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What’s in a Name?

Those were the names, my friend, we thought they'd never end. But they've been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Most everyone on this planet and most everything on this planet has a name. It seens to be a rather universal convention for humans to name things.

I suppose it’s for convenience of communications, if nothing else.

In this era in which we reside, we focus quite a bit on change and the speed of change. Technology seems to change everything at a speed that we imagine unseen at any time in history. I’m 41 and, just in my lifetime, we’ve gone from computers the size of rooms to handheld phones that rival and may even better the capabilities of those old machines.

We don’t talk as much about how the names have changed. You don’t think about it too much unless you’re dropping your Humprhreys and Lindberghs for 1’s and 2’s (well, actually 2’s and 1’s, to be exact), or exchanging your Dayton’s for your Marshall Fields and then eliminating the middle-man and bringing the Macy’s home to you.

Name changes are all around us. I was never a frequent flier, but no airline I’ve ever flown is still around…Northwest Orient begat Northwest, which was swallowed whole by Delta…none of which improved their ability to get me from Point “A” to Point “B” in the scheduled timeframe. TWA is long gone as well.

Anyone remember Norwest or First Bank, holders of two of my favorite logos? Now, they’re Wells Fargo and US Bank. NationsBank?  Now Bank of America. To say nothing of the banks that have gone bust or been bought out… like St. Louis County Federal, Midwest Federal, and Washington Mutual. Even my once small-town credit union has become an east central Minnesota juggernaut, changing its name in the process. Only one financial institution that I’ve held an account with or financed a vehicle through has kept its name.

Communications? Don’t get me started. We had a communications node for Northwestern Bell in my hometown. They became US West, which then gave way to Qwest, which is now Century Link, which, unlike “Qwest”,  has the advantage of being actual words. 

My first cell phone was with a company headquartered out of Alexandria, Minnesota called Cellular 2000. They changed their name to Unicell only to be gobbled up by industry giant Verizon. Can they hear me now?

Our utilities have changed as well. Northern States Power held the same name for almost 80 years, then they almost became Primergy…a cheesy 1990s name if I ever heard one…and now is Xcel Energy, which suffers from that same lack of gravitas. Minnegasco, another classic utility name, became CenterPoint Energy, which itself not that far in the past was Reliant Energy.

Datsun became Nissan with an ominous ad that implored in a hyper-serious voice, “The NAME is NISSAN”, as if you were to walk into a Nissan dealership and mention the wrong name, a terrible fate would befall you (perhaps you'd have to buy a Nissan?).  This doesn’t even begin to hint at all the actual vehicle names that have suddenly gone by the wayside to be replaced by alpha-numeric designations, most of which seem to involve an “X”.  Apparently these new “X” names mark the spot.

If you’re an aerospace fan, you probably remember the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, the Douglas DC-3, McDonnell’s Mercury and Gemini spacecraft,  McDonnell Douglas’ DC-10, North American Aviation’s P-51 Mustang, Apollo Command Module, Space Shuttle orbiter.  These companies are all gone now, but you can look through their old drawings just by going to the Boeing headquarters in Chicago.

Kentucky Fried Chicken? Oh, heavens, can’t use the word “Fried” lest we have people think that it’s not healthy…it’s “KFC”, now. Kraft is now something called Mondelez, a name which just slides off the tongue like Velcro. BP? I liked it better as Amoco or Standard, myself.

Even sports aren’t immune. New Orleans Pelicans, anyone?

How about a round of applause for your Washington Wizards!  I can’t remember, are they the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or just the Rays?  Is it just me or has the Anaheim NHL franchise become better once they lost the “Mighty”?  Let’s not even go into the whole idea of the “Treasure Island 30 Yard Line at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome” or any of the other money grabbing deals that rake in the cash while taking away the old name.

What’s the point to all this, you ask? It’s not meant as a paean to the past names or a desire to go back to some of the old names (although there ARE some I’d love to bring back.) 

To come full circle on this whole meandering exercise, as humans, we give names to things as a means of communication, to build familiarity, and to feel, perhaps, some sort of connection.  Only a select few of these names are ones in which we have any sort of “ownership” stake, perhaps just our own names and our nicknames for our cars, toasters, and pets. 

In a world that seems to change at the blink of an eye, perhaps the owners of these more public names might do well to consider that the cost of changing the name is more than signage, stationery, and other rebranding and advertising expenditures…it’s the loss of cultural familiarity and connection which can weaken the ties with their customer.

That’s the (longwinded and meandering) view from the old, steel drafting table.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kris Janisch January 31, 2013 at 03:53 PM
Great post Eric.
Dave January 31, 2013 at 09:57 PM
good story
Kris Janisch February 01, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Love this line too: Treasure Island 30 Yard Line at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humprhey Metrodome
Susan Monty February 02, 2013 at 12:58 AM
My favorite: "In a world that seems to change at the blink of an eye, perhaps the owners of these more public names might do well to consider that the cost of changing the name is more than signage, stationery, and other rebranding and advertising expenditures…it’s the loss of cultural familiarity and connection which can weaken the ties with their customer". Great article!
Kris Janisch February 02, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Yup, Eric always takes the wider view. (Planning, right Eric?)

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