Last Sunday, at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I saw the world premiere of a fascinating and disturbing documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, about the building of the Ark Encounter, a $102 million pseudoscientific tourist attraction in Williamstown, Kentucky. (You can read about the Encounter’s 2016 opening and about Ken Ham, the “creationist” zealot behind the endeavor, here.)
The film doesn’t yet have a distributor, so I can’t tell you where it will play next. What I can tell you is the story of 137 Films, the production company that made We Believe in Dinosaurs. It’s one of the best how-they-got-that-name stories I’ve read, and certainly one of the best numeral-as-name stories.
Where do you find a brand name? More specifically, where do you find a powerful, memorable, lasting brand name?
The answer, in one famous instance: outside the window.
In 1982, computer scientists John Warnock and Charles Geschke were working in Warnock’s garage in Los Altos, California, on a page description language for controlling printing. The product would end up being called PostScript; in 1985, Warnock and Geschke would license it to Apple.
PostScript is a solid product name. But Warnock and Geschke, who had been colleagues at Xerox PARC, had bigger plans. They needed a company name that wasn’t defined by, or limited to, a single product.
They found that name when they looked outside the garage window and saw Adobe Creek.
You’re probably heard of babies named after brands: Porsche, Chanel, Armani, and, lest we forget, Tiffany. Now the Baby Name Wizard blog tells us about three baby names from the 1980s and 1990s that were inspired by TV advertising.
Mountain Dew, the neon-yellow-green soft drink brand owned by PepsiCo, evidently failed to consult anyone in Scotland before it introduced its new ad slogan, “Epic thrills start with a chug.” If it had, it would have learned that chug is Scottish slang for masturbate. (Jelisa Castrodale for Vice, via Language Log)
That word: It does not mean what you think it means. Not in Scotland, anyway. (Via @jaysebro)
The Brazilian footwear brand Havaianas – established in 1962 and sold in the U.S. since 2007 – is synonymous with colorful, rubber-soled flip-flops that sell for $24 and up. (A current model, studded with Swarovski crystals and suitable for wedding parties, will set you back $78 a pair.) I knew more or less how to pronounce the brand name – hah-vah-YA-nas – but I’m chagrined to say that until very recently I had confidently subscribed to a completely baseless story about its origins.
I saw Black Panther on opening weekend – in Oakland, California, birthplace of the film’s director, Ryan Coogler – and have been thinking ever since about the names in the movie. I’m not a comic-book fan and had never read the source material or seen Captain America: Civil War, the 2016 film that introduced the Black Panther character to movie audiences, so I came to the experience with fresh eyes and ears.
And I came away with questions. Where, for starters, did “Wakanda” – the name of the tiny, technologically advanced African country that’s home to the Black Panther character – come from?
The fictional country of Wakanda, via SciFi Stack Exchange. Theories vary about Wakanda’s location; see the comments on the entry.
Recreational cannabis has been sold legally in Oregon since October 1, 2015; since January 1, 2017, dispensaries have been required to apply for and receive licenses from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. In early January, the Portland Business Journal reported* that the OLCC had received 1,907 recreational marijuana license applications in 2016, and that the total number of licensed retailers had more than doubled in 2016, from 99 to 260.**
One of those green rush beneficiaries is Serra, which opened its first store in Portland in 2016 and which now operates a second Portland store as well as one in Eugene, home of the University of Oregon.
The stores have been praised for their high-end aesthetics (“The most sophisticated cannabis dispensary in the city, if not the country: – Wallpaper. “When you leave Serra, the feeling is similar to leaving Anthropologie: slightly numbed by the curated beauty of the place, a sense of being underdressed, but without the guilt of paying too much for something you'll ruin in one smoke sesh” – the Potlander, which is not a typo). And the verbal identity is similarly bar-raising: no“leaf” pun, no 420 variation, no “green,” no “bud,” no “Mary Jane.”
But where does “Serra” come from, and what does it mean?
Item: “She calls her startup Rapunzel, and for good reason: Angela Christiano is working on growing a full head of hair in the lab.” – Stat, August 12, 2016
The startup is so new it doesn’t yet have a website, but it has generated plenty of buzz in the scientific community. And the name story is so good that I can’t resist sharing it.
Angela Christiano, a researcher at Columbia University, suffers from alopecia areata, a condition that causes sudden and severe hair loss. Dissatisfied with the two hair-loss products currently one the market, Propecia and Rogaine – both of which were developed 20 years ago – she’s working on a method that uses patients’ own stem cells to create hair. Her research is especially promising for women, who can’t use Propecia because of its strong hormonal effects.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re having our usual cool and foggy summer. But in the hotter inland and upland parts of the state, wildfire season is entering its third month. A couple of weeks ago, I drove home from Los Angeles on I-5, near where the poetically named Sand Fire was consuming more than 41,000 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley. The name suggested a hellish haboob, but in fact the fire was named for nearby Sand Canyon.
Most wildfires are named that way: after local landmarks. “The commander on the scene often uses a nearby geographical feature to describe the fire, but he's not bound by any official rules,” Daniel Engber wrote in a 2005 Slate article about fire-naming. “He first suggests a name to the interagency fire dispatcher, who passes it along in fire reports, dispatches, and so on.”
How, then, to explain the Cold Fire, which is currently raging in Napa and Yolo counties?