Isis Pharmaceuticals considers changing its name

Isis Pharmaceuticals is considering a name change following the Paris attacks. However, world leaders are starting to call ISIS, the extremist group, by a different name as well. 

Francois Mori/AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement at the Elysee Palace after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande, as US Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, right looks on, in Paris, France, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. Kerry has begun using Daesh to refer to the terrorist group also referred to as ISIS or ISIL

"Isis" once most commonly referred to the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom. Now the name ISIS conjures images of the extremist terror group in the Middle East and the atrocities its members have committed. While the Egyptian goddess’ reputation will likely survive, other institutions that share the name are suffering from the connection.

Isis Pharmaceuticals, a California biotech company established in 1989 and named after the Egyptian goddess, is considering a name change following the Paris terror attacks last week and an as yet unexplained drop in shares on Monday.

For many, Monday was a day of continued grieving following Friday’s terror attacks in Paris that killed 129 and a day of rallying as nations expressed support for France, national leaders doubled down on commitments to attend the Paris climate talks at the end of this month, and global financial markets resisted a fall due to the shock attacks.

For Isis Pharmaceuticals, which uses the stock trade ticker “ISIS,” Monday was marked by a 4 percent drop in shares. The company released no new information that could have been blamed for the drop, according to CNN Money. A pharmaceutical rival, Clovis Oncology, had a 70 percent drop in shares on Friday following an FDA request for information, which could have affected Isis Pharmaceuticals. But executives at the latter company say the name is not helping.

"Even though people know we're not associated with the terrorist group, the name itself has so many negative connotations," said D. Wade Walke, the company's vice president for corporate communications and investor relations, to CNN Money. "It's obviously not getting better over time."

Isis Pharmaceuticals has yet to reach a decision on whether to change its name or not. If it does, the pharmaceutical company will join an expanding list of businesses that have changed their names in the wake of the terror group's rise to prominence. The list contains a range of projects and companies, from Isis Wallet, a mobile payment system from AT&T, T Mobile, and Verizon, to ISIS Downtown, a Florida-based development firm.

Other companies, like the Institute for Science and International Security, are refusing to change their names and are encouraging the media to stop referring to the terror group as ISIS. Until recently, Isis Pharmaceuticals had also refused to consider changing its name. 

“… we've been Isis for 25 years, and I don't feel like I want to capitulate to these terrorists by changing my name. They can change their name,” Stanley Crooke, CEO of Isis Pharmaceuticals told CNBC last year.

The extremist group known currently as ISIS has a host of names including ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and IS, the Islamic State, which have all been used by national leaders and media. However, these titles are being criticized for offering the terror group a level of legitimacy.

President Obama, too, argued that those names do not paint an accurate picture of the group in a September 2014 speech on the State Floor: “ISIL is not Islamic… And ISIL is certainly not a state.”

Since the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande and US Secretary of State John Kerry have begun using the name “Daesh” to refer to the terrorist group. Daesh is shorthand for the Arabic name of the terror group, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, but can also be interpreted as an insult depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, according to Zeba Khan at the Boston Globe

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