Last week publisher Emap's closely guarded name for its "Project Miriam" magazine for post-Cosmo woman was revealed to be Red. It closely followed the announcement that newly-merged Guinness and Grand Met had re-branded itself as Diageo. Combining Latin and Greek words to forge that mouthful had apparently cost pounds 250,000.
In an attempt to be taken more seriously, the violinist Nigel Kennedy announced he was dropping his first name and wants to be known simply as Kennedy. The chef, Anton Escalera, was asked by Downing Street to change his first name to Tony to sound more British when cooking for the Anglo- French summit. He refused, saying he would do almost anything to serve Tony Blair, but would not follow his leader in shortening his name.
The importance which business - and politics - attaches to names is due to the realisation that first impressions are vital, according to Dr Helen Petrie, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. "Names are important because it's one of the first things we learn when we meet someone. The name creates the initial impression," she explained. "This is true whether it's a person, a product or a publication. It sets the tone and the ambience.
"In Britain your name places you reasonably accurately in your age and class. It is clear that people are strongly influenced by the brief image your name gives you."
One of the most significant developments, according to Dr Petrie, is the way in which names of women's magazines have changed - particularly the two newcomers on the block, Red and Frank. "Both are trying to break away from stereotypes. In Frank's case there is a double meaning - open, and also the man's name. Red is strong and punchy and doesn't have very female connotations. Both have chosen monosyllables, which are seen as more masculine."
Tina Gaudoin, editor of Frank, agreed that a wide range of people were involved in coming up with the name, although in the end it was the inspiration of a features associate who "had been visited in the middle of the night by a force which had compelled her to get up and scrawl 'Frank' in lipstick on a piece of scrap paper".
But that was after much thought from Nick Logan, editorial director of Wagadon, which owns Frank, staff on sister magazines, The Face and Arena, and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter. More than 35 covers were mocked up while a wide variety of names were suggested, ranging from Bikini and Stiletto to Toast and Skirt.
Creating Diageo was an equally lengthy business - and an expensive one. Guinness and Grand Met spent what is said to be pounds 250,000 to create one of the most ridiculed company names of modern times. Three companies pitched in May to devise a new name for Guinness/Grand Met. After the consultancy Wolff Olins won, consultants, designers and project managers were assigned.
Guinness and Grand Met executives said they wanted a name that conveyed the idea of pleasure and scale, and to do it in a way that suggested vitality. The consultancy suggested various names, beginning with a focus on customer benefit, and then focusing on brands. Wolff Olins were left with two main themes: "everyday, everywhere" and "brands with flair". From there they opted for a Latin/Greek combination. Diageo, it is claimed, is based on the Latin for "day" and the Greek for "world". Classical scholars were quick to point out that the Latin for day is dies and the Greek for world is cosmos.
They were disappointed by the negative response. "It's like a child you have nurtured," said Jonathan Knowles, a consultant at Wolff Olins. "It's hurtful when you hear people say: 'that's not a child, it's a monkey'."
In a single European market, there are more pitfalls to be avoided by manufacturers as they search for suitable pan-Continental brands. Even in 1965 Rolls-Royce was forced to drop Silver Mist when they learnt that mist meant manure in German.
The Spanish bread Bimbo, the German detergent Colon, and the Swedish toilet paper KRPP were all unlikely to find international acceptance. And even Radio Four presenter John Humphrys was forced to admit that his real name is slightlydifferent. We are left wondering: WouldDesmond Humphrys have got as far?
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