El-Wrong? ({{commentsTotal}})

Source: Illustration by Toon Vugts

In announcing a switch to a new brand name, train company Elektriraudtee said that a key consideration was that "the new name had to be easy to pronounce and memorable for both locals and tourists."

That it is. It won't live this one down for a while.

It's surprising that a flagship company with a shiny fleet of new trains and a new international face apparently failed to consult anyone outside Estonia before announcing it would henceforth be known as "Elron."

Besides the Israeli defense contractor it will share that name with (which may have bigger image problems hard-coded into its business model anyway), the name Elron conjures up a slew of popular associations, ranging from the deeply negative to the just plain silly.

Enron - the Texas-based utility whose books were infamously cooked by Arthur Andersen - leads the pack, of course. Certainly the lean, corruption-free Estonian public sector would not want to be associated with the meltdown that was a prelude to the global economic crisis.

People will also be sure to joke about a connection with the Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and whether July's stalled train incident was a deprivation experiment. 

Lord of the Rings references (Elrond) are sure to be not far behind - oh, wait, I see three on Facebook already. 


Estonian companies have not had a particularly good run in rebranding. Although Elron sets a new low, the previous contender Enefit was already fairly woeful. At the time, Eesti Energia explained that it was a portmanteau word derived from "Energy" and "Benefit"; the problem with the explanations like these is that it does not make the names sound any better.

While Enefit still sounds more like a suppository than a revolutionary oil shale company, "Elion," devised by a British consultancy years ago for AS Eesti Telefon, sounds mellifluous, it has a good ring like a telephone company should.

Yet even in that case, the coiners couldn't avoid starting the company with the letter E. This mirrors the overly patriotic early 1990s, when Estonian companies were hell-bent on adding "Est" before everything to suggest they were the proper privately-owned nationalist alternative. Today we have confusingly similar names such as Elion and Elisa (telecommunications), Enefit and Elering (energy) - a potential minefield for not just the consumers but journalists, who have to use mnemonic devices to avoid confusing transmission system operators with oil shale field developers. 

Now we have Elron. But besides a full backpedal, there is still a way out - and that's to go with the flow. I find myself drawn to the prospect of memorable ad campaigns ("get to where you're going faster than the nine riders"), High Elvish travel attendants, and trains named after members of the Fellowship.    


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