If your name was Bell and you had seven new children to name, what would you call them?
Bell Atlantic, the new name chosen for the regional phone company serving the Washington area, has a nice ring to it and Bell South is an apt appellation.
Ameritech, the name bestowed on the Midwest phone company, is awfully pretentious and not terribly descriptive, but Nynex? What kind of a name is Nynex?
The worst name of any company in America, says Rance Crain, publisher of Advertising Age.
In a world in which millions of hapless offspring spend their lives resenting the monikers stuck on them by petulant parents, the ninny-named Nynex has no one to blame.
Executives of the new regional telephone company serving New York and New England actually chose it themselves after spending God knows how much on research.
NY stands for New York, they explain, NE for New England and X for the unknown potential of the newly independent telecommunications company.
Nynex? Is it some kind of athletes foot medicine? A cousin of Nylon, an insecticide, perhaps, or a sleeping potion?
Said aloud, Nynex sounds like the middle name of a Muslim boxer, maybe some friend of Mr. T. Come to think of it, that might be a better name for a telephone company. Instead of Ma Bell, maybe we should have Ms. T, for telecommunications.
Nynex probably isn't the worst mistake made in breaking up the Bell system (the breakup itself could get that honor) but its going to take an ingenious image maker to make Nynex a household word.
Names are no small matter in a culture in which symbols have become as important as reality.
Hollywood discovered the magic of names long before it sent one of its stars to the White House. Ronald Reagan IS his real name, but turning some Annabelle Anonymous into a Bo Derek is so common no one even asks anymore what her "real name" is.
When name recognition became the name of the game in politics, the importance of the proper personification increased.
I've seen my homestate senator through three variations on his simple surname. When the earnest young school teacher from New Hartford first ran for the Iowa legislature, he called himself Charles Grassley. Emerging as a legislative leader he became known as Charlie, a friendly sort of down-home, old boy, aw shucks name. But a dynamic candidate for the United States Senate needs an almost expletive name and he's campaigned as Chuck ever since.
Even addresses get massaged these days, if not always improved. The string of buildings bearing the symphonic sobriquet Red Lion Row are being incorporated into a megaplex known as 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. Not only is that an inferior name, anyone can plainly see the place is on I Street NW, not The Avenue of Presidents.
More than one Washington building slips its address around the corner from an ordinary numbered street onto a more prestigious avenue. Renovation of the building at 929 E St. NW, will include changing its address to 999, "so people will know its on the corner" says the developer. Besides, 929 sounds like the first name of a phone number and 999 conjures up images of race cars or steam locomotives.
Numbers and initials can be just as good as names, but harder to claim as yours alone. Presidents FDR and JFK will never be joined in history by RR because Hollywood already had another RR and in this town his initials are most often branded on Double-R Burgers.
Saturday Night Live fans roared recently when Mr. T came looking for his son E. Everyone understands there's no family connection between the two big M corporations--IB and 3--so after many years they were able to drop their original names and officially adopt their initials.
MCI Communications has pulled it off in far less time. The local outfit known by the abstract initials CACI Inc. manages to get away with it because the name is pronounced "khaki" so it is obviously a defense contractor.
The same cannot be said for what is undoubtedly the worst named company in the Washington area--M/A COM INC. If not the biggest high-tech employer in the area, it is certainly right behind IBM and AT&T, but try to find it in the phone book or pronounce it, let along figure out what it is. The $500 million-a-year communications company contributes to its identity crisis by naming its divisions M/A COM DCC, M/A COM Linkabit and M/A COM OSI.
One of the most candid appraisals of names I've heard lately came from Robert Erikson, president of Cerberonics. The firm is named after Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades in ancient mythology. An inspired title for a defense contractor, Cereberus is a puzzling name for the three-screen theatre on the edge of Georgetown, unless you consider that the gates of Hell.
Erikson in a recent interview said the "onics" was tacked onto Cerberus in the '60s to make the name sound current. In those days, he explained, "Everybody was an "onics," in the '80s it would be Cerberhitech."
What was it somebody said about a rose?