Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Devilish Streak of D

If the 26 letters of the English language were herded into a classroom and a professor named Noah Webster Samuel Johnson were to be persuaded into picking the most dangerous, delinquent, and debauched character from the lot, in all likelihood, he would not hesitate to bestow that title on Mr. D.

Because ‘D’ has a history of initiating the most debilitating words known to mankind. ‘Downturn’ and ‘Depression’ are the most unwelcome visitors in the world of economics. ‘Dictators’, ‘Despots’, and ‘Dynasties’ are responsible for half of our political woes. The blame for the other half could be laid at the door of ‘Democracy’ – a creaky, leaky system that deludes us into choosing the daftest dullards as our demagogues.

‘Divorce’ has caused more heart aches than heart attacks. ‘Diabetes’ has killed more people than bullets and bombs. ‘Death’, of course, is still the Dreaded No.1 in most societies.

In war and sports, no individual or nation relishes ‘Defeats’. In the bloody domain of crime, cops are forever obsessed with ‘Dons’. In cricket, batsmen dislike ‘Ducks’ and bowlers get livid when their catches get ‘Dropped’. Even in the make-believe moviedom, everyone is shit scared of delivering box office ‘Duds’.

So if the D-word were so dark and dismal, then how come people are happily naming their children as ‘Dennis’, ‘Diana’ and ‘Diwakar’? I have a theory for that. ‘D’ is just like the Devil. It may come with a discernable negative aura but it packs a lot of positive power to perpetuate the seven deadly sins. That’s the reason why you have the ‘damsels’, ‘desires’, ‘diamonds’, ‘delicacies’, ‘daredevilry’, ‘dynamos’ and ‘distinctiveness’ in our universe.

Ergo, the most famous D-names are linked in some way to these delectably diabolical traits. Drakkar Noir, De Beers, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana and Dom Perignon reflect the ‘desire’ dimension. Demi Moore, Drew Barrymore, Daniel Craig and David Beckham exemplify the ‘dazzle’ aspect. ‘Dunkin Donuts’, ‘Domino’s’, and ‘Doritos’ represent the drool factor. ‘Duracell’, ‘Drogba’, and ‘DHL’ cue dynamism. ‘Diesel’, ‘Disney’ and ‘Discovery’ stand for distinctiveness. One can go on and on. The thing to ponder about is, ‘Is the fourth letter, really demonic? Or is this all pure dog poo?’

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Meet the Anagram Twins.

Anagrams are the geekiest geeks in the nerdy world of words. Except for the odd cruciverbalist (crossword buff in layman parlance), not many really care about their existence. Two unlikely people deserve all credit for giving anagrams the attention they deserve - Jim Morrison and Axl Rose.

Jim Morrison, the god of rock and singer-songwriter of The Doors, was the first to inject the concept of imprinting remixed names into popular consciousness via music. His now popular ‘Mr. Mojo Risin’ refrain in the ‘L.A. Woman’ song is but a sonorous shuffle of the eleven letters in Jim Morrison.

Axl Rose, the sex symbol and lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, is arguably the best known anagram in the world. Not many know that William Bruce Rose picked the name ‘Axl Rose’ as his new identity as it seemed to be an oomphy variation of ‘oral sex’!

Sadly, anagrams have been underexploited by namers across the globe. ONIDA (a play on NOIDA) is the only top notch Indian brand to have embraced this technique. I attribute the severe poverty in anagrammatic names to lack of skilled wordsmiths in our country.

While it might be difficult for many to derive a ‘Western Union’ from say ‘No Wire Unsent’, still, there’s no harm in trying. When a Tirupur based lingerie brand approached me to create an international sounding name, I just wrestled with the word ‘Innerwear’ and it resulted in ‘Anne Wrier’. So you never know when you’ll strike gold.

In case you want an easier way to create names, all you have to do is to rejig an already famous name. I call such creations, ‘Anagram Twins’. To demonstrate my point, let’s take Nivea. If I wanted a moniker for a French Alps-based mineral water brand, all I have to do is to stir Nivea and get Evian.

