Thursday, February 27, 2003

Name this post

What's in a name? Millions potentially, for businesses. Especially in this age of globalization, when businesses try to find an identity or model name they can use worldwide without running into problems.

It's not so simple. My favorite example of that is the discontinued Chevy Nova, which was hard to market in Spanish-speaking countries where "No va" means "It does not go" (they must have stricter truth in advertising laws down there, eh?).

Exxon figured out a way around that. The way I heard it, they wanted a word unique in the world so there could be no adverse connotations. Some linguist told them that the only language on earth that uses double X's was Maltese, which simplified the search. One must assume that Exxon does not mean anything offensive in Maltese (Babelfish is no help here).

Foreigners have trouble with this in the US too. Brits can't sell fags or faggots, for instance. And once in the Quad Cities allegedly there was a brewery owned by a Danish family named Föcking, which delighted local DJs to no end.

Then there are the various components of Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust. At breakup suddenly several new names were needed. Suddenly there was Socony Mobil (later Mobil), from Standard Oil Company of New York. Standard Oil of New Jersey became "Esso", and eventually Exxon. Standard Oil of Ohio became Sohio.

Did you think that somewhere out there was a guy named Arby who started a fast food chain? Nope, it's just the place where people order roast beef sandwiches.

Sometimes a business has to change its name because of unfortunate circumstances. It probably wouldn't work to have a business called Hitler's, for instance. Anyway, back in the 70's and earlier women's magazines were full of ads for a candy that supposedly helped to lose weight. Unfortunately, it was called Ayds. I don't know what happened to them, but it's been a long time since I've seen them in the drugstore.

The Brief text editor has a funny history. Last I knew it belonged to Inprise (once Borland), who got it from Solution Systems. But in the beginning the publishers of Brief went by the name UnderWare, which fairly screams "Yeah, we're professionals".

Sometimes a name simply demands a product. DJs Bob and Tom (proprietors of the Camel Toe Museum) have had lots of fun with "Dickens Cider". Now it appears that it's an actual product, with additives such as Horny Goat Weed.

I wonder about names that start with AAA. Were any businesses named this way before there were telephone directories?

Cities can have a hard time coming up with names too. After several tries, a town in Missouri finally gave up and told the postmaster to give them any old peculiar name. Hence we have Peculiar, MO. I hear that something similar happened with Nameless, TN.

That doesn't mean that a town won't rename itself given the right inducements. The best example of that I know of is Hot Springs, NM. Now it's Truth or Consequences, after the old TV show. Ha, maybe someday they'll rename Seattle "Microsoft".

Gotta stop here. I need to go to work or my name will be mud.

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