUN 2009, 4:34 GMT

    I grew up in a town with a big AT&T -> Lucent campus, and after the change, I heard disgruntled employees called the Lucent logo “the flaming a**hole.”

  6. By felix sockwell
    25 JUN 2009, 7:20 GMT

    great stuff jerry. better to be a fly on the wall than a bug in the corner.

  7. By arnene linquito
    25 JUN 2009, 13:16 GMT

    Jerry, so gald you sent me this haha! yes Mellon Bank owned the Meatball  ! But now that we merged with Mellon, The Bank of New York Mellon (I helped launch this new brand ) owns the Meatball which has since been placed on mothballs.  My team at the company has been taking the Meatball out of the market now for the past two years !!!  We now have the “Arrow of Achievement” !  A mark that Alex at Lippincott was largely responsible for !  Funny but i also worked on the Deathstar when i was at AT&T …at that time we re-designed it *ugh* from the original !

  8. By pat Taylor
    25 JUN 2009, 15:55 GMT

    How about my fav. symbol, the CBS eye. The black eye.

  9. By Bob Wolf
    25 JUN 2009, 16:53 GMT

    Nice job Jerry. You are on the mark (no pun intended) when you endorse the preemptive approach.
    When working on the rebranding of Qwest after its merger with USWest, the decision was made to retain the Qwest mark. Initially, there was some thought given to changing the tagline ‘Ride the Light’ as it referred to the fiber optics focus of the pre-merger Qwest, but the client came back saying it was their mantra, they way they worked and the essence of their personality.So the tagline was kept. To aid in the rebranding efforts, we called the symbol the ‘Lightpath’ and built a nice story around it.

  10. By Mark
    25 JUN 2009, 17:09 GMT

    Don’t forget Enron’s “crooked E”

  11. By John Mindiola III
    25 JUN 2009, 17:28 GMT

    My fav logo nickname is The Jack, for the Cingular logo. Gosh I miss that logo. Now we have the Beach Ball. Yuk.

  12. By Thomas
    25 JUN 2009, 23:27 GMT

    but the BMW logo is called the Roundel

  13. By jcburns
    25 JUN 2009, 23:27 GMT

    The first logo (very) popularly nicknamed ‘meatball’ I ever came across was the original RCA logo:
    RCA logo
    …kinda surprised there’s more than one!

  14. By craig
    25 JUN 2009, 23:30 GMT

    I did some consulting at ABC a while back. They called their classic Paul Rand designed circular logo “Meatball” as well — at least in the Television and News parts of the company. I found the coinage to be disrepectful to the master Rand and took offense.
    “Bug” is a classic name for the union seal put on many print jobs. This I know from designing materials for many political campaigns, where using union printers was manditory (as in, “don’t forget the union bug”).

  15. By John Bowman
    25 JUN 2009, 23:37 GMT

    The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:
    Exploding pizza of CBC The exploding pizza
    The gem of CBCThe gem

  16. By Federico Fasce
    25 JUN 2009, 23:39 GMT

    Last year, italian government made a logo to promote tourism in my country. The green “t” of the work was pretty strange, and since then we call that logo “the big cucumber”

  17. By kalieris
    25 JUN 2009, 23:43 GMT

    Once worked for a company that was going through a bit of a branding and morale crisis, and unfortunately chose to make it’s logo a three-legged stool, symbolizing the 3 pillars of customer service.  Firstly, the word “stool” is hilarious all by itself, particularly in hour 2 of an especially tedious all hands.  Secondly, the logo managed to look like a naked man mooning the viewer.  Three legs, indeed.  They even gave us a stick-pin with the logo so we could wear it in public.

  18. By Jon Berry
    25 JUN 2009, 23:50 GMT

    I worked at an in-house division of abc years ago, and the logo there was also always affectionately referred to as the ‘meatball’. 

  19. By Edward Vielmetti
    26 JUN 2009, 0:07 GMT

    more lucent logo non-love here:
    which I remember being referred to as “the bloody zero”

  20. By Jerry Kuyper
    26 JUN 2009, 1:14 GMT

  21. By Thomas Edwards
    26 JUN 2009, 1:15 GMT

    I’m told that the Royal Bank of Scotland’s logo is affectionally known as the “Pig’s Bum”.

  22. By Scott Lerman
    26 JUN 2009, 1:37 GMT

    Jerry: I’m with you on preemptive naming. When we developed the new mark for National Semiconductor their engineers had great fun trying to come up with odd nicknames–proving that scientists and nature abhor a vacuum! But the moment Gil Amelio (CEO) stepped onstage and introduced their new “Worldmark” all other alternatives faded away.

