When you’re born, you’re given two things: a smack on the butt and a name. Whether you like it or not, that name is forever a part of your identity. And while we may like to think that our name bears no part in defining who we are, how we act and what we do; truthfully I don’t believe that’s entirely true. Have you ever heard something like this before?
“She looks like a Becky.”
“Really? She looks more like a Courtney to me.”
While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that I’m guilty of it. By nature, humans lean towards association. We want to connect dots and make sense of the world around us. That’s what leads us to taking those ridiculous quizzes and watching videos that try to explain how our names impact our personalities.
When you see a little baby called James, doesn’t that feel a little off? To me, ‘James’ is associated with power and presence, not cute and precious. It feels wrong for a baby. So, we nickname baby James to baby Jimmy. But then what about when baby Jimmy grows up and becomes adult Jimmy? Adults need to be taken seriously, to shed the baby fat of childhood, so baby Jimmy transitions to grown up James where he’ll likely remain.
In a similar vein, brands can have nicknames of their own. PricewaterhouseCoopers, a truly global institution with a name full of prestige often goes by the much more approachable nickname PwC. The names can be used interchangeably depending on the situation. While PwC might be the name of choice when recruiting college students on campus, take a moment to browse the latest news reports they’re cited in. The vast majority refers to PwC by their formal name, PricewaterhouseCoopers. When the name is shortened to PwC, it loses that same sense of power you felt just as it was with Jimmy and James.
Sometimes, it’s not just a nickname that informs an identity. Sometimes, it’s the pronunciation altogether.
My name is Ankur, pronounced “un-koor.” Like most kids with foreign names, I’ve had my name butchered beyond recognition: anchor and acorn most notably. Eventually I grew sick of it. Educating people on the correct pronunciation became too painful, so I now introduce myself as “encore,” a mispronunciation that I have come to love. When asked my name I’d say “It’s Encore, like ‘encore, encore!’” and what started as a way to get around incorrect pronunciations turned into a core part of my very own personal brand. I wasn’t Ankur the little Indian boy; I was Encore the fun kid down the block.
Mispronouncing brand names can have an equally powerful effect on their meaning. I’m an avid Target shopper. I love the deals, the bright colors and the fantastic ads they put out. It’s also the closest superstore in relation to my University. I don’t shop at Target because of its prestige; I shop there because it’s cheap and convenient. Where I’m from, it’s a common joke to switch the pronunciation of Target to “tar-jay.” Suddenly, Target no longer seems like a discount brand, it is said with the same air of superiority as any other luxury brand (jokingly, of course). A slight switch in pronunciation can drastically impact the perception of a brand, just as it did for my name.
Own your name. It’s part of who you are. And maybe think twice before naming your kid “Sauerkraut Applebottoms” because who knows what that’ll mean for their future identity.