Bullhorn Financial Branding Series

Why are bank names so boring?

Bank naming trends can be surprising. I started this article because I had the assumption that bank names are boring. I wasn’t exactly right. It turns out bank names end up what they are for complicated reasons. Not least of which is that many of these companies are over a hundred years old and have been through multiple mergers, acquisitions, and re-structures. 

I started with the top 20 banks in the United States. I found a list updated in Spring 2024. Now, the purpose of the found list doesn’t matter. There are multiple ways to measure everything, and people will disagree about any list. I picked this list because it gives us a manageable number of names most people have heard of. I organized them by type to understand trends and opportunities. 


This naming category is the most common among the five companies in the top 20. Most names get abbreviated because they are too long to manage. This can happen for multiple reasons. PNC and TD Bank both got their shortenings because of a merger. Some bank names are descriptive and get shortened because they are too long. The Manufacturers and Traders Bank in Buffalo becomes M&T Bank. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation becomes HSBC. The Bank of Montreal doesn’t seem bad but it still becomes BMO

Generally, abbreviation names are forgettable and confusing. However, in naming, repetition beats everything else for memorability. These companies are so large and established that they are familiar. Don't go this route if you are new or going through a name change. There are quicker and less expensive routes to memorability than repetition.

English words

This category ties for the top trend. Ally Bank is the lone standout, using a metaphorical word that hints at the brand's essence. They changed from GMAC Bank in 2010. Citizens Bank uses a metaphorical word, but it falls short because First Citizens Bank is also on this list. It is challenging to keep those two straight. Key Bank also uses a metaphor, but it’s such a common image that it is ineffective. Capital One is blandly descriptive. 

This is a good option for a new or rebranding bank. Most of these companies fall a little flat, but Ally shows a navigable course for many organizations. 

People names

This category is behind the top two, with four companies. Wells Fargo is named after the two founders. JPMorgan Chase sounds more like a law firm after the merging of two banks named after people. Goldman Sachs and Huntington are both also named after founders. This is a fine strategy. These banks are all old enough for their brand to live independently of their namesakes. The outlier here is Chase, named after Salmon Chase, one of President Lincoln’s cabinet members, not the bank's founder. 

If you are a newcomer or thinking about a rebrand, consider following Chase. What historical person represents your values? It could be a good strategy to sound established and have a name that tells a story at the same time.  

Place names

This type had three of the top 20 companies. Place names can be interesting and rich with meaning from history or metaphor. But these three are not. Bank of America and U.S. Bank are kissing cousins and virtually indistinguishable. American Express National Bank gets at the same idea with a few extra redundant words. To be fair, this is the banking arm of the AMEX company, a much better name that works as an abbreviation because it is pronounceable like NASA. 

So, while the above banks could have used their names to create meaning and interest, they didn’t. You don’t have that luxury. Like people names, what places can you use to tell your brand story? 

Made-up or misspelled names

This category is usually reserved for tech startups, but a few banks are dipping their toes in this water. Truist was created in 2019 after the merger of BB&T and SunBank. The name was well-roasted when announced. But most people don’t like new things. It clearly stands out from the competitors and is short, pronounceable, and memorable. Not bad. Citibank is the other one in this category. When reorganized in the 1960s, they gravitated toward this name that had been used since the 1860s. There’s some history; the misspelling is interesting and aesthetically pleasing. 

The clear winner

I often get the question, “But what is your favorite?” Well, one more name came about from a merger between two banks. In 1909, the Fifth National Bank merged with the Third National Bank to become Fifth Third Bank. It turns out two wrongs can make a right. Until recently, I thought it was weird and intriguing. But, they are embracing it in their “5/3 better” campaign, which asserts that they are better because they try harder. They are embracing their weirdness and using it to communicate with new demographics. I love it. 

So interestingly, the top three names in my opinion are two new ones and a name over a hundred years old: Ally, Truist, and 5/3. There is a clear opportunity for banks thinking about a name change to stand out. The name could be something new or a re-embracing of something in your past. We would love to help you decide if a name change is worth it to you. Send us a note to schedule a free consultation.

Brad Flowers
Brad Flowers
Founding Partner

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