  23. By Scott Lerman
    26 JUN 2009, 1:43 GMT

    Arnene, I didn’t know that the Mellon symbol was dubbed the “meatball”. Officially, Don Ervin called it the “monogram”–although he told me that the three strokes symbolized the three rivers in the bank’s hometown of Pittsburgh. After the fact others told him it looked like an “M” monogram. I think Mellon was the first program I worked on at Siegel & Gale…

  24. By James John Malcolm
    26 JUN 2009, 4:47 GMT

    @Gabi Toth
    I like how you’ve changed the ’squid’ to the ‘blades of death’,
    it exudes efficiency! ;)

  25. By Brachinus
    26 JUN 2009, 5:24 GMT

    Mazda aficionados refer to the company’s mid-’90s logo as the “toilet seat.”

  26. By Stuart Duxbury
    26 JUN 2009, 10:36 GMT

    My initial reaction was, just call it the LOGO why does everything have to be nicknamed, abbreviated (EBU = extractable brand unit) and generally messed around with?! Then, calm descends, nicknaming your logo could be seen as a nice reminder that brands are not just marks on a page, giving them nicknames is personable, though I’m not sure if i’d be the proud CEO of the ‘anvil’.

  27. By Michele Champagne
    26 JUN 2009, 15:00 GMT

    The naming door will always be open to others. Most, if not almost all design resides in the public domain, whether we like it or not. No amount of design preemption or control can change that. Although I do think preemption is fun (personally).
    I worked on the AT&T account during their recent re-brand. And never felt disdain towards the “The Death Star” nickname. It may appear “negative” to some, but to people from my generation (20s and 30s) it can be a compliment, an insult, you name it. Irony is part of us, our culture. The Death Star is something awesome, admired, feared, big, dangerous, great, impressive, aggressive (in Star Wars). And all of this is true (for AT&T) and that’s okay. No hard feelings.

  28. By edgar rhode
    26 JUN 2009, 15:37 GMT

    the chevrolet logo is affectionately called “the bowtie”.

  29. By ka1iban
    26 JUN 2009, 16:22 GMT

    I worked at Target Corporate a while back and my girlfriend and I used to call their ubiquitous logo “The Lidless Eye”.  When you walked past the giant wall-mounted one in the lobby, it was hard not to imagine the Dark Lord keeping an eye on you.

  30. By Evelyn Hafferty
    26 JUN 2009, 17:23 GMT

    I can’t remember if it was AstraZeneca or GSK, but the client referred to the mark internally as “the lozenge.” The nickname worked since a lozenge is both a form of rhombus and a medicinal candy.

  31. By Scott McMillin
    26 JUN 2009, 17:39 GMT

    I worked at Kraft Foods and their logo is known interanlly as the “race track”

  32. By Colin Davis
    26 JUN 2009, 18:13 GMT

    IBM’s classic logo is nicknamed the “8-bar” because of the fact (duh) that is it is made of eight stripes. So when people refer to that specific logo (as opposed any of their sub-brands, etc,) they refer to it is as the 8-bar.

  33. By Michael Krakovskiy
    26 JUN 2009, 20:33 GMT

    For some reason I tend to write about logos a lot. The NASA meatball usually refers to the older, circular version of the logo. The one that you have is called “the vector”. Lucent logo is widely known as “the bloody asshole”.  MTA logo is one of the better known descriptively nicknamed logos - the pacman.

  34. By webster69
    26 JUN 2009, 20:38 GMT

    HP’s is referred to as the chiclet

  35. By Michael Krakovskiy
    26 JUN 2009, 20:40 GMT

    I am pretty sure the new Wallmart logo is nicknamed “the puckered anus”
    walmart logo
    Also, the Soviet “Quality mark” was nicknamed “the shrugging man” (because he’s shrugging ans sayin - “well, that’s how they made me”).
    soviet quality sign

  36. By b
    26 JUN 2009, 21:44 GMT

    A friend of mine works at Citibank, and was excited when they finally got rid of the “sphincter” logo:

  37. By Tony Spaeth
    26 JUN 2009, 22:46 GMT

    Right on, Michelle. A sharp name, on the edge of bad taste. can actually signal respect and affection.

  38. By David Airey
    27 JUN 2009, 0:36 GMT

    London Underground roundel
    Although the “roundel” can refer to any circular identity, every time I hear it mentioned I immediately think of Edward Johnon’s iconic London Underground mark from 1918.
    Thanks for piecing this one together, Jerry. Looking forward to more.

  39. By David Airey
    27 JUN 2009, 0:41 GMT

    Edward Johnston (sp). Less haste, David.

