Despite launching a project in early 1997 to study its name, First Chicago NBD Corp. said it has put on hold any decisions about changing it.

In a letter to employees dated Dec. 18, First Chicago chairman and chief executive officer Verne G. Istock said the company would rather focus its attention on merging its computer systems, a project expected to be completed by yearend 1998.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves and our various brands in the past several months," Mr. Istock wrote. "We know they're good in the markets and businesses they serve.

"We even looked at some possible new names; however, given all the things we need to do in 1998-particularly our systems projects and conversions-we have deferred the brand project for the time being."

First Chicago hired Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, N.J., to conduct 1,000 interviews about its brand names with customers, employees, investors, and analysts. The $113 billion-asset company also wanted to consider whether it should use one of its existing names, create a new name, or continue using multiple identifiers.

It operates as NBD Bank in Michigan and Indiana, as First National Bank of Chicago in Illinois, and as American National Bank and Trust Co. in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Mr. Istock said in his letter that the company would continue to weigh its options. The issue "is certainly not dead, and our research will continue, but certain other priorities must come first."

A spokesman, Thomas Kelly, said the research project was not wasted. He said, "We wanted to gauge the value of our brand names," adding that the computer system conversion simply took precedence.

Analysts have argued that the name should be changed. But since the merger of First Chicago Corp. and NBD Bancorp is two years in the past, sticking with the current names probably would not make much difference.

"Now that they've waited this long, is a little bit longer going to cause them to fall off a cliff? No," said Michael Mayo, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston.

Mr. Mayo said he still hopes the company will choose one name.

"We think the name stinks and should be changed," he said. "On the other hand, we work for Credit Suisse First Boston. Perhaps it's the pot calling the kettle black."

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