Some business stars strive for the chief executive officer seat. Others shoot for the throne.
Elon Musk, the Tesla Inc. co-founder and CEO, on Monday took on a new title not yet seen in corporate America: “Technoking of Tesla.”
Mr. Musk’s ascension to his new role came with little explanation beyond two perfunctory sentences filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to mark the change for himself and Tesla’s finance chief, Zack Kirkhorn. Mr. Kirkhorn’s new title is “Master of Coin,” which he shares with a character from the fantasy world of the HBO show “Game of Thrones.”
Mr. Kirkhorn’s title may also allude to Tesla’s ambitions around cryptocurrency. Earlier this year the company said it had invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin and aims to start accepting bitcoin as payment from car buyers.
Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. The new titles don’t change Messrs. Musk and Kirkhorn’s day-to-day roles, as both will maintain their current, traditionally named positions.
Tesla’s boss isn’t the first to experiment with unique job titles for executives.
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Garry Logue spent most of his career climbing the corporate ladder, including working as a director of government relations for Bell Canada, a telecommunications giant. The 74-year-old now has taken on a softer job title: chief pillow officer.
“Having been in corporate life, everyone’s ‘chief toilet paper officer,’ things like that,” said Mr. Logue, founder of Ottawa-based Pillowpacker Inflatable Travel Pillows. “I said, ‘I’m going to have some fun with this. It’s my company, I can be whatever we want. I’m going to be the chief pillow officer.’ ”
Mr. Logue has also given his wife, Beth Shepherd, an informal C-suite moniker in the two-person company’s ranks. “I call my wife the chief sleeping officer,” Mr. Logue said. “She doesn’t like that.”
Some Silicon Valley companies have previously used fanciful language to describe workers’ roles. For years, some companies have used terms such as “guru,” “jedi” or “ninja” to color job descriptions. Other titles to emerge include chief happiness officer, chief futurist and chief digital evangelist.
Matthew Kane wasn’t just the co-founder and chief operating officer of Hedgeable, a financial-technology startup—he was also its “chief ninja.” The company’s CEO, Michael Kane—Matthew Kane’s brother—had the title of “master sensei.” The sobriquets were intended to carve out a slightly differentiated identity, Mr. Kane said.
Ed Popielarski, 64, used to refer to himself as the “chief guru” of QTA Machine, an Irvine, Calif.-based company that designed and built tools used in electronics manufacturing. At least, he called himself that on the company’s website.
Mr. Popielarski, who owned the company, said the title was adopted for the company’s online branding and not something he used every day. It was meant to convey his wide-ranging capabilities, said Mr. Popielarski, who is now retired. “A jack of all trades, but a master of none,” he said.
Within hours of Tesla’s announcement, Siqi Chen, a former Postmates Inc. executive, soon declared himself the technoking of Runway Financial Inc., a financial startup that he co-founded.
“Let it be known that moving forward I will only respond to the title of Siqi Chen, Technoking of @RunwayCo,” Mr. Chen wrote on Twitter. He also changed his Twitter name to “Siqi Chen, Technoking of Runway.”
“All titles are jokes, and it’s tribute to our Technoking Musk for making this clear to the SEC,” Mr. Chen told The Wall Street Journal.
For Adriana Gutierrez, a Los Angeles-based footwear artist who refers to herself as the King of Sneakers, the title’s masculinity was equally as important as its royal connotations.
Ms. Gutierrez, who uses paint to customize sneakers, said she considered calling herself the queen, but decided that king would help her make more of a statement within male-dominated sneaker culture.
She recalled thinking, “I am going to play with this a little bit.”
Unusual job titles may make for a clever public-relations strategy, but are unlikely to represent a serious conception of what Tesla’s leadership jobs entail, said Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“I guarantee you that’s not going to be on his business card next year,” Mr. Cappelli said of Mr. Kirkhorn’s new title. “It’s not going to last, because CFO is an important title.”
PlayMonster LLC, based in Beloit, Wis., rebranded itself in 2016 after deciding its former name, Patch Products, didn’t scream that it was a toy company.
To show everyone it wasn’t playing around, CEO Bob Wann gave himself a new title: chief PlayMonster.
“We wanted to be ambassadors for play, and we decided to become a more playful company,” Mr. Wann said. Employees were granted freedom to create their own titles.
PlayMonster now has a chief fun monster heading sales, a chief monster maker atop product development and a bubbly monster in customer service.
Charlie Wollborg, founder of a Michigan marketing agency called Curve Detroit, uses the title chief troublemaker. His co-workers have titles such as sassy firecracker and attraction hero.
One intention behind the company’s offbeat titles: cutting out office politics. “No one is sitting around asking, ‘When am I going to get a promotion to chief troublemaker?’” Mr. Wollborg said.
Tesla also Monday announced its longtime automotive head Jerome Guillen would transition to a new role, albeit one with a pedestrian naming convention: president of heavy trucking.
—Paul Ziobro contributed to this article.
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