The beauty of giving birth to anagram twins lies in the fact that they can yield names that work in a totally different culture. A Latin sounding Visa can take the form of the Indian Siva. The fashionable Esprit can morph into the no-nonsense Sprite. And the corporate IBM can become the cool MIB. Two much, na!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brushing away the Coalgate.

When 23-year-old William Colgate started his starch, soap and candle company in New York in 1806, he could never have imagined even in his wildest dreams that his surname would one day become synonymous with a toothpaste or for that matter, a 186,000 crore scam.

Such is the dance of destiny. One moment, you look like a squeaky clean dental brand. The next instant, you seem to be having all the teething troubles.

The strange fate that has befallen Colgate is not at all new in the naming world. Every now and then, an unexpected event has forced companies, brands, individuals and even towns to confront and contemplate the bitter pill of name change.

Fucking, a village in Austria, was named after a 6th Century Bavarian nobleman ‘Adalpertus de Fucingin’. For centuries, it’s had the same Fucking name. Then along came the four-letter word and its usage became so effin prevalent, that the village name started sounding offensive. Tired of the innuendoes, the hundred odd residents of Fucking voted to rename their town as Fugging!

When low cost American airline ValuJet’s Flight 592 crashed in 1996, killing all the 110 passengers, the company quietly merged with AirTran and took AirTran as its name to ensure a spotless reputation.

Closer home, Maytas Infra, the corporate sibling of the disgraced Satyam Computer Services, recently changed its name to ’IL&FS Engineering & Construction Company’ to airbrush its perceived blemish.

Lest I be accused of advocating a name change for Colgate, let me clarify. Rebranding is simply out of the equation as Colgate is the market leader and has got zero connection to the scam.

But not doing anything to arrest the image slide will be equally foolhardy. Colgate will have to deal with Coalgate. Else, Pepsodent will smile all the way to the bank.

If I were the creative person on Colgate, I would immediately urge the brand to launch a limited edition mock toothpaste called ‘Colgate Black’ targeted at corrupt politicians. The USP of the toothpaste will be ‘Black ko white bana dey’. Such a campaign would give Colgate, a much needed whitewash and a good word of mouth. What say?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Sudoku of Surnames.

The most popular Japanese name among the Tamil Diaspora is not Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha or Mitsubishi. It’s Nikumo Nikado. In case you’re wondering what that means, all I can say is it’s a vintage mokkai (Tamil for PJ) conjured up during the times when the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ (not to be confused with the real estate owned by DMK) was dominant enough for some droll Dravidian to pop the question: what’s Jap for the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’?

Jokes aside, now that we’ve got you thinking about ‘Made in Japan’ names, it’s perhaps the right moment to slip in a neat piece of trivia. Did you know that it was illegal for 90% of Japan to have a surname, for almost 280 years, between 1587 and 1867? Things changed when the Meiji government passed a decree on Feb 13, 1875, ordering all citizens to compulsorily register their surnames!

The result was a mad name rush. Everyone from the geisha girl next door to the ninja turtle in the sewers, rushed to their local priests, seeking help. The harried men of god donned the role of wordsmiths and minted thousands of rustic sounding surnames by investing as much time as it takes to make Top Ramen noodles.

The hastily cooked names would amuse you if one dissects them. The 'Kurusawa' in Akira Kurusawa does not mean anything poetic. It just indicates ‘the black swamp’ from where his forefathers originated. The fashion brand ‘Yamamoto’ just means ‘mountain base’. Likewise ‘Suzuki’ is ‘rice ear’, ‘Matsushita’ is ‘below pine tree’, ‘Kawasaki’ is ‘river peninsula’, ‘Honda’ is ‘rice root’ and Toyoda (which gave rise to Toyota) cues ‘abundant rice field’.

The obsession with rice and paddy was largely because farming was the lead occupation. And you can’t blame the priests for their pedestrian choice as surnames are by definition meant to answer the ‘where are you from?’ question. Given that framework, they picked the likes of ‘Fujimori’ (Wisteria forest) and ‘Kobayashi’ (small grove). But now that Nippon has evolved into a highly industrialised society, may be it’s time the Japanese said sayonara to their legacy names and konnichi wa to modernity.