Mary Dejevsky: Aviva? That's a very risky name change

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The Independent Online

When we first took out home insurance with Norwich Union, about eight years ago, I remember being put through to a homely sounding switchboard in Sheffield – its address was only a matter of yards from the city's old Playhouse where I used to spend many an entertaining evening in my teens. All right, so the company was quite far away from Norwich even then, but it was somewhere and something with an identity and an identifiable place in a familiar world.

Now, Norwich Union is in the throes of a truly gruesome advertising campaign to persuade us all that it is really no different now that it is adopting the name Aviva. Enormous hoardings almost everywhere you look, not to speak of whole-page adverts in newspapers, scream out the message in yellow and blue (nursery colours that make for easy confusion, I submit to whoever devised it, with the almost equally ubiquitous adverts for Ikea).

Among Norwich Union's – sorry, Aviva's – sales pitches is a defence of name-changing in principle, citing precedents, such as Peking/Beijing and Leningrad/St Petersburg.

There is another series of ads, less fathomable – to me at least – that plays around with restaurant names. It's so long that I have been hard put to read to the end, even on a dawdling bus. But that's by the by.

Even the Beijing/St Petersburg changes are no real parallel, as they are reversions – in the first case to something closer to the city's name in Mandarin, and in the second to the city's original name, before it became Petrograd and then Leningrad.

While I regret the passing of Peking, as the traditional Anglicised version, both changes have the merit of authenticity. Aviva – for all its mock-classical appearance – is not an older version of anything.

Malevolently, I hope that Norwich Union may come to regret the change. Name is identity. Norwich Union – despite its ponderous call centres in India, its infuriating on-hold messages, and its recent inability to process a direct debit for my car insurance, even though it had our household policy already on its books – stood for old-fashioned, British, down-to-earth reliability. Aviva sounds in every way like almost the exact opposite.

The plight of the Zavvi chain stands as a warning. Forced into administration before Christmas, it announced this week that another 18 stores were to close. Zavvi's difficulties have generally been blamed on recession and the new national mood of parsimony. I suspect, though, that the decision to abandon the Virgin Megastores name in favour of the artificial, nondescript Zavvi was at least partly to blame. Enforced or not under the terms of the sale in 2007, the loss of the Virgin association surely subtracted value.

While perhaps past its peak, the Virgin brand still has an identity all its own: stylish, modern, and slightly risqué, in the right combination. What on earth did the name Zavvi communicate – except that someone was at a loss for a snappy name?

A stupid remark, but that doesn't make it incorrect

Baroness Vadera's scintillating career hardly bespeaks a shrinking violet, so I doubt she needs anyone to defend her. I doubt, too, whether – even if our paths had crossed – we would ever have been bosom pals. There may be a time when loudly rebuking civil servants is, if not appropriate, then at least understandable. But losing your staff quite as routinely as she seems to do could suggest a very special gift for alienating people.

For her to be a baroness also grates. I dislike the way the Prime Minister has ennobled associates who have not faced election as a way of bringing them into his government. This erodes democratic accountability.

All the same, the flak Shriti Vadera has taken for referring, speculatively, to the possible appearance of "green shoots" in the economy is excessive. Yes, on a day that brought several thousand more job losses, her Lamont-esque remark was spectacularly insensitive. But give the woman a break. Her clumsiness might reflect her inexperience of professional politics, but it has a certain appeal in an age where gaffe-evasion is the first rule of politics.

What is more, as a former – and successful – merchant banker, she may be better qualified than most to read the signals from the City. Being outspoken and politically tone-deaf does not automatically make her wrong.

Confused by a plethora of blues and twos

Scotland Yard is trying to re-educate Londoners about when to call 999. "Believe it or not," it says chattily, "out of 2.5 million calls to the Met Police through the 999 system last year, only about 20 per cent required an emergency response." To which many people – including those whose report of a burglary was not followed promptly by a house call – would surely be tempted to retort: "Well that's what you think."

The campaign distinguishes between a burglary that "has happened" (not an emergency) and one actually "happening" (which, you will be relieved to know, justifies a 999 call). It reminds me a bit of grappling with the distinction between imperfective and perfective aspects when learning Russian verbs.

Of course, there are many daft and utterly irresponsible reasons why people call 999, but one is surely the scarcity of any sort of authority on the streets, closed police stations and the complexity of the Yellow Pages. So dispersed and delegated are so many services that often you simply don't know who to call.

* More and more people also seem to be treating routine inconvenience as a personal emergency. Not a day passes that I do not see an ostensibly ordinary car with a flashing blue light on its roof, ignoring red lights and intimidating other traffic into pulling over.

At first, I believed these were doctors on emergencies, or police in unmarked cars. But there are too many. I'm starting to believe they are impostors. So if we become more discerning about when to dial 999, could the police crack down on those fitting a blue light to a car for the sole purpose of cutting up the rest of us. Only emergency vehicles should have the right to scythe through traffic. Drivers, stand your ground!

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