  40. By Joshua Schoenaker
    27 JUN 2009, 11:08 GMT


    By Mark 25 JUNE 2009, 17:09 GMT
    Don’t forget Enron’s “crooked E”
    Or does the ‘crooked e’ belong to Heinekens trademark..?

  41. By pedro
    27 JUN 2009, 16:17 GMT

    This reminds me of army military patches.  For example the third infantry division’s patch is a square with blue and white diagonal lines.  That division’s nickname was the broken television dividsion.  THe first logistical command is a cycle with big solid arrow pointing in a forty five degree angle.  This patch was referred to as th leaning crap house.  The 82 airborne division has a square patch with the letters AA on it.  It is supposed to refer to all american but we referred to them as the alcoholics anonymous division.  The 101st airbore has screaming eagle, we referred to them as the pukin chikins.

  42. By Bob Wolf
    27 JUN 2009, 18:13 GMT

    As there are many references to ‘meatball’ as a logo nickname, I now recall that a past rendition of the Cargill logo was also known as the ‘toilet seat’.

  43. By bipto
    28 JUN 2009, 2:34 GMT

    The Pillsbury logo is called the barrelhead because…well, because it’s a barrelhead! It represents the lid on a barrel of flour, nails and all.
    pillsbury barrelhead

  44. By ken
    28 JUN 2009, 16:18 GMT

    It’s not just visuals.  Years ago Susan Stamberg, THE premier reporter for National Public Radio, revealed that NPR had a nickname both for the tag at the end of a half-hour section (”This is NPR, National Public Radio”): it was the Nipper. 
    Even better, during the late 70’s the opening music for the evening news program “All Things Considered” was this delightful (my opinion), jaunty little bit of electronic music.  (The current theme has the same melody, just not as flippant.)  Because it would end on a little bell-like vamp–”da-dink da-dink da-dink”–it became known as The Dinks. 
    Thus you knew that at the end of the program, some producer was saying, “Cue the Dinks.  Run the Nipper.” 
    The Dinks are long gone, but I’m sure the Nipper remains.  (Thanks to the book Every Night at Five for the inside information.)

  45. By Richard Holt
    29 JUN 2009, 17:26 GMT

    Perhaps we should all make sure we share the same terminaology before we get more creative with naming, as it is surprising how often the generic terms logo, symbol, icon, typeface, logotype etc are all misused anyway…

  46. By David Gartner
    30 JUN 2009, 1:21 GMT

    Macromedia (by Neville Brody). As a Macromedia Partner, when we used
    their mark in our packaging we called it the “Humping Caterpillars.”

  47. By Mitch Cardwell
    30 JUN 2009, 2:32 GMT

    CBS = The eye.
    ABC = The meatball.
    NBC = The peacock.

  48. By Jeff Warren
    30 JUN 2009, 17:15 GMT

    I used to work on the Maytag account and internally their old logo was referred to as “the worms.”

  49. By Patrick Ohlin
    30 JUN 2009, 18:12 GMT

    And then of course, there is the ubiquitous use of the “star man” and “jump roper” clip art style logos across the healthcare spectrum (see Aetna, Princess Trust, Specrum Healthcare, and many others)…

  50. By Sean
    30 JUN 2009, 18:26 GMT

    I think that it is fairly common that if you have a round logo, you end up calling it the meatball internally.

  51. By Jon Akland
    30 JUN 2009, 19:37 GMT

    My fellow staff members and I refer to the AIA logo as “the chicken on a stick.”
    AIA logo

  52. By Kaka, and other things to call a logo…. « Shift+W
    01 JUL 2009, 3:36 GMT

    [...] Identityworks recently published a rather humorous article about the various names we call logos. From BP’s “Helios” to GE’s “Monogram” these official, and more often than not un-official, names often describe the symbol in its most basic and recognizable form. [...]

  53. By Andrew Keir
    02 JUL 2009, 2:04 GMT

    love! the death star, ha.

  54. By The Bug, the Worm and the Death Star | Bill's Blog
    02 JUL 2009, 21:03 GMT

    [...] The Bug, the Worm and the Death Star Cute article about insider names for logos. Reminds me of something I often say, whatever it is that you create/design, someone somewhere thinks it looks like something that they’re familiar with already. [...]

  55. By Paul Schreiber
    03 JUL 2009, 17:10 GMT

    I’ve always heard the CBC logo referred to as the exploding pineapple.
    The Obama ‘08 logo is sometimes referred to as the sunrise.

  56. By KonstantinMiller
    06 JUL 2009, 20:50 GMT

    Hello. I think the article is really interesting. I am even interested in reading more. How soon will you update your blog?

