Sterling Financial (STSA) in Spokane, Wash., keeps fiddling with its name, er, names.

The $9.9 billion-asset Sterling will rebrand its California branches as Argent Bank, the company said Monday. It operates as Sterling Bank in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In California it had kept the names of acquisitions: Sonoma Bank and Borrego Springs Bank.

This is Sterling's second big branding move in a little over a year. It had operated as Sterling Savings Bank until dropping "Savings" early last year.

Why not use the same name everywhere?

Since it purchased Sonoma National Bank in 2007, the company has been in a dispute with another institution over use of the name Sterling in California. Executives decided rather than to continue to fight, it would be better to pick a new name that still hinted at the Sterling name, says David DePillo, chief lending officer and vice chairman of Sterling Bank.

Argent means "silver" in French, so "it is a play on our overall branding strategy," DePillo adds.

"At the end of the day, it all boils down to the people," DePillo says. "Our customer base will still see the same people and the same value proposition, but we have just given it a more consistent approach."

The California operations will transition to Argent, which will use the same logo as Sterling, in September.

Sterling has gone through numerous changes in recent years, including several acquisitions, bringing on new leadership and overcoming an influx of problem loans. Its "general culture has changed," DePillo says. Dropping "Savings" from its name in the non-California states reflected its shift from a traditional thrift to a commercial-oriented bank.

"That was a way for us to get a fresh look and feel and to show how we identify with customers," he adds.

Sterling also announced in May that it would acquire Commerce National Bank in Newport Beach, Calif. That deal is expected to close this quarter. Commerce National will adopt the Argent name, too.

"It is very hard to create a brand identity in California," DePillo says. Larger banks "have thousands of branches so you have to be careful and thoughtful in brand recognition."

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