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Published: Tuesday, 4/2/2002

That funny name for a bank has grown on us

When the Toledo Mud Hens begin to play in the brand-new Fifth Third Field a week from today,

no doubt there will be some snickers from around the country.

“Where did the name Fifth Third come from?” sports fans from distant places may ask.

Toledoans asked the same question 13 years ago when Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp brought its unusual name into the Toledo market.

In April, 1989, Fifth Third broke ground in Maumee for its first branch in the immediate Toledo area. Within a few months it became clear that Fifth Third would jump into the Toledo market in a big way - by buying an old Toledo institution, First National Bank of Toledo, and its parent, First Ohio Bancshares, Inc.

Customers of First National were naturally quizzical about having to use checks labeled “Fifth Third.” But many of the customers now acknowledge that their bank's name is a unique one that grows on you.

In fact, Fifth Third is now a household word in Toledo and most of Ohio.

It's also a well-respected name on Wall Street, something of a stock-market phenomenon in recent years. And recently Fifth Third, with $70 billion in assets, was named the No. 1 super-regional bank in Fortune magazine's “most admired companies” survey.

It turns out there's a pretty good reason for the name in the first place. In 1908, Cincinnati's Fifth National Bank and Third National Bank merged to form Fifth Third.

Still, it's a funny name to people who haven't heard it before.

TheMotleyFool organization recently wondered on its Fool.com Web site about the “wacky name,” and asked: “Couldn't these bankers have come up with a better name?”

A Chicago columnist, Cecil Adams, had large fun with the Fifth Third name. “You mean once upon a time we had not one but two financial institutions advertising that they were a little slow out of the blocks?” he asked in his column The Straight Dope on chicagoreader.com.

“If you combine the Fifth and Third banks, aren't you entitled to average things out and call it the Fourth?”

Mr. Adams also pointed out that a former chairman of Fifth Third “used to say the name had been chosen because management feared ticking off the anti-alcohol crowd if the bank were named Third Fifth.”

It's probably a good thing Abbott and Costello aren't around. Their famous “Who's on First?” routine probably would be expanded to include “Who's on Fifth Third?”

But Fifth Third plans to get the last laugh. The bank paid $5 million for the right to call the Mud Hens' stadium Fifth Third Field, and it is ready to capitalize on marketing the name through numerous promotions in the inaugural season.

The name will grow on fans everywhere. The Toledo Mud Hens name sounds odd only the first few times you hear it. So does the name Fifth Third. With any luck, both old names will be household words in places hundreds of miles away.

Homer Brickey is The Blade's senior business writer. E-mail him at homerbrickey@theblade.com.



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