Limited Makes Emergency Name Change

Apparel group Limited Brands (NYSE:LTD) is changing its name—twice—apparently because time ran out for the company to keep using "Limited" in its name. The company, which runs the Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, and La Senza chains, completed the sale of its flagship The Limited chain in August 2010, and the deal required a name change, according to an SEC filing on March 22.

But the newly christened L Brands won't have that moniker for long. "The Company expects to announce a new permanent name for the Company in the months ahead," the Limited-to-L filing said. That suggests either something went very wrong with a new name the company planned to use or executives simply forgot about the name-change requirement until the deadline arrived—and then had to scramble to switch to a name nobody wanted.

The SEC filing doesn't answer that question. It may be more entertaining to imagine that Limited's management just forgot the details of the deal and the deadline—remember how online grocer FreshDirect lost its domain name, then still didn't know when it would expire again after getting it back? But the reality is probably more mundane. Our bet is that Limited thought it had found a fine new name, then discovered late in the game that it couldn't be used.

Picking a chain's new name has always been hard—it has to be recognizable, catchy, pronounceable and, most important, not already taken by a competitor. It's especially miserable now that any retailer can set up shop online and tie up the right to use a name. Big department stores once had to search through a local phone book. Chains today have to search both the Internet and filings for trademarks that haven't actually been used yet (and may never be) but have been filed for, including at the state level.

And, of course, there has to be some variation on the new corporate name that can be turned into a domain name. (It turns out LBrands.com is already taken.)

And all that is before IT has to track down and replace "Limited Brands" in any reports that require the corporate name. And then replace that string again in a few months.

Ironically, the emergency name change for The Company Formerly Known As Limited arrived just as an even more bizarre retail-chain name duplication came to an end. On March 21, the two grocery chains known as Albertsons finally completed their merger, reuniting the chain that was split up in 2006. Because of that split, for seven years the two halves of the former chain used the same name and logo, but nothing else (for example, one of the half-chains kept its loyalty program, which didn't work in the other half-chain's stores). Confusion for customers reached its peak in 2011, when one Albertsons announced it planned to rip out all self-checkout lanes, after which the other Albertsons announced it was doing no such thing.

In that light, maybe L Brands having a funny name for a few months isn't so bad after all.

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