Can it really be pure coincidence that the word “onomastic” (relating to the study of names) and the word “onanistic” (relating to masturbation) share so many letters in common? Either way, let their close dictionary proximity act as a warning: Modify your name, change your name completely, or generally express too much interest in your own name and people are bound to think you’re indulging in a bit of self-gratification.
Even the man known variously as “Puff Daddy”, “Puffy”, “P. Diddy” and “Diddy” has recently come to this realisation. After a career marked by high-profile name changes, last week he admitted that he now regrets not sticking with plain old Sean Combs, the name his mother gave him. “Looking back on it, it’s probably been one of my biggest branding mistakes,” he said in an interview to promote his new music channel, Revolt TV. “It was just being young and not being strategic and having lots of nicknames. When you’re growing up in the inner-city neighbourhood, that’s really common.”
Call it “personal branding”, call it “nominative determinism”, call it what you will, Combs is not alone in believing that the name you use has an almost mystical influence over your chances of success. A given name might indicate your parents’ aspirations, what class you come from, or who your great-great- grandmother married.
The name you choose for yourself is an opportunity to cast all that baggage aside and look to the future. It’s a powerful act of self-determination, a statement of ambition and therefore, as the haters like to remind us, it’s also rather pretentious.
Combs doesn’t really care if anyone thinks he’s pretentious, he cares about whether they think he’s a serious businessman, so he can sell them some advertising on his new TV channel. From this point of view, it probably isn’t the audacity of the initial name change he most regrets, but changing his name so many times subsequently that a Google search engine will struggle to recall his various achievements to date. That’s just bad branding.
As it’s a bit late for regrets on that count, Combs’ only recourse is to stop taking himself so seriously and look to the other great name-changer of hip hop. At time of going to press we know him as Snoopzilla, but who knows what he’ll be called by morning? The artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg and then Snoop Lion has announced that he’ll be releasing his latest album 7 Days of Funk under the name Snoopzilla, in homage to funk legend Bootsy “Bootzilla” Collins. “We’re babies of the Mothership,” Snoopzilla said, by way of explanation. “I’ve had funk influences in my music my whole career.”
Here’s a man who clearly cares not a jot for branding practices or Google SEO, but perhaps understands what Combs doesn’t. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, if the work is good enough, they’ll remember your name.