What’s in a name? @PhilipLeBrun

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

In this iconic line of Shakespeare Juliet tells Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention. That’s romantic, but it’s also bullshit Jules.

Names carry an enormous amount of significance. They’re an expression of a person’s identity. Whether you’ve adopted the politician’s rule of three, a memory technique or simply through sheer exposure in group tasks we should all know each other’s names by now.

Yes, there’s an added layer of complexity with our Équipe Française but by this stage, we should be able to tell our Manons from our Marions and distinguish between our pairs of Hollys & Helenas.

Equally, it’s important to pronounce names correctly. So say ‘Ever’ not Eeeva’ and ‘Reeta’ not Ritter’. Freud saw mispronunciation as so important he noted a psychological meaning behind the accidental distortion of a person’s name. He noticed that aristocrats had a habit of mispronouncing physicians names in order to keep them in their place. To go back to our guy Shakespeare, he used this tactic as a diss in King John, ‘If his name be George, I’ll call him Peter. For new-made honor doth forget men’s names’.

They both recognized the relationship between names and identity and this carries a special weight in our industry. A name is your first interaction with a brand, an agency or a product. Names have the capacity to muster up a plethora of connotations, both negative and positive. So it’s important to get them right. That’s the reason we’re all frantically oscillating between different agency names right now. Names are defining and can be the difference between a brand that gains traction and one that falls flat.

In 1994 Jeff Bezos founded a book company called ‘Kadabra’ as in ‘Abra Kadabrah’, but his lawyer misheard it as ‘cadaver’ so instead, Bezos called it Amazon. Amazon’s name choice was poignant as it began with the letter A, which was helpful because the internet originally organized website directories alphabetically, and it also represented the worlds largest river that was substantially bigger than any other river, which offered some intended symbolism. It also didn’t sound like a word for a dead body.

It was interesting that earlier this week our very own Ian Hands touched on the importance of names and a theory referred to as Nominative Determinism: the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fits their names. Mr. Hands is a man who perfected the art of drawing hands and is incredibly skillful with his own… how charmingly convenient. There are plenty of other examples of this sort of thing; Doctor Long was the inventor of the modern penis extension. There was a Belgian footballer called Mark De Man. The winner of Australia’s national plowing competition in 2006 was Adrian Tilling. Sir Henry Head was the head of the journal Brain between 1905 – 1923 until he was replaced by Russel Brain, in other words, Brain replaced Head as Head of Brain.

A recent study by Jen Hunt (University of Manchester) has shown that authors gravitate to areas of research which fit their surname. For example, The Polar regions and Future of our Planet was written by Daniel Snowman and people called Dennis and Denise are more likely to become dentists.

As amusing as this may be, the evidence behind this theory is shaky and there is no concrete data to support it. So what’s in a name? A lot, but let’s not overstate it. If you were thinking of changing your name by depol to Max Creative or Stella Craft, I’d reconsider it.

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