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And the Oscar for Best Production-Company Name Goes to...

During Hollywood movie-awards season — which culminates this year on March 2 with the Academy Awards show — honors are handed out for acting, editing, visual effects, music, makeup, and costumes. One category, however, has never had a chance to shine, even though filmgoers are made aware of it during the credit roll of every movie. I'm talking about the often creative, sometimes wacky names of film production companies — the companies that raise the money, supervise the filming, and take legal and financial responsibility for the finished product.

This year's Oscar field includes some especially interesting — even award-worthy — production-company names. And so, let's open the envelopes for...

Best use of a classical language: A tie between Ad Hominem Enterprises (Best Picture nominee Nebraska) and Sikelia Productions (Best Picture nominee Wolf of Wall Street). Ad Hominem, meaning "to the man," is short for "argumentum ad hominem," or character attack. According to a Vanity Fair story, the company name is "meant to be pretentious." I wonder why co-founder Alexander Payne (who also directed Nebraska)chose Latin instead of Greek: he has spoken with pride of his Greek heritage. (His family name was changed from Papadopoulos.) Speaking of Greek, Sikelia is the ancient Greek word for Sicily; it was the birthplace of director/producer Martin Scorsese's grandparents.

Best use of an invented language: Esperanto Filmoj (Best Picture nominee Gravity) is the name of Mexico City–born director Alfonso Cuarón's production and distribution company. Cuarón is a fan of Esperanto, the international language invented in the 1880s and spoken today by 100,000 to 2 million people worldwide. "I've done movies in different countries, and I believe that human beings are born human first and afterward they stamp the passport," he told an interviewer last year. "So I was looking for a name that advocates that sense of ‘universal language'." "Esperanto Filmoj" means "Esperanto films" in Esperanto; the word "Esperanto" means "one who hopes."

Best use of a personal name: A tie between Bazmark (Baz Luhrmann, director of best-costume nominee The Great Gatsby) and Heyday Films (David Heyman, co-credited for Gravity). Baz Luhrmann's given name is Mark Anthony, which accounts for the "mark" part of the name; "Baz" is a childhood nickname inspired by Luhrmann's supposed resemblance to a fox puppet, Basil Brush, that made its British TV debut in 1962, the year Luhrmann was born (in Australia). As for Heyday, the word — which means "stage of greatest vigor" — comes from the Middle English exclamation heyda, and has no etymological connection to "day."

Best travel reference: A tie between Annapurna Productions (Best Picture nominees Her and American Hustle) and Faliro House Productions (Best Adapted Screenplay nominee Before Midnight). Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison, named her company Annapurna after the Himalayan circuit she hiked in 2006. ("Taking about three weeks to complete, [Annapurna] is far easier than a climb up Mount Everest and attracts young backpackers," observed a 2013 Vanity Fair profile of Ms. Ellison, rather cattily.) Faliro House, based in Greece, takes its name from the ancient port of Faliro, near Athens. It was formerly known as Phalerum or Phál─ôron.

Cutest: Baby Cow, one of several production companies sharing credit for Best Picture nominee Philomena, was formed in 1999 by Steve Coogan, who stars in the movie and also co-wrote it. The name was inspired by Paul and Pauline Calf, two characters Coogan portrayed during the early years of his sketch-comedy career.

Most Method-y: Before The Door Pictures (Best Sound Editing nominee All Is Lost) was created by Carnegie Mellon University drama-school classmates Zachary Quinto, Neal Dodson, and Corey Moosa. They told a reporter for a CMU publication that "before the door" was the name of one of their first acting exercises. "We had all these props and there was a door set up in the classroom," Moosa said. "On the other side of the door was an obstacle that you didn't want to face but you had to." Before The Door was "a name that would tie us all together," Dodson added.

Most melodic: Tremolo Productions (Best Documentary nominee, 20 Feet from Stardom)specializes in music documentaries, so it's not surprising to see a musical term in the name. A "tremolo" is a tremulous effect produced by rapid repetition of a single tone; the company's tagline — "Where the High and Low Meet" — and wave-pattern logo nicely underscore the concept.

Most cross-cultural: Studio Ghibli (Best Animated Feature, The Wind Rises). When he created his Tokyo-based production company in 1985, the Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki gave it a very un-Japanese name. Ghibli (pronounced gibb-lee, with a hard G) is the Arabic word for sirocco (or scirocco), the hot Mediterranean wind that blows north from the Sahara. Miyazaki picked the name to signify that his studio would "blow a new wind through the anime industry." In Japanese, the name is pronounced with a soft G: "Sutajio Jiburi."

Most neighborly: Mike Zoss Productions (Best Sound Mixing nominee Inside Llewyn Davis), Joel and Ethan Coen's production company, is a tribute to Mike Zoss Drugs in Minnetonka, a suburb of Minneapolis, where the brothers Coen hung out during their youth. "Mr. Zoss never asked us to leave," the brothers told Vanity Fair in 2011. "Out of gratitude we named our production company after him." The drugstore, founded in 1950, is run today by Mike's son Barry.

Most neigh-borly: Trigger Street Productions (Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips) was co-founded in 1997 by the actor Kevin Spacey, who grew up in Chatsworth (Los Angeles County) near the home of cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and their horse Trigger. "I didn't grow up on [Trigger Street]," Spacey told Venice Magazine in 2004. "I lived near it, but one of my best friends did live on it. And we had always dreamed about building a theater on Trigger Street. We were going to call it the Trigger Street Theatre. So when it was time to name my company, I thought back to those days and Trigger Street was born."


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday February 18th, 11:43 AM
Comment by: george D. (Winnetka, IL)
This article demonstrates the idiosyncratic character of the movie business. It is also true of LA itself.
Tuesday February 18th, 11:43 AM
Comment by: B Fay W (Waupaca, WI)
I really think you're onto something here. I would be willing to wait through all the boring awards just to hear these - with explanations included, of course.
Wednesday February 19th, 6:23 PM
Comment by: Diana L.
And the Tree-Hugger award to Indian Paintbrush, billionaire Steve Zales's company? Did you happen to come across its source in your research?
Wednesday February 19th, 7:11 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Diana L.: I limited my research to Oscar-nominated production companies, and Indian Paintbrush didn't make the cut in 2013. But a quick Google tour turns up no back story. Maybe Zales just likes the plant?

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