WHAT did you call me?
I love naming. It’s one of the best bits of my job as a writer. Whether it’s coming up with what to call a five-star spa or luxury hotel, or, most recently, a new dairy product and a retail venture brand, the process is fascinating and definitely fun.
So why am I finding it so hard to find a name for my (imminently-arriving) baby? I’ve spent the last seven months pondering the problem, and now the deadline is looming, the client is expecting my best work and I’ll have to live with the choice for the rest of my life. It’s the single most stressful part of being pregnant, so far. I need Greg Taylor, our Brand Provocation Director, to sit me down and workshop it out for me.
I’m at the point where the Wombles’ method seems perfectly sane. The original Wimbledon eco-warriors would go to Great Uncle Bulgaria, who’d pick a name at random from the index of his world atlas. Hence brilliant names like Tomsk, Orinoco and Tobermory. (I actually did this, and I came out with Honolulu. Hmmm, potty training jokes instantly spring to mind.)
If you’ve read Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics, you’ll be familiar with the idea of nominative determinism. In other words, the theory that your name plays a part in your future success. The book labours the point that educated, successful white people name their children differently to low or no income black parents. So really, names only indicate where you come from and therefore where you’re statistically more likely to end up, rather than your name being the instrument of your fate.
I can’t help feeling like names are a bit more powerful than that, though. Names are stacked with meaning. And we, as humans, are meaning-seeking creatures. We always have been, from the ancient Romans auguring the future in the intestines of a bull, to our hopeful watching of the skies for signs of a sunny day to come. I’m guiltier than most, looking for and finding meaning in everything. Every name I suggest to clients has to be rationalized with multiple layers of clever connotation. So, naturally, my firstborn’s first name has to be rich with meaning.
My own name has a surprisingly unpleasant meaning. Rebecca, it turns out, means ‘noose’ or ‘snare’. (Perhaps this explains why, in my late teens, I styled myself as ‘the ultimate mantrap’, with limited success. I was Pamela Anderson without the boobs. And what’s the point in that?)
I’m sure my parents had no idea of this unsavoury significance. They didn’t have the Internet (imagine!) and nameberry.com – much less momswhothink.com which has lists entitled Baby Names for Future Morticians, Future Televangelists and Future Truck Drivers.
So I’m feeling overwhelmed by a morass of baby name information. I now know, too, that, celebrities get it wrong all the time! Do you think Tom Cruise has any idea that the issue of his loins (sorry) Suri, doesn’t just mean ‘princess’ in Persian or a Yiddish ‘red rose’. Take her to Punjab and she’d quickly learn her name means ‘pig’, and ‘pointy nose’ elsewhere in India. To the Japanese, it would turn out he’s labelled her a ‘pickpocket’. Nice one Tom.
I know this is a problem for writers in other branding design agencies. Someone in Ghana has to live with their grand opus, Pee Cola. A naughty Norwegian came up with Aass Beer. Even less appetizing is the origin of Coca-Cola’s rival – did you know that pepsin is a digestive enzyme? Tasty!
Some brands arguably get it right in Freakonomics terms. It’s common knowledge that Amazon, named after the world’s biggest river, expresses the Jeff Bezos’ similarly vast ambition. And that global dominator, Nike, has the goddess of victory as its namesake. But did you know that the name Yahoo comes from Gulliver’s Travels? Founders Jerry Young and David Filo felt these foul and filthy sub-humans accurately represented themselves far better than their original brand name: David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web.
And Starbucks, rather strangely, was called after the cautious chief mate in Moby Dick – perhaps because he was the only one to stand up and say it was insane to want revenge on an animal. Does he stand for quiet courage and steadiness? In fact, the founders wanted to name their coffee behemoth after Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, but it was rejected. It’s hard to imagine a Pequod Mobyccino.
So my search for the ultimate aptronym continues. I want the name to be apt, almost to a Dickensian degree. I don’t mean, literally, Pumblechook or Pip, but just a name that fits, that resonates, that creates that elusive smile in the mind. No pressure then.
Perhaps, like Nike and Amazon, I should just focus on what I wish for my baby. Felicity for happiness. Valentina for love. Or – my favourite – Algernon for a luxurious moustache. Here’s hoping for a boy then…