James Brown: No, I'm not the Godfather of Soul...

I doubt James Brown of Georgia spends his days being asked if he has ever edited 'loaded'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Unless you're a fan of snooker or HP Sauce you might wonder what I'm going on about here, but please bear with me. Last week I had my name stolen. The legendary snooker player Jimmy White was hired by the legendary sauce company HP to change his name by deed poll to James Brown. As they were sponsoring the brown ball in the recent Masters Snooker Tournament, they thought it only fitting to push the promotion further.

Unless you're a fan of snooker or HP Sauce you might wonder what I'm going on about here, but please bear with me. Last week I had my name stolen. The legendary snooker player Jimmy White was hired by the legendary sauce company HP to change his name by deed poll to James Brown. As they were sponsoring the brown ball in the recent Masters Snooker Tournament, they thought it only fitting to push the promotion further.

My initial thoughts were, well if you're going to share your name with anyone it might as well be an icon like The Whirlwind White. I also assumed the fuss would die down after a day or two. However, because the broadcast media refused to call Jimmy by his new name, the matter threatened to turn into a legal tussle, and the issue began to achieve far more publicity than the initial name change.

By now I had to accept that I was down to number three on the list of James Browns. Ever since I was 17 and some students asked me if my parents "had been fans of the Godfather of Soul", I have enjoyed and endured a daily reminder that there is a great soul singer from Georgia who I share my name with. Having started my career in music journalism, this was initially helpful: people remembered my name; but after about five years of daily yelps of "Get Down!", "Sex machine" and so on, it began to pale. I was never particularly annoyed, however, and it served as a good way of knowing how interesting a conversation was going to be with someone when they opened with a reference to the other James.

Last Saturday night I met a musician called William Blake, so I know I'm not alone in this. All over the world, in fact, there are people who unintentionally share their monikers with superstars, politicians, soap actors and so on. When I worked at NME, we had a section called Not THE Frank Zappa - to which readers with famous names sent in their pictures.

For me, the association has been so relentless that I eventually gave in and named my company I Feel Good, and I acquiesced when a newspaper asked me to interview the great man - he never once let on we shared the name. I somehow doubt James Brown of Georgia spends his days being asked whether he has ever edited loaded. We have twice though been booked into a hotel at the same time. At others I have had to encounter the disappointment on the faces of maître d's and hotel managers, who had thought they had the far more famous and talented James Brown staying with them, only to find out it was a white boy from Yorkshire.

And now I have once again had my name diluted by a marketing move. As brand extensions go, it has certainly been effective. In business, if one company fancied another's name they would do a merger or acquire the business; but so far neither I nor the Godfather of Soul have even been offered a bottle of sauce, never mind share options in HP. Their move does feel tantamount to brand theft. In a commercial world driven by advertising, brand protection is rife. If I were to change my name tomorrow to HP Sauce, they'd be all over me. Sticky, to say the least.

You cannot, I believe, escape your own personality by changing your name. Gazza tried this by renaming himself G8 and the musician Prince re-branded himself Symbol, neither move helped; but then again naming yourself after a summit for world leaders when you are a retired footballer, or creating a logo that looks like a bad children's drawing of a fish is ill-advised.

I do, as a matter of fact, like my name, but unfortunately so does Jimmy White. However, there must be even more confusion if you are called something like David Smith. I assume you can only take solace in the fact you are not called Cyril Smith. At the opposite end of the spectrum if you are called Peregrine Worsthorne or Amanda Huggenkiss you are unlikely to find another person timesharing your name/brand. If you do. I suggest you either become friends or sue each other for maximum publicity and then sell the brand to someone called David Smith.

While this name confusion pales into insignificance compared to the many serious issues in the world, I do feel as though some sort of personal burglary has taken place. To have your name liberated is disconcerting; I didn't put mine down for some identity timeshare. I, for one, would never change my name.

Our names are the first things we learn: when you are unconscious, paralytic and confused, they use the phrase "didn't even know his own name" to signify complete helplessness. If the Government were to encourage famous sports stars and celebrities to steal ordinary people's names, it might see a shift in support for the ID card scheme.

Like webmail addresses. We could be numbered next to our names to register our popularity. For now, I have to accept I've been relegated to number three on the list of James Browns. Still it could be worse, I could have been called George Bush or Harold Shipman.

james.brown@independent.co.uk

The writer James Brown is neither a snooker player nor a soul singer

Comments