The Name Game

This week father-in-waiting Matthew Harrison reflects on the imminent addition to his family, and what this tells us about industrial branding.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that buying a house and getting divorced are the 2 most stressful experiences in life. Frankly this is a statement I find it difficult to agree with, and not only because my in-laws are coming to stay next week. Looking for and buying a house is one of life’s pleasures, bringing with it the opportunity to tread mud through strangers’ houses and chuckle at their patterned carpets. As for getting divorced, so long as I resist insulting my wife’s family on my company’s blog I am optimistic that this won’t happen.

No, by far the most stressful experience of my life has come these past 8 months – the duration so far of my wife’s pregnancy. The sources of my angst are too numerous to mention. Is the baby healthy? How is my wife feeling? Am I capable of looking after another human being when I can’t even look after my household’s Christmas card list? Will I find my way to the hospital without getting lost? What the hell is a BabyBjorn? And how will I know when I start dilating?

Even these worries pale into insignificance, however, next to the decision that will affect the success or failure of our future child’s life: what shall we call our future offspring? Of our two current labels, ‘it’ is frankly derogatory and ‘Bump’ would most likely result in playground bullying. These may be adequate descriptions for a child we are yet to meet and who – despite my rapidly expanding wife – remains abstract to us, but a more personal name will be required once the baby enters the big wide world.

Naming a baby, it seems to me, is rather like choosing a brand name for an industrial product. A brand is something that is asked for and referred to by name. It is, however, far more than a mere descriptor. A brand name must reflect the product it refers to both in its personality and in its aspirations. It should be individual enough to be memorable, but not so individual as to invite ridicule. A successful brand name is backed up by closely aligned brand values. These values, in turn, should inspire. Everyone working on behalf of a brand lives up (or down) to the expectations set by that brand (what would be the implications of calling a product or indeed a child ‘garbage’, for example?). It is clear that the choice of my baby’s name is of the utmost importance.

In-depth market research maximizes the chances of getting a brand name correct, exploring issues such as the target audience’s likely reaction and whether there any other companies with a similar brand name. Having trawled through a number of baby-naming books and websites, my wife and I conducted desk research, Googling potential names and seeing what the world’s leading search engine churned out. ‘Audley’ was crossed off the list when we were reminded of Audley Harrison, the erstwhile Olympic boxer (a glance of my physique would tell you why). ‘Tina Catherine’ is also out of the question when you learn that TC Harrison is a second-hand car-dealer in Leicestershire. And how could we realistically call our child George?

The target audience’s reaction was judged scientifically, through a series of informal interviews with friends and family. This research was aimed at drilling down into the darkest recesses of the audience’s imaginations and prejudices. “Sounds like a 13th century poet” guffawed my Dad as we broached the name ‘Theodore’. “Is that an industrial lubricant?’ harrumphed my drunken friend as we debated the name ‘Alexa’ late one Friday evening.

Some people name their children after themselves, which strikes me as either egotistical, unimaginative or both. More importantly, a brand that is not clearly distinguished from the competition – like a son who shares his father’s first name – is by definition consigned to a life of anonymity. My father (Martin) only shares an initial with me, but it didn’t stop him opening my post for 18 years.

So, where did this research take us and what does this tell us about industrial branding? Well, my wife and I eventually agreed on male and female names that we both liked, resisting the temptation to analyze them too deeply or seek the views of anyone outside our own front room. I also thought of some of the world’s most successful brand names and it struck me that most of these are based on relatively mundane criteria such as the original geographical location of the company, the founders’ name or the initials of companies that have merged into the corporation over time. Most successful brand names have no intrinsic meaning beyond the superficial, and only gain real meaning through their activities and interactions over the years.

Building a business-to-business brand, like bringing up a child, is a task that requires continuous investment. The name itself is rather like the wallpaper in a maternity ward – so long as it isn’t offensive, no-one is likely to notice. The final proof of this came when I Googled ‘Matthew Harrison’ and was left agog at the wide range of activities undertaken by my namesakes. A Las Vegas musician, a Rastafarian spokesperson, a Missouri Lutheran Church president and – horrifyingly – director of the film ‘Kicked in the head’ were amongst those conspiring to keep yours truly out of the top 10 pages of the search. I am hoping that, like the best industrial brands, I eventually grow into my name and make it my own.

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