Main story : What is in a name?

Every time one comes across names of different companies and corporate bodies, an imprint is left on the mind of the person who may ponder the meaning behind these trade names and why they are used.

Every time one comes across names of different companies and corporate bodies, an imprint is left on the mind of the person who may ponder the meaning behind these trade names and why they are used.

Company names carry a lot of meaning depending on the way they are used.

They usually identify themselves that way and at the same time speak volumes about the products or services offered.

Given the power in the name, at times it could be a mark of a new era that the company wants to put across.

To get a clear understanding of the power behind company names, a sample of various companies that serve the interest of Rwandan society was taken by The Sunday Times’ Frank Kagabo visited different managers and founders of corporate institutions who gave different reasons behind the names their companies are branded.

Rwanda Commercial Bank (BCR)

According to Hannington Namara, BCR manager in charge of marketing and communications, the bank’s name reflects its origins.

BCR is a short form for the French version of Banque Commerciale du Rwanda also known as Rwanda Commercial Bank (English).

BCR is Rwanda’s oldest national commercial bank. After independence, most countries in Africa nationalised their business and a national commercial bank always characterised state-owned enterprises.

Like other neighbouring countries in the region, the state originally had a monopoly over a number of major commercial enterprises, and the banking industry was no exception.

In Kenya there was Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), Uganda had Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB) and so was the situation in other several countries.

Like the above examples, Rwanda Commercial Bank had its origins on the same basis. It was founded in 1963 but later privatised by government in 2004, though maintaining its name BCR.

Namara says that the historical advantage of having BCR as the original provider of banking services in the country had to be maintained.

A new name for the bank would strategically take us back. The bank was sold to majority shareholders who are not Rwandans.

They changed the logo but maintained the name for nationalistic and patriotic considerations.

BCR is now owned by ACTIS, a United Kingdom based banking group holds 80 percent shares in the country’s oldest bank.

Namara also explains that although majority of the shareholders are not Rwandans, the beneficiaries of the Bank and its services are the Rwandan nationals.

These include customers to the bank and some of the staff employed by the bank.

Namara says that the name has been rooted in the Rwandan culture, maintaining it even after privatisation was the best option both strategically and for purposes of national interest.


Electrogaz is the electricity and water regulatory company in Rwanda.  Its history dates back to the colonial era of Rwanda and Burundi.

According to the marketing manager Rugina Kabanda, the company was founded in 1939.

At the time the company was known as Regideso, named so by the Belgian colonialists who controlled Rwanda-Urundi.

Regideso had its headquarters in Bujumbura, the capital city of now Burundi. Following independence of Burundi and Rwanda, there was a separation that saw Regideso Rwanda and Regideso Burundi in 1963.

On 20th April 1976 a decree no. 18/79 was issued renaming and transforming Regideso Rwanda into Electrogaz.

By the same decree, the company was given a monopoly to produce and distribute both electricity and water for ninety nine (99) years in Rwanda.

This monopoly was changed in 1999 when the country’s law no. 18/99 liberalised the electricity and water sectors. This meant that other private companies could participate in the production and distribution of water and electricity.

Nevertheless Electrogaz remains the majority provider of electricity and water in the country.

Hwan sung

Hwan sung is a corporate name given to a Korean owned furniture conglomerate that deals in different assorted interior design.

According to a source that preferred anonymity, the founder Kim Sung Hwan chose the name for his company.

The same source with a long working history for Hwan sung said that although the name is of great importance to the company, it is the quality of its products that matters.

Hwan sung employs highly skilled people who give the name Hwan Sung a great image by the high quality of their products.
The company started in Uganda in 1991 as a fish processing firm.

It later transformed into a distributor for furniture, assorted aluminium, windows and doors among other goods. In Rwanda, Hwan sung offices opened in March 2007.

The name Hwan sung is of Korean origin and given to men. In most cases, business owners are inclined to identify their own businesses after their names or of people close to them. This is always the case with Korean business people.

Sixteen years down the road, this company that specialised in selling imported furniture, and other assorted home materials, is still under the ownership of its founder Kim Hwan Sung.

The New Times, Rwanda’s English First Daily

The New Times, referred to as The New Times Publications SARL, is a registered Rwandan private media. It was founded in September 1995 after the end of the 1994 Genocide.

According to Kennedy Ndahiro, one of the founder members, “After the Genocide, we had turned a new page in the history of the country and so “New times” would reflect a new era,” .

He also added that the name The New Times aimed at reflecting objectivity that was going to be the hallmark of Rwanda’s first English Newspaper.

In his view, Ndahiro believes that Rwanda’s media history was marked by dirty politics and therefore The New Times would be a newspaper that would reflect the new social, economic and political changes that had taken root, following the collapse of the Genocide government.

That put aside, Ndahiro states that the fact of being the first English newspaper meant that it would largely target policy makers putting in mind that at that time, the country’s population had few English speakers.

Ndahiro adds that most Newspapers in Rwanda had the look of magazines in form of newsletters.

Other newspapers in the region were also an inspiration in terms of layout and so many other features. So we chose a name that would be unique and standing the taste in the region.

Union Trade Centre (UTC)

UTC is one of Rwanda’s leading one stop shopping malls located adjacent Kigali’s main round about.

According to Callixte Irisa, the manager of the shopping mall, the name Union Trade Centre is derived from the fact that the building houses a number of businesses that attract several city commuters.

“Many people meet here for a common vision of business and developing their country,” states Irisa.

To Irisa, Union Trade Centre is a good name that serves its purpose and intentions.

The name does not necessarily give the centre an advantage over other business entities in the same trade, but identifies it as the umbrella of many other businesses that operate within.

The manager of the centre told The New Times that people do not come to UTC because of the name, but due to its other strategic advantages like location, superior facilities like good toilets and the pocket friendly rates.

He said that it’s basically the trade advantages that give UTC a superior position in the property market.

The name Union Trade Centre basically reflects what the whole enterprise is all about; a centre for various businesses.

The centre is owned by  a prominent businessman Tribert Rujugiro, who also owns the famous MTN centre .The building was officially opened late last year.


Sonatubes is an acronym for Societe Nationale de tubes, a French name for the steel pipe making company in Rwanda.

In Sonatubes, SO stands for Societe, which means it is a society or unity of different groups that form the company.

NA stands for Nationale, which reflects the national character of the corporation and the interests of the state that had a major stake in Sonatubes at the time the company was formed.

“It is easily recognised. It is a brand name that is very important for the company,” says one Karera, a long time worker at the company. 

He added that because of this naming, these days, the entire hill in Kicukiro is known as Sonatubes.

This is the name that taxi touts use while calling for passengers heading to Kicukiro.

“Sonatubes… mu mugi kwa Rubangura….” (Sonatubes to Rubangura stage in Kigali).

Any person with a sharp business mind will not drop such a catch-name that attracts customers.

Sonatubes started as a social corporation with the state holding majority shares before it was privatised. Other stake holders in Sonatubes included Rwanda Development Bank (BRD) and Belgian investors.

Government later gave up its interests in Sonatubes that is now solely owned by Belgian investors, but retained its name because of the unique advantage of customers easily identifying with it.

So many companies and business enterprises find a special character in the identification marks they use to trade their products and goods.

The power of companies lies in such trade names without which, the public would not easily identify a given service provider.