What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually!

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When Shakespeare wrote the lines “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” for Juliet’s soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet, he struck a chord – after all, a name is given for identification and does not necessarily give or describe attributes.

However, in today’s day and age, this does not quite hold true.

The reason is not difficult to understand. As we get overwhelmed by information overload, our brains respond by pigeonholing data to help us in remembering, understanding and reacting to it.

This is capitalized by companies as they attempt to associate attributes to their products, with the product names being treated as brands.

The pigeonholing of information in our brain leads to an interesting phenomenon. Due to the limited space given to a particular category, our brain stores only a few names/brands in each category.

You can test this out yourself – without taking the time to think, list out the names of toilet soaps that you are aware of. It has been found that on an average, we can come up with 6-8 names before we take a pause to remember. Fact is there are at least 60 brands of toilet soap that are available in the market!

This is the reason why brand building and maintenance has become so important. Every brand in every category tries its level best to get into the top seven list of its target customers.

Conversely, even a slight miscommunication could lead to a brand getting associated with undesirable attributes or being knocked off the top seven list, leading to loss of valuable market share.

The same principle has been used in negative marketing of rival products or services as well.

For example, Pappu has been a very common nickname in India. From what I understand, it was the song “Pappu can’t dance” from the film 2008 Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na that led to a negative connotation to the name, and it became associated with incompetence. By cleverly associating the name Pappu with Rahul Gandhi, the BJP has been able to effectively dismiss him as a potential PM, and contributed a great deal to its countering the Congress party.

The importance of names and brands is being recognized even at the governmental levels. The recent Act passed by the Odisha Assembly changing the name of the Xavier University to XIM University since XIM has a greater brand value than Xavier is an example of this. It is a different matter that it is XIMB that has the value, not XIM, and this renaming may end up in further eroding the value of the XIMB brand built up painstakingly over the past thirty years.

Names are also very important in another respect – as Dale Carnegie said in his best selling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People“, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” In today’s context, it is not just how you pronounce it, but also how you spell it tht can make a difference.

The recent controversy over the spelling of Odisha as Orissa by Arvind Kejriwal, the CM of Delhi is an indication of this.

It has been ten years that the name of the state has been changed, and crores of rupees have been spent on publicizing the new spelling and pronunciation. But still there are so many who still spell it as Orissa and pronounce it as Oorissa (as in oomph).

But then, we are not alone in this – there are many who still prefer to use Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Bangalore instead of their new names/spellings!

At best, it can be taken as an instance of old habits die hard. At worst, it can be taken as a deliberate disregard of our identity and thus an insult.

Both these perspectives can be seen in the responses to Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet thanking Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik for sending desperately needed oxygen to Delhi.

There is one other aspect that makes names and their spelling important – our digital identities. All our digital transactions are dependent upon software that is completely unforgiving as far as spellings go.

Dependent as we are on so many unique ids like PAN, Aadhaar, email etc., one letter missed or replaced with another can lead to a completely different outcome.

I should know – God only knows how many emails addressed to me have been received by ccsekhar@gmail.com, ccsekar@gmail.com and ccshekar@gmail.com. In case one of the owners of these email ids is reading this – my sincere apologies; and a request to please forward these emails to ccshekhar@gmail.com 🙂

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