DOES A NAME EVEN MATTER?
So, I’ve started a new studio practice recently. And, although I realize that the first thing I probably should have done is secure a business plan or maybe a 5-year forecast or whatever it is that business professionals and entrepreneurs do when they decide to start a business, I started thinking about a name first. Because a name matters. What’s the first thing you learn about someone? Their name. How do we find anyone on the internet? Their name.
So, I came up with a name, and I called this studio Thriving Concern. I could give you an argument as to why “Thriving Concern” but honestly, the pairing popped out at me in the middle of a life insurance ad out of a 1960 issue of Fortune Magazine. I made a note of it for future reference simply because I liked the sound and the contrasting idea in the words. When it came to naming this new practice, I went to Thriving Concern. It didn’t hurt at all that the website and every single social media account for “thrivingconcern” was also just ready and waiting for me. It seems rare these days to find an interesting two-word combination who’s internet real estate hasn’t already been snatched up.
I’ve been involved in naming projects, and I try to take a more strategic approach with my clients’ names than I did for myself. Which is the right way to go, right? We need to work strategically here, right? Don’t we? Does it really matter? Does a name need to do that much thinking beforehand or, as Michael Beirut refers to it in a similar discussion of logos, “It really is about thinking of these symbols as being empty vessels in a way. And then you pour the meaning into them. Some vessels are better at holding one kind of meaning.”
“Some vessels are better as holding one kind of meaning,” was the part I always glossed over in my thinking about this quote, because it’s much more mind-blowing to think about logos and names as empty vessels. Then you can name anything… anything. Which means I should have named this studio “yabbba rroooowwww”, right? Yes, and maybe. What makes a name effective or ineffective for carrying a story? If you’re a bike shop and you name yourself Soft Drink City that is a bad idea, right? Is it?
Think about Google. What kind of fucking awful name is THAT? They even spelled it wrong. Amateurs. But not anymore. As Beirut predicts, Google the name is a “better vessel” for holding everything that Google stands for. But how is that possible? We could argue the meaning of the word Google (or googol, as it should be spelled) represents the enormous quantity that contains everything Google has become, but then we’re just post-rationalizing the name — which is insanely easy to do when your company does everything. If Google ended up going into doggy day care and kept the name we’d still be able to rationalize it to represent all the dogs across the world that are in need of our love. And what is the name of the world-renowned design studio at which Michael Beirut is a partner? Pentagram. Nobody in their right mind would name a design studio “Pentagram” today. But there they are, with the world and their renouncement and everything.
Or here’s another example of a fucking awful name that you probably never realized was awful. It’s the most trivial and saccharine name you can imagine. It’s punny and bland, and meaningless to the point of unnecessary. It’s The Beatles. Right?! FUCK! It’s a name that rides the coattails of a previous artist (Buddy Holly & The Crickets), and on top of that it’s the kind of pun that should get you punched in the face. Awful, horrible, tasteless name. But does it even matter? Would The Beatles have made any less of an impact if they had been named the Four Skins*? Probably not. We probably wouldn’t give a second thought to telling our friends and family that, “Paul is my favorite Four Skin.”
I guess what I’m wondering here is if Beirut’s “better vessel” event exists for naming. I don’t know. But I will argue that, if you know that whatever you want to do is good and true, you can probably name it anything you want. That goodness and that truth will fill up any vessel you’ve got laying around to pour it into.
*Oh, shit. There actually was a London Oi band called the 4 Skins which, in that layered context, makes THAT name some kind of hilarious awesome genius. Fuck this whole argument.