Southern National Corp., which merged with BB&T Financial Corp. two years ago, has decided to take the name of its merger partner.

The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company will ask shareholders to approve the name change at its April 25 annual meeting.

If shareholders agree, the holding company's name will change from Southern National to BB&T Corp.

The request is detailed in the proxy statement, which was mailed last week.

"Changing our name will help us accomplish two objectives: eliminate confusion in the marketplace and augment our efforts in developing the BB&T brand name," said John Allison, chairman and chief executive officer of $21.2 billion-asset Southern National.

Last year, when Southern National completed its merger with BB&T, each retained its own identity. The arrangement provided for the holding company to operate as Southern National while the banking subsidiaries carried the BB&T name and logo.

But the dissimilar names have made it difficult for investors and others to easily associate the financial performance of the holding company with the business activities of the banking franchise.

"It has created confusion in the investing public," said David M. West, an analyst with Davenport & Co. "From the merger-of-equals standpoint, they felt they needed to retain the two names for a period of time. But this is no surprise."

The need for a single identity became more apparent last year when the company began a major advertising campaign aimed at brand recognition.

The campaign dovetails with the company's growth efforts in the Carolinas and in Virginia, where it has been acquiring smaller banks in and around Richmond.

Founded in 1872, BB&T is North Carolina's oldest banking company. At the time of the merger, BB&T and Southern National were the fourth- and sixth- largest banks in North Carolina. The company now operates 416 banking offices in 218 cities.

Yet market research showed that Southern National lacked name and brand identity. "Frankly, not that many people in the marketplace knew who they were," said Darren R. Short, of Robinson-Humphrey.

The new name, coupled with the branding campaign, should help change that, analysts said.

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