What comes to your mind when you think of Veerappan? That sandalwood smuggler with the handlebar mousch, right? And what visuals fill your head when you imagine ‘Lewinsky’? Most hot-blooded men are likely to see a ‘buxom intern’ and ‘Bill Clinton’s cigar’. Let’s take one more question. If you travelled with a bloke named ‘Godse’, which historic incident is likely to cloud your worldview? The assassination of a much loved old man, no?
Don’t you get what I am alluding to? It takes just one rotten apple to spoil the reputation of a name forever. Ask actress Mugdha Godse or parliamentarian Hemant Tukaram Godse about the kind of grief they get from strangers on account of their surname. Perhaps that’s why they fought so hard to remove ‘Godse’ from the list of unparliamentary words in the Lok Sabha. It took the community nearly seven decades to undo the damage caused by one Nathuram.
I am reminded of the Bollywood number 'Munni badnam hui darling tere liye’ every time I come across such instances. To quote a telling example: Nithyananda is a revered 15th century Vaishnava saint in the Gaudiya faith, often seen as an incarnation of Lord Balarama. But mention ‘Swami Nithyananda’ to Chennaiites, and all you will elicit is sniggers and snide references to a naughty sex tape. In one stroke, the Video Clipananda ruined the reputation of a genuine godman and the aura of respectability of thousands of Nithyanandams across the world.
Put yourself in the shoes of your neighbourhood Dr. Prakash (namesake of a local smut king) to know what stigma is. It’s never too easy being a Ravana in Ramaland or a Judas in Jesuspuram. You always carry the baggage that comes with the name. There’s no escaping that.
Fortunately, companies have a choice. They can drop their ill-reputed moniker at will and choose something with more positive associations. When ISIS, the radical Islamic group, reared its ugly head, the Belgian Chocolate maker ‘Isis’ carried a makeover and labelled themselves as ‘Libeert’. Ditto with the mobile wallet app ‘ISIS’. They opted for ‘Softcard’.
Individuals have no such luck because you can’t chuck away your identity in a flash. You’ve got to live with it like a good fruit in a stinky basket.