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Can a Corporate Name-Change Purge Bad Vibes?

Detail of vintage Marlboro ad Detail of vintage Marlboro ad

As far as Intel is concerned, John McAfee's name is mud.

The software giant is renaming its computer security division Intel Security — dumping the outspoken McAfee's name from the anti-virus software and famous shield logo that has borne it for more than 20 years.

The move is the latest in a list of companies that have changed names for embarrassing or controversial reasons or to rid themselves of negative connotations, like Phillip Morris phased out the Marlboro Man after several models who portrayed the cigarette-smoking icon died of cancer.

  • ValuJet became Air Tran in 1997, a year after a 27-year old DC-9 caught fire after takeoff from Miami and crashed into the Florida Everglades, killing 110 passengers and crew. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded ValuJet flights for several months and as revelations about safety deficiencies emerged, the company suffered devastating financial and public relations losses.
  • In January 2003, Philip Morris Companies changed its name to Altria Group. Some observers viewed the name change as an effort to de-emphasize the company's historical association with tobacco products. But Altria's Philip Morris USA subsidiary still makes Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Benson & Hedges, Merit, Parliament, Chesterfield and other cigarette brands.
  • One of the world's largest IT consulting and services firms, Andersen Consulting, re-introduced itself as Accenture in 2001 over a contractual agreement with accounting group Andersen. The change cost Andersen/Accenture an estimated $100 million to execute and was regarded as one of the worst rebrandings in corporate history. But the new title turned out to be a blessing in disguise, when the Enron scandal erupted in October of that year — permanently tainting the name of its accountants, Arthur Andersen.
  • Then there is private security firm Blackwater, which announced in 2009 that it would be changing its name to Xe Services in an attempt to escape the dark cloud it had been under since five of its guards were indicted on charges related to a 2007 shooting that left 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians dead. But despite new ownership, a new board and new management, Xe could never shake a troublesome nickname: the company formerly known as Blackwater. Now, it's the company formerly known as Xe. In 2011, it became Academi.
  • In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to formally change its name to KFC. Kyle Craig, the company's president, acknowledged the change was an attempt to distance the chain from the unhealthy connotations of "fried" food.

Intel is not saying why it made the change, but McAfee is an outspoken and controversial figure who was recently questioned in a murder investigation in Belize. McAfee is being sued by the family of Gregory Faull, his neighbor in the central American country, who was shot dead in 2012.

Belize has classified him as a "person of interest" but has never named him an official murder suspect.

And last year, the computer security pioneer released a video showing how to "uninstall" the firm's anti-virus software by blasting a laptop with a bullet.

News that Intel was dumping his name was thrown out casually on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

"Intel is bringing its award-winning mobile security to every mobile device, phones, tablets, wearables," Krzanich said during a keynote address to the electronics show.

An entire generation of computer users were introduced to computer security through McAfee software. John McAfee founded the company in 1987 and left in 1994. It was later acquired by Intel.

McAfee himself told the BBC he was overjoyed by the news. "I am now everlastingly grateful to Intel for freeing me from this terrible association with the worst software on the planet. These are not my words, but the words of millions of irate users.

"My elation at Intel's decision is beyond words," said McAfee.