The name game

Yes, it’s a thing. And a very lucrative thing apparently. There is a job called being a ‘namer’. People pay people to come up with name for their idea, product, concept, movie, drug, colour, and I’m sure babies if you happen to be Kanye and Kim (do you really think they came up with North and Saint on their own?)

In fact the drug thing is kind of the Olympics of naming because there are so many rules around what you are allowed to call drugs (at least in the half of the world that claims to be civilized). One of the gauntlets a pharmaceutical must pass is the dreaded ‘doctor’s handwriting’ test: Whatever name in question must not be possible to be mistaken for something else when being interpreted by a pharmacist. Something like cyanamid (a deliquescent caustic crystalline compound) turning into cyanide (any chemical compound that contains monovalent combining group CN). Oh wait – maybe not a good example.

We do know, however, there are names that can go horribly wrong. The classic is the perhaps apocryphal tale of the Chevy Nova’s launch in Latin America (feel free to look that one up). Another of the better examples of ‘what were they thinking’ happened in 2002, when thanks to the Enron-related downfall of Andersen Consulting, the major accounting firms were all forced to send their ‘advisory’ practices to wander on their own in the desert. Pricewaterhousecoopers (in itself a poster child for naming gone very wrong) decided to call its newly minted consulting offspring ‘Monday’. According to those who do the math, this exercise in rebranding cost $110 million, or roughly 2 percent of the offshoot’s projected annual revenue. Much hilarity ensued. I can report, having been an actual employee of PwC (the post-Monday retrenchment name for the consulting arm), that I am not at all surprised they were hoodwinked into buying that particular version of the Emperor’s new clothes. But honestly, what would any sane person be thinking? Here are three examples of what they failed to anticipate.

1. “I don’t like Mondays.” They missed this one because of course no accountant would know anything about Boomtown Rats, only rat races in general.

2. “Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.” In fact, as we know, every other day of the week is fine. So perhaps they should have moved further down the list of potential names.

3. And finally my personal favourite: I Bought Monday. Because probably to escape the shame of retrenching and recoup some of the tithe to the ‘namer’, PwC managed to convince IBM to buy its consulting arm and thus unceremoniously kicked Monday to the curb. In a more ironic turn of events, once the statute of limitations on accounting firms having advisory businesses expired, PwC proceeded to poach back its key employees from IBM. But that’s another story…

So next time you notice – or even more telling, don’t notice – a name, remember that it didn’t happen by accident. Imax and Jello and Coke and Apple and Starbucks and yes, even IBM, are all proof that names matter.

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