In brainstorming names for a new bank in Gainesville, Fla., Andy Williams considered the time-honored "First National" and "Citizens" as well as the prestigious-sounding "Premier" and "Waterford."
Instead the bank opened last month as Millennium Bank. "It portrays strength, a state of modernness," he said.
Mr. Williams, Millennium's president and founder, is not the only banker inspired by the coming date change. Since mid-1997 five banks have been established with either "Millennium" or "New Century" in their names, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
This handful joined New Millennium Bankshares of Topeka, Kan., and Millennium Bank in San Francisco, which changed its name from First Indo- American Bank in 1995. Two more similarly named banks are being organized.
Bankers insist the names evoke a state-of-the-art image.
"When I think of the millennium, I think of a new era," said David E. Sparks, president and chief executive officer of Millennium Bank in Malvern, Pa., which opened in November. "I can't think of a better message than that for a new bank."
"We are going to have the technology customers are looking for," said Carroll Markley, founder of Millennium Bank in Reston, Va., which opened April 1. "And what better name than Millennium to bring all of that out?"
James McKeighan, chief operating officer of New Century Bank in Phoenixville, Pa., said board members feel the name tells customers that the bank can offer all the services of a larger institution, he said.
"The vendors will provide us all the same software that the big boys have," Mr. McKeighan said. "Our challenge is to show customers we can do it, and the name helps."
Branding consultants, however, are not so sure that banks should be taking their names from a calendar.
"I think it is a horrible idea," said Brannon M. Cashion, head of the financial industry group at Addison Whitney, a Charlotte, N.C.-based corporate identity firm. "In a few years the name will be obsolete."
Experts said these banks might be settling for a fad instead of choosing names that generate business. New banks with names spotlighting their communities tend to have an easier time attracting local customers, consultants said.
"'Millennium' is cold and technology-sounding, not warm and fuzzy," said Bruce C. Webb, a bank marketing expert at McGladrey & Pullen in Pasadena, Calif. "A name like that misses the community."
"We usually recommend our clients look for a name with a local tie-in," Mr. Cashion said.
Many of these Millennium Bank-ers said they considered community references in their bank names. Mr. Markley was thinking local in 1989 when he founded Patriot Bank, whose name evokes northern Virginia's history.
This time, though, "'Millennium' just sounded good," he said. "It was the right name for this institution."
Mr. McKeighan's New Century was almost Valley Forge Community Bank; the battlefield is near its headquarters.
"We were tempted" to use 'Valley Forge,'" Mr. McKeighan said, "but a geographic name can have its own problems if we decide to expand. And I really believe that the way to show you care about the community is not a name, but in the way we treat customers."
Mr. Williams of Gainesville said his board has discussed what to do if the Millennium name should sour. One option would be to change the name to MB Bank, or something similar.
But he said he does not think that day will come. He is convinced, he said, that once customers get to know his bank they will not focus on its name.
"How many people think about New York being the Empire State when they hear 'Empire State Building?'" he asked. "After a while, when people hear the name they just think about the building.
"My hope is that, after a few years, when people hear 'Millennium Bank' all they will think about is good service."