How South African telecoms companies got their names

South Africa’s telecommunications companies are some of the biggest and most valuable brands in the country.

In fact, Brand Finance’s annual report on the most valuable brands in South Africa ranked MTN and Vodacom as the most valuable brands in the country.

Telkom and Cell C were also ranked in the top 40, which shows the importance and power of local telecoms companies.

While these companies are household names in South Africa, not many people know how they got their names.

Here is what is behind the names of prominent South African telecoms companies.


The name Vodacom comes from a combination of Vodafone and Telkom. Vodacom was initially owned by Telkom and Vodafone through a partnership, until Vodafone increased its stake in Vodacom in 2008.

Vodacom logo red

Cell C

Cell C was launched in 2001 and was the third major cellular network service provider in South Africa. The third letter of the alphabet is C, so it was named Cell C because “it had a nice ring to it”.

Cell C Logo


Telkom received its name as a shortening of “Telekommunikasie”. Telkom was founded on 1 October 1991 when the Department of Posts and Telecommunications was divided to form three separate entities – the Department of Posts and Telecommunications, Telkom, and the South African Post Office.

Telkom logo light


MTN, which was launched in 1994, stands for Mobile Telephone Network.

MTN logo on building


MWEB was one of South Africa’s first consumer ISPs. When launched the name came from Naspers’ strategy of using M in their brand names (like M-Net) – hence MWEB.



Ravi Naidoo, the founder of the Design Indaba in Cape Town, is a Rain director and early investor. He came up with the name and explained its origin.

Principally, the motivation for Rain is to make data more accessible. To be able to do that we felt a few things about the name were necessary. One is that we almost saw it as being a social justice project. We were inspired by a quote from Martin Luther King that says: “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Rain is like justice. It’s egalitarian.

Secondly Rain is inextricably linked to well-being, particularly in Africa. It’s the currency in Botswana (pula) and it’s the greeting of the Basotho: khotso, pula, nala (peace, rain, prosperity). We thought that would be a humanistic way to approach the naming of a data business, which all too often sound terribly technical and we wanted it to be very accessible.

To be able to dramatise it we approached a long-standing colleague who had heard the backstory of how we set about creating this platform. We asked Michael Bierut to help us in the creation of the logo. The logo is very interesting. The dot above the “i” can also be pendulous below the “i” almost simulating pregnant potential, being a raindrop about to fall. The colour of rain typeface is that of silver iodide and that is the substance used to seed clouds to create rainfall. It’s got a deeper meaning and we’re very partial to good design. Good design has a concept. It’s got meaning and it has relevance.

Rain logo

Cool Ideas

When Paul Butschi and Andre Jooste wanted to start their business, they needed to get trading in a hurry and obtained a list of Shelf Company CCs that were pre-registered.

Cool Ideas 1594 CC was one of them which they both agreed on, with the intent of using it as a trading entity along with a new business name.

“But after a while it stuck and hence the name was born,” Butschi explained.

Cool Ideas

Now read: The effect of Netflix on South African content

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How South African telecoms companies got their names