  57. By Tony Spaeth
    06 JUL 2009, 22:29 GMT

    Konstantin, I hope we will be able to post a new Contributor article every week or two. Later this week, look for Marius Ursache’s 12 tests for a better logo.

  58. By Naina Redhu
    07 JUL 2009, 20:33 GMT

    Someone at a party recently, asked me what I did for a living. I told the gentleman I am a Logo Designer. He frowned and asked me what ‘that’ was. I looked around the room and pointed toward a flatscreen television and the name of the company and logo imprinted on one corner. I also pointed to his Nokia phone - to the prominent Nokia logo. “That is what I design.” He turned around to me, wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Those things have designers too?”

  59. By Stephen Shankland
    09 JUL 2009, 8:00 GMT

    Here at CNET, we call the green “download now” button at Download.com “the shuttlecock.” It’s more of an icon than a logo, but symbolically I think it still qualifies.
    Download.com shuttlecock icon

  60. By Georg Schmalstieg
    09 JUL 2009, 16:14 GMT

    Still one of the best examples is the ‘Star’ of Mercedes-Benz. The word ‘Star’ inorporates everything, the brand stands for, like i. e. leadership or excellence. At the same time it inspires to think in phrases like ‘Reaching out for the?… stars.’ …of course!
    Although in my opinion the the marks version, being currently in use (flat white on either imagery or backgrounds) is lacking a lot of the grace, the former one (with stylized reflexes drawn in black and white) used to have - whatever the strategic objective behind that change has been.

  61. By Jerry Kuyper
    11 JUL 2009, 21:22 GMT

    Here is a quick summary of the multiple uses of a single nickname across several companies submitted so far:

    - GE
    - Warner Communications
    - NASA
    - Mellon Bank
    - RCA
    - ABC

    Bob Wolf emailed me: “Regarding the use of the term ‘Meatball’ as a nickname for a graphic symbol/logo. Earliest recorded reference I can think of was a nickname for the rising sun as it appeared on Japanese aircraft during World War II.” 

    That makes it even more surprising as a common nickname for a US company.

    Toilet seat
    - OLIN
    - Mazda
    - Cargill

    Bottom related
    - previous Citibank
    - Walmart
    - Lucent
    - Royal Bank of Scotland

    When I lived in Berkeley, one of my neighbors was a professor of humor at Cal. He wrote a book that documented how different cultures tend to focus on some topics regarding their choice of humor. Sex and toilet/body functions were two of the most popular themes. I think he would be fascinated how many of the nicknames revolve around the later topic.

    Hockey Sticks- Rockwell
    - Eastern

    - BMW
    - London Underground

    Here is short selection of other nicknames submitted:

    Lucent - the flaming a**hole.
    - the bloody zero

    CBC - exploding pizza
    - exploding pineapple

    CBS - black eye

    Enron - crooked E

    Pillsbury - barrelhead

    Obama Campaign - sunrise

    HP - chiclet

    MTA - pacman

    IBM - eight bar
    -Venetian blinds

    Kraft - race track

    Chevrolet - bowtie

    Royal Bank of Scotland - pig’s bum

    Cingular - Jack

    Air Lingus - drunken shamrock

    Target - lidless eye

    I find it amusing that the Target logo, which so successfully visualizes the name, has a nickname too.

  62. By Mary Quinn
    02 AUG 2009, 4:56 GMT

    And what about the Chase “bagel?” They still use the same symbol and my guess is they still call it that. No wonder I gained weight while working there!

  63. By Kristin Cruser
    03 SEP 2009, 17:42 GMT

    Working at Philips, the part of the wordmark was used as a unit of measurement as well as part of the logo. Everything was measured in “P’s” (i.e., no graphics or text within a P-height of the logo).

  64. By Travis Stanley
    14 MAY 2010, 8:07 GMT

    The blue and red ribbon on British Airways jets and company material is referred to as the “Speedmarque.”  Prior to their 1997 logo, it was known as the “Speedbird,” which was a sharper-edged, single-color version that had existed in some form or another before British Airways itself.


  65. By Steven Donaldson
    18 DEC 2010, 0:43 GMT

    I’ve seen a whole range of references to logos before including the meetball, the hockey stick. The one that always cracked me up was the simple yet well known Arm and Hammer logo which I’ve heard revered to as “the muscle”.

  66. By ProfesorIvanov
    13 JAN 2011, 0:43 GMT


    Девушки :)

  67. By Stan Schwartz
    20 OCT 2011, 0:52 GMT

    Bell Canada – man in a toilet

  68. By Datair User
    28 FEB 2012, 21:48 GMT

    The splat, or bug, or drain:

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