When National City Corp. announced it would pay $7.1 billion to acquire First of America Bank Corp. of Kalamazoo, Mich., most observers assumed that the buyer's brand name would prevail after the deal closes next year.

Not so fast.

"We definitely are considering both names," said a spokesman for National City in Cleveland. A new name other than the two immediate choices is not under consideration.

A decision is said to be due within two months. Though National City is bigger, its name is not nationally known. Neither is First of America, but that may stretch better across a wide geographical expanse.

"Neither name is necessarily geographically confined," said Joseph Duwan, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. However, "there are a lot of banks out there with a 'First' name. That could be a problem in trying to create a brand."

Taking the name of an acquired bank is not unprecedented. First Bank System Inc. of Minneapolis bought U.S. Bancorp of Portland, Ore., this year and kept the target's name.

When Chemical Banking Corp. bought Chase Manhattan Corp. in 1996, it opted for the Chase name, which it viewed as more storied and venerable.

National City shares a potential problem with the "First" in First of America in that the word "national" is also extremely common. In the Midwest alone, for example, there are National City Bancorp. of Minneapolis and National City Bancshares of Evansville, Ind.

Not so long ago, Citibank of New York was officially First National City Bank.

Some observers speculated National City and First of America have deferred a decision because they were not able to agree on a name by their Dec. 1 merger announcement. But company officials said they are looking seriously at their two choices.

Still deferring is First Chicago NBD Corp. an amalgamation of First Chicago Corp. and NBD Bancorp, which merged in 1995. It goes by First National Bank of Chicago in Illinois, American National Bank in Illnois and Wisconsin, and NBD Bank in Michigan and Indiana.

The company has been studying its options, and spokesman Thomas Kelly said it expects to announce within the next few weeks if it will continue using multiple brand names or decide on just one.

One advantage to National City deciding to keep its own name is may be that it has been in use since 1856; the name before then was City Bank of Cleveland. First of America dates back only to 1983; its predecessor was First National Bank of Kalamazoo, founded in 1863.

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