Surprisingly Canon isn’t a company name at all, just a brand name of Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory, which started making cameras in 1933. The first cameras were sold under the name Kwanon - the name for the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
Precision Optical Instruments registered the name Canon as a trademark 1935, partly because this Japanese word can mean criterion, standard or scripture - meanings that reflected the company’s brand aspirations. Obviously Kwanon and Canon are similar words, so it made sense to change from one to the other... giving us the the leading camera company that we know today.
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The company that saw off Sony in the great video format war of the 1970s owes its roots to US firm the Victor Talking Machine Company, which established a subsidiary in Yokohama in 1927.
The Victor Company of Japan (aka JVC) started off making phonographs (vinyl turntables) before eventually making its name selling colour TVs and, of course, VHS video recorders. JVC’s corporate website claims that one of its engineers, Kenjiro Takayanagi, was also the first person in the world to project an image on to a cathode ray tube.
First used in the US in 1955, Panasonic is actually a brand name for electrical goods made by Matsushita Electric Industrial - the Japanese tech giant that first appeared in 1918. Matsushita chose the name Panasonic because it was unable to use its existing National brand in the Americas - there were simply too many other companies using ‘national’ as part of their name.
The National brand continues to be used in Japan although it, along with the name Matsushita, are expected to bow out this October. That's because current bosses are corralling the companies businesses under a single name with Panasonic - meaning ‘all’ and ‘sound’ - being the obvious choice.
Quite possibly the world’s oldest consumer electronics company, Toshiba started life in the late 19th Century as two separate companies - first in 1875 as telephone engineering firm Tanaka Seizo-Sho, and then with light bulb maker Hakunestu-sha five years later.
In the following years both companies changed their names again - first Hakunestu-sha became Tokyo Denki (aka Tokyo Electric Co) in 1899, while Tanaka Seizo-Sho morphed into Shibaura Engineering Works. These proved to be the foundation for the Toshiba name when the companies merged to form the Tokyo Shibaura Electric company in 1939.