Anyone with a basic grounding in Greek mythology knows the name: Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the gates of hell.

So why would a private investment company make the hellhound its namesake?

The puzzlement behind Cerberus Capital Management — the New York-based company that this week bought Safeway — was addressed in a 2007 column by the New York Times' word maven, William Safire (who died in 2009).

Tim Price, a managing director of the firm, told Safire: "The name sounded pretty cool, but nobody really researched it. Now, frankly, we're torn. It's a terrible brand name, but we have a ton of equity in it. What to do?"

Safire's advice: "I say stick with the soppy name. Money barks."