I usually can come up with a theory to explain copycat names and naming trends. In the early aughts, many companies chose double-O names (Qoop, Squidoo, Doostang, ooVoo) to sound like Google. All those X + Y names (Mizzen + Main, Standard & Strange, Coral & Tusk)? They evoke Ye Olde Tymes, with the modern bonus of yielding cheap domains. Lately, we’ve seen a cluster of first-name names like Oscar and Emma, the better to blunt the cutting edge of technology.
But the explanation for one mini-trend has eluded me. Perhaps you, dear readers, can help.
Two huge companies on opposite sides of the globe. Two ad campaigns with ginormous budgets. Two teams of copywriters burning the midnight oil, pushing themselves to be original and authentic and cutting edge.
I’ve been noticing a mini-trend in corporate naming: personal names. The names are usually (but not always) female, and they’re often a little old-fashioned. At their best, they add emotional appeal, humanize a company – especially a technology company whose actual workings may be opaque – and make a brand seem like a friend or family member.
Here are some of the personal names I’ve been tracking:
Adulting: “Acting like an adult or engaging in activities usually associated with adulthood—often responsible or boring tasks.” Definition via Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl). A verbing of adult, whichcomes from Latin adultus, “full-grown, mature, firmly established”; English managed quite well without the word until the early 17th century.
Last December Fogarty anointed adulting as the 2014 word of the year. “It’s a new word that I think will catch on,” she wrote:
Adulting isn’t in any mainstream dictionary that I checked, and it wasn’t even added to the Urban Dictionary until June of 2014. Yet today, it shows up about 100 times a day on Twitter and there are many websites and Tumblrs with adulting in their name. It’s clearly in wide use on social media, yet it also hasn’t quite gone mainstream. When I mentioned it to my graduate students at UNR [University of Nevada, Reno], none of them had heard it—but they all seemed to like it.
Adulting “fills a void,” Fogarty wrote. My own inference is that it fills a void because the traditional accoutrements of adulthood (marriage, children, home-owning, full-time work) seem increasingly elusive for people in their post-teen years.
One of the earliest and most prominent adulting blogs is called, simply, AdultingBlog. Launched in July 2011 by Kelly Williams Brown, it’s subtitled “How to Become a Grownup in 468 Easy(ish) Steps”*; in May 2013 the blog’s tips were published in book form (Adulting). But the earliest use of adulting, Fogarty found, was a May 2010 tweet by Daniel Kroft:
Adulting echoes the contemporary structure and sense of parenting, which was originally a noun referring to the physical act of begetting; in the last 40 or so years it has also been used as a verb (“acting like a parent”). A best-selling 1970 advice book by Fitzhugh Dodson, How to Parent, may have helped boost the verb’s popularity. (Dodson later published How to Father and How to Grandparent.) So did an explosion of verbing in the 1990s; the list, according to Rosemarie Ostler, author of Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century, includes to effort, to journal, to no-hit, to multitask, to privilege, and to keynote.
Adulting thrives as a hashtag on social media. Here’s a representative sampling of tweets, some serious and some ironic, posted on a single day (and yes, most #adulting tweets are from young women):
Going out to a fancy dinner to celebrate being 100% debt free except for our mortgage. #adulting
God, or those who claim to speak on His/Her/Their behalf, has had a busy week.
In Rowan County, Kentucky, an elected official named Kim Davis, apparently misremembering that she is paid to render unto Caesar,cited “God’s authority” as the reason she has defied the law of the land and refused to grant marriage certificates to same-sex couples. She’s been held in contempt of court and, as of this writing, is in a county detention center.
Meanwhile, “Hand of God,” a new original series from Amazon, is available for streaming today. I’ve seen only the trailer for the nine-part series, which the New York Times’s Mike Hale called “a California neo-noir thriller” and which centers on a judge (played by Ron Perlman, whom you may remember as Hellboy) who believes he can hear the voice of God, but I can’t help imagining the fictional Judge Pernell Harris meeting the real Ms. Kim Davis in court.
And “Hand of God” isn’t the only deity-themed entertainment in the news. Cast thine eyes on this holy-ish trinity:
The headline is inaccurate and inadequate— “words” don’t “become startups”—and I take issue with the snarky attitude, but this list of short “real” (dictionary) words used as names of startups is worth a look. And the way they’re organized is downright poetic. (Hat tip: Karen Wise.)
Speaking of poetic, the New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead consideredthe favorite words of some writers (mostly British and Irish)—Hilary Mantel loves nesh, Taiye Selasi celebrates the Ghanaian colloquialism chale—and added a favorite of her own.