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Verizon who?

Local phone giants Bell Atlantic and GTE will scrap their time-tested corporate names in favor of one their customers will be hard-pressed to find in any dictionary.

    Local phone giants Bell Atlantic and GTE will scrap their time-tested corporate names in favor of one their customers will be hard-pressed to find in any dictionary.

    Bell Atlantic and GTE, which have agreed to merge, today announced they plan to call their combined company "Verizon" once the merger gains federal regulatory approval. A combination of the Latin "veritas," meaning truth, and the word "horizon," to convey futuristic possibilities, Verizon (pronounced vurr-EYE-zon) will become the brand under which the combined company's consumer and business services will be marketed.

    Bell Atlantic's wireless partnership with Vodafone AirTouch, which was formalized today, will become the first property to use the new name. The joint venture will be called Verizon Wireless (see related story).

    The companies said the new brand and logo, which will begin appearing on pay phones, service trucks, customer bills and other high-visibility locations shortly after the close of the deal, is intended to differentiate the combined firm from the other regional Bell local phone companies. Analysts say the name gives the combined firm a national brand, rather than a local one, when marketing new services.

    "The brand name Bell Atlantic isn't going to sell well elsewhere. But I think they could have come up with a better name," said Tole Hart, a wireless industry analyst at Dataquest, a market research firm.

    With its introduction of Verizon, Bell Atlantic and GTE become only the latest large company to announce new corporate identities. Recent examples include Agilent Technologies, the name for Hewlett Packard's testing and measurement equipment spin-off, and Liberate Technologies, which recently changed its name from Network Computer. When Cincinnati Bell acquired IXC Communications, the company re-christened itself as Broadwing, after a certain type of hawk.

    The new names typically require massive marketing and costly advertising efforts to gain customer recognition. Bell Atlantic and GTE expect that process to last 12 to 24 months.

    Analysts say boardroom egos often play into the new names, and, despite the initial resistance to change, new identities often pay dividends.

    "You choose a new name to avoid offending anyone," said Elliott Hamilton, a wireless industry analyst at the Strategis Group. "In the short term it might seem silly. But in the long term, 10 years from now, everybody will just know Verizon. ... It's just like anything else; you have to get used to it."

    The name Verizon was selected from among 8,500 possibilities and the new logo will be red, black and white, the companies said.