Originally created 07/21/98

For this Year 2000 problem, call a sign painter



NEW YORK -- Another Year 2000 problem is bedeviling businesses around America, and calling even the brightest computer whiz would be a waste of time.

From Twentieth Century Fox to the 20th Century Beauty Salon in Nashville, Tenn., some businesses are worried that their names might suddenly sound behind the times when the new century arrives.

Some have already changed their names. Some are thinking it over. And others, fearful of confusing their customers or tossing aside a well-known name, will be known as 20th Century Something long into the 21st.

Not Gateway, the computer maker previously known as Gateway 2000. When the company was founded in 1985, the year 2000 seemed magnificently futuristic. But as it became clear the company would outlast its name, Gateway dropped the "2000" in April.

"We didn't want to seem dated," says spokeswoman Angela Peacock.

Twentieth Century Cos., a Kansas City, Mo., mutual-fund company, renamed itself American Century Investments in 1995. But it still has funds that in a few years will be named after a bygone era.

While American Century evidently thinks investors might pour money into a mutual fund with an old-school name, 20th Century Beauty doesn't want customers to think they will get dated 'dos. The hair salon hasn't decided on a new name yet.

Plenty of businesses think there's no need to change a name that's worked just fine in the past.

The 20th Century Motor Lodge in Glendora, Calif., will rent rooms well into the 21st century. The magazine 20th Century Guitars won't change its title because, well, it's all about 20th-century guitars.

In Asheville, N.C., 20th Century Heating has been serving customers for 76 years. That's too much tradition to tamper with, figures president Claude Smith.

"Maybe some will say we do things the old-fashioned way, but that's OK," he says.

The Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox is debating whether to take a new name into the future. Spokeswoman Florence Grace says there are no plans to change the name, yet the studio has locked up the rights to Twenty First Century Fox.