December 10, 2001


Philip Morris has a new name. You've probably heard it already. Pop quiz: Can you remember it? Too late. It's Altria. The company says the word derives from the Latin altus, meaning "high", and is more representative of its diverse business (which include food and beer as well as cigarettes) than the Philip Morris moniker suggests. Critics say it's an attempt to distance the company from its tobacco-stained image.

Latin scholars, however, say it doesn't mean anything at all. "'Altria' is not a Latin word," says Andrew Feldherr, an assistant professor in the classics department at Princeton University. "It isn't derived from anything. They made it up. Altus comes to mind, but so does the Latin word altrix, which means 'wet nurse'."

Whatever it means, the name Altria won't appear on actual products. The firm's major divisions - Kraft, Miller, and even Philip Morris - will retain their separate identities; only the umbrella company and its stock will carry the Altria Group name.

That may be a good thing, considering how the name - which was engineered by Landor Associates, a corporate-identity consulting firm in the Young & Rubicam division of the WPP Group - has been received so far. "I think they'd be better off changing who they are," says Steve Manning, president of A Hundred Monkeys [now Managing Director of Igor], a branding consultancy. "But I guess they have to keep that whole tobacco part of the company."

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