Lost in a lattice of innogy (or is it consignia?)

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The Independent Online

Humpty Dumpty could probably have made a good living as a management consultant these days, what with his rather abrasive self-confidence and his willingness to redefine terms to suit the circumstances.

Humpty Dumpty could probably have made a good living as a management consultant these days, what with his rather abrasive self-confidence and his willingness to redefine terms to suit the circumstances.

But he would have had to modernise his thinking in at least one area, as he makes clear when he encounters Alice and the two exchange names. "Must a name mean something?" Alice asks after hers has been queried.

"'Of course it must,' Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: 'my name means the shape I am - and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape almost.'"

Quite out of touch, poor chap, as he would quickly have realised if he had been able to listen to the looking-glass exchange on the Today programme yesterday. The Chief Executive of the Post Office had turned up to explain why his company was abandoning meaning in favour of nonsense by rebranding itself as Consignia. The change was meaningless, he explained in soothing tones, which was why the new name was so meaningful.

Something like that, anyway. He then added an unconvincing remark about the deep wellsprings of instinctive trust that the allusion to consigning would tap in the British public. How it will do this when it is pronounced to rhyme with "insignia" (or when most people will have encountered it in the phrase "a consignment of drugs") isn't entirely clear, but then a certain murky indeterminacy is the crucial element of the fashionable new corporate names.

Take Accenture - a new name forced on Andersen Consulting as part of a recent divorce settlement from Arthur Andersen. Accenture is a classic instance of the new corporate name. It's a kind of verbal mule, hybridised from two fertile and useful words - accent and adventure - to create a sterile and awkward chimera.

Other companies have pursued the renaming route too, including National Power, which recently pupped "Innogy" (an unhappy mating of innovation and energy, one assumes), the British Gas company which re-emerged as "Lattice", and Scottish Power, which left behind the geographical limitations of its original name for the almost Zen vacancy of "Thus".

Thus, explained a press release solemnly, is "flexible, enabling new products and services to be added easily to the company's portfolio". Such name changes also allow a company to indulge in the fantasy of relaunch, even if nothing has changed but the stationery and the give-away golf balls. "Renamed. Redefined. Reborn" reads the upbeat slogan on Accenture's website. How easy corporate apotheosis is.

Then again you can see how tempting this kind of corporate reinvention must be. It's not hard to think of other organisations that would be happy to slough their old skin and enter the world anew. Railtrack, for instance, desperately needs to shed its unfortunate association with lengths of brittle steel, which are clearly damaging the company's core activity of maintaining share price without compromising the safety of the top executives' remuneration packages.

They should relaunch themselves as "Apõlogia, world-leaders in contrition technology and culpability limitation". And Marks & Spencer will also soon have to face up to the fact that that its historic trading name has become a liability on the high street. A top-secret team are probably already working on a replacement. I can see it now - "Ampërsand for Quality".

Get the title right, if one is to believe the gurus of corporate nomenclature, and you barely need to worry about what's actually done in your name.

sutcliff@globalnet.co.uk

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