Here's a hypothetical problem I'm glad I haven't had to face: How do you go about naming a "private military contractor"--itself a renaming of the traditional "mercenary"?
Rob Walker posed the question last week in his Murketing blog:
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you’re starting a business that happens to be more or less an extragovernmental army. Your employees will be weaponized, trained to kill, and available for hire. Your accountability will be murky at best. In fact the whole organization would be kind of secretive and vague. It sounds a little scary. A little sinister. A little dystopian sci-fi.
What would you call your organization? Wouldn’t you want to go for something reassuring? Sort of the way that lobbying organizations adopt innocuous, feel-good names? Maybe you’d go with something like Blue Sky, or Sunshine, or Tranquility. Something that would suggest to anyone who heard about your organization in passing: “That sounds pleasant. Nothing to worry about there!”
Would you, under any circumstances, call your organization Blackwater? Maybe it’s just me, but that name kind of suggests, I don’t know, sinister bad guys in a sci fi movie. That seems bad for PR. Especially when your organization becomes involved in a deadly firefight that mushrooms into an international incident. Don’t you think?
A couple of Rob's commenters voted for truth in advertising. "I think that if you’re running an international mercenary organization, maybe upping the sinister level isn’t the worst idea," wrote JKD. Contrary4Percent cited New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who wrote on Sept. 28 about Blackwater and competitors with the evocative names Zapata, Aegis, and Triple Canopy.
Commenter Mike D added: "When Blackwater launched in the mid-90s, it was always mentioned along with it’s [sic] British equivalent, which had a less ominous name: Sandline International. But the winner of the private army name game was Sandline’s predecessor, the euphemistically ominous Executive Outcomes."
Executive Outcomes "ceased operations" in 1999, according to this Wikipedia article; Sandline folded in 2004. But there are still plenty of mercenaries--whoops, "PMCs"--plying their sinister trade in Iraq and elsewhere. Let's look at some of these gangs' names:
MOST APPROPRIATE CLASSICAL REFERENCE: Erinys International, based in South Africa and Britain, is named after a Greek "chthonic goddess of wrath." "Chthonic" means "relating to the underworld."
MOST PAINFUL METAPHOR: Sharp End International, which does not divulge a base of operations but according to Wikipedia "uses mostly Australian and New Zealand ex-special forces instructors." In case the name isn't clear enough for you, the logo includes two neatly sliced-off letters.
NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD: Ronin Worldwide Executive Protection, LLC, based in Dearborn, Michigan. A ronin was a freelance samurai in feudal Japan; Robert De Niro starred in the 1998 movie of the same name.
AN OBVIOUS WORD-BLEND, BUT SOMEBODY HAD TO DO IT: Defensecurity, based in North Miami.
THEY PUT THE "LEAN" IN "LEAN, MEAN FIGHTING MACHINE": Spartan Consulting Group, based in Los Angeles.
INTERNATIONAL MEN OF MYSTERY: AQMI Strategy Corporation (bonus points for the cuuuute initialism, which is pronounced "acme"). According to this article, the company ("a highly specialized international investment and consulting firm," according to PR Newswire) is based in Orlando, but it "provides no brochures, no business cards, no nameplate on the door." Needless to say, no website, either.
FRIENDLIEST WEBSITE: ManTech International, which sounds like an erectile-dysfunction research company but looks like a swell bunch of guys and gals sharing a jolly laugh while they bustle about "[providing] innovative technologies and solutions for mission-critical national security programs supporting the Intelligence Community; the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Justice; the Space Community; and other federal government agencies." Hey, you can even go shopping!
APTRONYMIC EXCELLENCE AWARD: CusterBattles. Incredibly, this "international business risk consultancy," whose tagline is "Transforming Risk into Opportunity," is named for its founders, Scott Custer and Michael Battles. Who may not have stopped to consider, when they were ordering the business cards, that history's other Custer lost.