Friday, May 27, 2011

Hemingway-esque apparatus judges names

Ernest Hemingway said that, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.” I’m sure you’d agree – and doubtless have come across prose by bad writers that should have been scooped up and heaved into the bushes.

It’s the same with the naming of companies. I declare that the most essential gift for a good naming team is a built-in, shock-proof… well, the same apparatus as for good writers.

Creating a good name is not easy. Just look at what’s coming down the name-production line these days. The aluminum company Alcan – sold by the mining giant Rio Tinto – is now independent and has renamed itself Constellium. How would our Hemingway-inspired naming apparatus judge this one?

A friend and top naming expert wrote me that Constellium is “a little strange… tries too hard… but you can get used to that.” I think he is sympathizing with fellow namers who struggled to replace the catchy Alcan and to match the colorful Rio Tinto. But I ain't sympathetic. Of Constellium I say scoop and toss.

Now here’s a name for you. EMC2… Well, EMC with a little baby 2 up there by the C.

I can’t tell if this is a product name or the corporate name. On the website, the parent seems to be just “EMC” without the little 2. “EMC is a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to transform their operations" blah blah blah.

To confuse things, there is another company – or is it the same? – that is called Engineering Management Career Consultants and uses the logo E=MC2.

What's going on here? As long as we’re ransacking the history of Western mathematics, why not name a company this:

The funny thing about the EMC (squared) company is that it claims to own EMC2 as a trademark. How do you do that? Can no one use Einstein’s famous revelation without getting sued by “a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to" blah blah blah?

Just when our Hemingway-esque apparatus is working over-time to detect foul-smelling names, we stumble upon something good in a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Apparently there is a consulting firm in Massachusetts with the disarmingly simple name Exit41.

Let me check the name-judging apparatus. Yep. The print-out says "Exit41 smell like honeysuckle."


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gulf Oil – Unexpectedly contemplative

While barreling up I-91 last month, I noticed that my tank was low and pulled off at an unfamiliar exit in search of gas. So many stations to choose from... but price dictated that I try the one marked Gulf. Ah yes, Gulf – a brand I knew as a kid in Texas but haven't thought about as an adult among Yankees. Gulf Oil... what do they stand for?

I glanced up from the pump handle and there it was next to the bulging orange logo: "Life... one mile at a time."

Life... one mile at a time... Hmm... Something to think about while I stood there blankly squeezing the lever and watching the dollars stream out of my account. A rich idea, I thought. Open-ended with relevant implications.

"One mile at a time" reminds you of "one day at a time" – the universal mantra of people coping with a chronic challenge. One mile... then another mile... then another... then another... then another... then another... Life itself is a chronic challenge, is it not? One of these miles might bring danger. A bad bump or blow-out. A pink slip. And another one of these miles might bring joy... an unexpected encounter with exhilaration. A new baby.

I decided – standing there at the Gulf pump – that I like this line. I like it not despite the fact that it issued from the jaws of a global oil monster – but because of it. These guys could have bragged about anything – like "beyond petroleum." Instead, they muse, "Let's be open about life. Let's drive along the road from childhood to old age ready for what the highway brings. Let's calm down and take it one mile at a time."

There's pragmatism in this. Fatalism perhaps. Stoicism - but not cynicism. I replaced the pump handle and waved to the dim figure behind the dirty pane of glass... and he waved back.

Now, you may think I'm a sap, and if you prefer something more predictably corporate, then you can certainly have this: