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For decades, this Christian bookseller went by the name CBD. Then that became a problem

“I very much wish that they chose different initials,’’ says Christianbook founder Stephen Hendrickson (left), with his son Kevin at a company facility in Peabody.
“I very much wish that they chose different initials,’’ says Christianbook founder Stephen Hendrickson (left), with his son Kevin at a company facility in Peabody.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

Shortly after they began selling Bibles out of their parents’ Lynn home 40 years ago, the teenage Hendrickson brothers realized their new enterprise needed a name.

Christian Book Distributors, they quickly settled on. Or, CBD.

For the next four decades, as their small venture grew in scope and influence, those three letters came to be the hallmark of the country’s largest distributor of Christian products, adorning catalog covers, employee merchandise, and the company logo.

Then came the rise of what company president Ray Hendrickson calls “the other CBD.”

The sudden popularity of cannabidiol — a chemical compound found in cannabis that has become wildly trendy in wellness circles, and also happens to be called CBD — has proven to be an unfortunate development for the company, wreaking havoc on its Google search results and creating significant brand confusion for its customers.

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As a result, the Peabody-based company announced last month that it would be undergoing an official rebranding, retiring its long-used CBD name in favor of “Christianbook.”

It was not a problem the brothers saw coming.

“Forty-one years ago,” Hendrickson says, “we would’ve not expected to have had our three letters . . . become synonymous with this.”

As part of the overhaul, “CBD” has been scrubbed from the company’s catalogs and its website. The bookseller is also in the process of changing employee e-mail addresses, which end in “at cbd.com.”

For the record, Hendrickson says, the change comes not from concerns of being accidentally associated with a less-than-holy product. Rather, it’s the confusion that has followed as the cannabis-related CBD has worked its way into the American lexicon.

Employees said they’ve gotten strange looks when they wear company gear in public. On one occasion, a company representative spent a confusing 30 minutes on the phone with a caller trying to locate his order information before the customer, in describing the product he’d purchased, mentioned it had a marijuana leaf on the bottle.

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“The call ended quickly after that,” said the representative, in an e-mail, “as I was able to explain that we sell Christian books and home school items and do not carry any marijuana products.”

Even those associated with the company have been left occasionally bewildered.

While driving with his 90-year-old mother one day, Hendrickson says, she pointed to a sign outside a business that read “CBD Sold Here.”

“Is that us?” she asked.

“No, Mom,” Hendrickson replied. “That’s not us.”

For a while, Hendrickson says, he held out hope that the herbal CBD might eventually lose steam, falling by the wayside.

But by the time he and his son — both avid hockey fans — began hearing the drug referenced, of all places, on hockey podcasts, they realized it was likely here to stay.

“It’s really just something where that product is going to win the day on that term,” says Hendrickson. “I very much wish that they chose different initials. It stands for a very, very long word, and I’m like, ‘Gee, why couldn’t you have picked some different letters?’”

It’s not the first time CBD — the cannabis kind — has created brand problems.

Coffee By Design, a Portland, Maine-based coffee brand long known to locals as CBD, has struggled with similar identity issues when coffee shops throughout the country began advertising “CBD coffee” on their menus — that is, coffee infused with the cannabis extract.

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In May, the company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against one, Utah-based CBD Coffee.

“We’re not asking that they spell out the acronym,” says co-owner Mary Allen Lindemann. “But we’re saying that there needs to be language to make it clear that it’s not Coffee By Design.”

Which is not to say that it’s been all bad.

The company formerly known as Christian Book Distributors has seen an uptick in traffic to its website — the result, no doubt, of those searching for the hemp product. And though it has since died down a bit, Hendrickson’s assistant had been receiving daily calls inquiring about the purchase of the company’s suddenly valuable domain name — cbd.com.

“It’s not for sale,” Hendrickson notes.

And while it’s true, meanwhile, that the whole thing has been something of a nuisance, Hendrickson can take some solace in the fact that it could have been much worse.

Five or six years ago, he says, the company was seriously considering a branding consolidation in which it would have made its three distinct brand names — Christian Book Distributors, CBD, and Christianbook.com — known singularly as “CBD.”

“I’m very thankful,” Hendrickson says now, “that we did not make the choice back then to go all-in.”


Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.

Correction: Because of a photographer’s error, a photo caption accompanying a Page One story about Christian Book Distributors on July 15 incorrectly identified the company’s founder. The founder is Stephen Hendrickson. The Globe regrets the error.

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