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[April 04, 2014]
Choosing a Name [column]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Imagine if Google had been started in Namibia. It would probably have been called 'Everything Search' or something like that. And after it made it through the registration process at the Ministry of Trade and Industry', it would probably have been called 'Everything Search Mathematical Algorithm Search Engine'. Grim. The venture capitalists would probably have chucked the proposal out the window based on the number of syllables alone.Namibians have difficulty naming things. If you look at the track record of names, stretching back through the decades, the conclusion will be inescapable. All the companies that were founded before World War One, seem to be double-barreled German names.
Those names seem to endure. Shortly after World War One, there was a new crop of names, all beginning with the words Suidwes Afrika, but usually shortened to SWA-something-or-other, probably because most people, like me, didn't have a clue if it should be hyphenated or not and, if so, where the hyphen was supposed to go.Those names didn't last more than about seven decades, but for the tour company and the political party. Anyone remember SWAWEK? To its credit, Swakop kept the beginning of its name as well.Come the nineties, things started to change a lot. After Independence, everyone hauled out their revised sense of patriotism and began to prefix their names with 'Nam'. Those were difficult times. Everyone wanted to be there with a revised corporate identity and the warm glow of a newly registered company name. The challenge of trying to find a creative way to rename the umpteenth company 'Nam-something' became a bit much.
To my everlasting regret though, there was never an opportunity to rebrand the regalia of a motorcycle gang, 'NamSkulls'. Today, the suffix 'Nam' seems to be almost entirely reserved for the bigger organisations that could afford the complete set of business cards, letterheads and the expensive campaign just after Independence.Next came the Namibian words: pick a positive Namibian word and use that as the name of your company. It's not a bad tactic as far as identification as Namibian goes, but it still means that it needs to be explained to quite a lot of people.Lets get back to Google. My best guess is that almost nobody knows what Google means, and that those people who think they know what it means would be mortified to find out that that what they think it means is actually spelled 'googol'.So what's the point of this riff?The fact is that the meaning and correctness of a name has little to do with anything. In reality, a brand or business can successfully use any word as a name, as long as it can be pronounced and spelled easily. Some measure of truth can be observed in the evolution of Namibian company and organisation names over the years.
The logic behind this is that a brand is first and foremost an emotional attachment that arises from experience or observed experience. Diesel is a type of fuel yet it is also a brand of jeans. Originally it was the surname of an inventor. Caterpillar is a type of insect but it is widely recognised as a brand of industrial machinery, and a type of boot. Google is a search engine. All of these brands have exceptionally high recognition value without the need to belabour the point with detailed explanations of the exact nature of the operation. Names however can be specific in different ways: if they describe a noun, adjective or adverb that are expected to elicit an emotional response. Consider a hypothetical example of 'Vanilla' for a shop that sells perfumes, for instance.
Even here though, the name relies on one scent that is not generic to the class of perfumes.Ultimately the choice of name has to allow an emotional attachment, rather than being a series of coldly descriptive words. The best advice is to choose a name without too much thought, which elicits a response in yourself, and work towards communicating that emotion to others, through positive experience.
Copyright Namibia Economist. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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