When I’m asked to rename a brand, it’s usually for one of two reasons: a legal challenge (someone has a prior claim to the name) or a major shift in the organization’s direction (we used to sell housewares; now we sell jewelry).
Neither of those scenarios applied to Resourceful HR, a 10-year-old Seattle human-resources consultancy that approached me last autumn about a name change. The company was thriving. It had successfully registered RESOURCEFUL as a trademark. And its business plan involved a refinement, not a revolution.
Still, company founder and CEO Jennifer Olsen told me with a sigh, it was probably time to change the name. For starters, her graphic designer had “taken the brand imagery as far as it could go.” And the brand strategist she’d hired, Catherine Carr of Vitamin C Creative, had done some interviews and concluded that “what she was hearing from us was more exciting than what she was seeing in our materials.”
I’ve finally gotten around to watching “Unforgotten,” the British detective show, now on Netflix, starring Nicola Walker (whom I liked a lot in “Last Tango in Halifax” and the National Theatre’s brilliant Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). Something about the title jogged my memory: It felt like I’d been seeing a lot of un- titles and names lately. So I did some digging. And I was right.
The 2019 Deadspin Name of the Year is down to the Elite Eight. Vote for your favorites in a field that includes Pope Thrower, Pretzel Monteclaro, and Jizyah Shorts. Yes, they’re all real names. (Deadspin) For background, see my 2018 Visual Thesaurus column about the tournament.
How great writing begins: an analysis of the opening paragraphs of “the 94 most compelling articles” in The Atlantic, Fast Company, and the New York Times op-ed section. (Better Humans)
In English, it’s “Once upon a time.” How do other cultures and languages begin their classic tales? (Chitra Soundar)
Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana—the youngest and gayest candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination (so far)—also has the coolest campaign logos. (Note: Not a political endorsement.) (Brand New)
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.
Years ago, long before California legalized cannabis, I knew a pair of Jewish Deadheads whose Passover table always included “sweet herb” (wink, wink) along with the traditional bitter herb. (Or so they said. They never invited me to their seder.) I’ve lost touch with them, but if they’re still observing the ritual, I bet they’re plotzing over this year’s convergence of 4/20—the equivalent of St. Cannabis’ Day—and the first day of Passover. It’s like Thanksgivukkah, but for stoners. Call it Weed-Over, if you must. (The coinage belongs to Arielle Kaplan, a writer for Alma, the new-ish Jewish publication “for ladies with chutzpah.”)
So: How best to honor the occasion? Is cannabis kosher? Is cannabis kosher for Passover? Are we going to be asking 420 questions instead ofthe traditional four?
To the last question I say: Isn’t the seder already punishingly long? As for the others, here’s what I’ve dug up.
Curious about the origins of the “__ Nation” formula—Live Nation, Pantsuit Nation, Side Hustle Nation? I dig deep (and explore the side routes of national and nationalism) in my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “A Nation of ‘Nations‘.” Full access is restricted to subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
The political sense of nation—an organized community sharing a defined territory and government—emerged around 1400 and gradually predominated, although the earlier meaning survives in the use, since the 1640s, of nation to describe indigenous American peoples: Choctaw Nation, Cherokee Nation. (The specifically Canadian “First Nations” began to be used in the 1970s; it applies to indigenous peoples south of the Arctic Circle and replaces “Indian,” which is both inaccurate and, according to some people, offensive.)
Nation didn’t turn into the adjective national until the 1590s (“the nationall assemblie”); the noun sense of national—a citizen or subject of a specified state—emerged in the mid-19th century. (Then there’s the Grand National, which is a horse race if you’re English, Irish, or Scottish, and a rodeo if you’re Californian.) Nationalism, defined as “advocacy or support of the interests of one’s own nation, usually to the detriment or exclusion of any other nation’s interests”) is a little older: The OED’s earliest citation is from 1798. An 1844 citation from Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country declares that “Nationalism is another word for egotism.”
Z Nation is an American action/horror/comedy-drama/post-apocalyptic television series that aired from 2014 to 2018 on the SyFy network. The Z stands for “zombie.”
Here’s something do-it-yourselfers often overlook when they’re struggling to name a product or company: the importance of making something familiar seem unfamiliar or making something unfamiliar seem familiar.
I’ve written about branding’s unfamiliarity principlein a new story for Medium. You can bypass the paywall to read it by clicking this link.
I’m experimenting with Medium—an elegantly designed, ad-free platform for writers—as a way to reach a wider audience and (maybe, someday) earn a little money from my writing. The payout depends on subscribing members reading and “applauding” my work (note the little clapping-hands icon), so if you like what you see, please subscribe.
“‘Veggie discs’ to replace veggie burgers”? Not so fast.
The “crackdown”—a ban on producers of vegetarian food using nomenclature usually deployed to describe meat, such as “burger,” “steak,” and “sausage”—was in fact passed by the EU parliament’s agriculture committee, but to become law it must be approved the full parliament and then by member states and the European commission. The push “to protect meat-related terms and names ‘exclusively for edible parts of the animals’” has been opposed by some vegetarian-leaning NGOs, including Greenpeace and Birdlife.
“Veggie disc,” noted the Guardian with a soupçon of dry wit, “has emerged as one possible, yet possibly unpalatable, new name for plant-based burgers.”
Still, it’s worth taking a look at the way we talk about and brand plant-based substitutes for meat, which are becoming an increasingly mainstream part of North American and European diets.