Royal Rebrand – Frank McNally on how the name ‘Navan’ went corporate

“A platform to service clients holistically through relentless innovation”

I see that a US corporation formerly known as TripActions and based in Palo Alto, California, has just changed its name to “Navan”.

Founded in 2015, the company specialises in software for business travel: simplifying expense claims and related tasks. Alas, the rebrand is not an indication that the county town of Meath has emerged as a global superpower in hosting overseas conventions.

As explained by TripAction’s co-founder, Ariel Cohen, the Navan in this case derives from “a combination of ‘navigate’ and ‘avant’ (as in innovative or avant-garde)”.

He believes the new name is in keeping with a more “people-centric” approach. Meath people (or eccentrics), however, are not necessarily part of the plan.


On the contrary, “Navan” was also chosen to broaden the focus beyond travel. According to Cohen, the rebrand is “intentionally broad, acting as a platform to service clients holistically through relentless innovation”. No, I don’t know what that means either.


Of course, the Meath Navan is itself an example of the dangers of rebranding. In the early years of the State, it became officially “An Uaimh” (literally “The Cave”), from the supposed ancient Irish name.

Among other things, this ran the risk that its Gaelic football teams might henceforth have been known as “the Cavemen” (and with some justice). But it was also bedevilled by scholarly debates about whether “An Uaimh” or “Nuaimh” – both forms had been used by local Irish speakers since at least the 17th century – was the true original.

Some argued for an even older root, from the name “Odba”, as in the Battle of Odba (612AD). Variously associated with a mythical figure called Odhbha and a burial mound containing his or her remains, its pronunciation would have been more like “ova”, suggesting an egg.

The confusion between An Uaimh and the Irish for egg (“ubh”) can’t have helped the 20th-century rebrand. In any case, the new/old name never took off. The town formerly reverted to “Navan” in 1971.

Mind you, speaking of eggs, the Californian Navan may have tapped into ancient Celtic wisdom in its search for corporate growth. There is no “i” in “team”, as we all know, but there is an “ova” in “innovate”.


By pure coincidence, “Navan” was also the answer to one of the questions at Tuesday night’s Oireachtas Table Quiz, held in aid of Unicef. Or at least it was one of our answers.

I was a late call-up to Miriam Lord’s team and under pressure to justify my place. So when quiz-master Marty Whelan asked us for an example of a “palindrome”, I was tempted to quote the one WH Auden wrote about TS Eliot: “T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I’d assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet.”

Maybe this would have earned us extra marks, which were badly needed. In a brutally tough quiz, the best of the 72 teams managed only 38 points from a maximum 56. We limped home on 33, for 10th place.

In the meantime, “Navan” had edged out Auden’s palindromic summary of The Wasteland on our answer sheet. (Not that I’m suggesting any other parallels between Navan and a Wasteland, in case any sensitive Meath people read this).


Speaking of general knowledge, it was also near Navan – a few miles down the river Boyne at Slane – that Fionn MacCumhaill ate the omniscient salmon, making him much in demand from then on at the table quizzes of prehistoric Ireland.

You’d think some of the mythical salmon juice would have rubbed off, locally. And yet, strange to say, this part of Meath is not now famous for philosophers, prophets, or even general know-alls.

What Navan has produced in unusual quantity is comedians: including Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran, Arthur Matthews, Gráinne Maguire, and Hector Ó hEochagáin. The list might also include Stewart Carolan, now best known as the writer of Love/Hate, but formerly the voice of radio’s “Navan Man”.

This reminds me of one of my – and Carolan’s – favourite placenames, Nobber: home to that oppressed indigenous minority, the Nobberigines, and just up the road from Navan, although unlikely to have its name borrowed for a Silicon Valley rebrand anytime soon.

The anglicisation there has similar origins to “An Uaimh” and “Nuaimh”. It was “An Obair” (“The Work”) in the original Irish. As Nobber, I suppose, it’s a Work in Progress.

But getting back to the county town, Navan has also been home to the scientist Francis Beaufort, the first Cabinet minister to give birth in office, Helen McEntee, and that finely honed hunk of Hollywood manhood, Pierce Brosnan.

If the town has produced famous writers or artists, by contrast, I’m afraid the names escape me. Still, no doubt there are creative types doing important work in it as we speak. For all I know, there may even be a flourishing Navant-garde.