I’ve always been fascinated by the brand names on machines and other products. Our bathroom scale is a Health o meter (sic). The scale in my health club is a Detecto. The centrifuge for drying swimsuits is a Suitmate. The card-operated lock on the locker is a Safe-O-Mat. The combination locks on the rented lockers are Zephyrs. I have a Swingline stapler and a Parlinda illuminated magnifier on my desk. Stepping into the utility room I see our furnace model is a WeatherMaker 8000. Mounted on my workbench is a huge old vise with prominent cast iron raised letters: Chas Parker Meriden Connecticut. I’ve always dreamed of owning a beautiful silver Airstream trailer and a Range Rover (now Land Rover) to pull it.
Most of the newer electronics that surround us have names that lack all personality. Like my iMac, Canon P200 calculator, HP Deskjet 3650, HP Officejet 7410 All-In-One, the old Brother Intellifax (slightly better naming), the Uniden 5P phone and model nameless Belkin router and Sharp clock, just to name the things on my desk. But wait, on the floor next to the desk is my quiet Kool Operator Jr fan. Jr lacks a period.
Car model names have gotten a lot of joking attention because so many of them have had dumb, rude or even obscene meanings in other languages. The infamous Mazda LaPuta (the whore, in Spanish) comes to mind. Other are dumb in any language, such as the Ford Probe (no thanks, fellas).
As a kid I loved to look at the metal scripts on the beautiful cars of the 50’s and 60’s. Buick Roadmaster. The Chrysler New Yorker. The strangely named Studebaker Dictators (30’s) and Commanders, and beautfully named Lark. American Motors Ramblers, Metropolitans and Ambassadors. And the animal kingdom runs through autodom: Mustangs, Jaguars, Impalas, Cougars, Viper. Hornet, Spider. Falcon and the Eagle. The mythical Firebirds and Thunderbirds. The grandly named Grand Prix and Galaxies. And out on the range the Dakota, Cheyenne, Durango and Mirage. And finally, biggest name of all, the Infiniti -- the infinite I that doesn’t ask Y.
T.S. Eliot wrote that “the naming of cats is a serious matter.” Now we have focus groups, branding, linguists, image consultants, and ethnic sensitivities to take into account when vetting product and model names. A company might spend a million dollars just on coming up with a suitable and safe name for a new product. But in past years, I doubt that the naming of new products was given much thought. I imagine they were named like streets in outlying new subdivisions: after children, states, famous people, flowers, mountains, Presidents, whatever. Branding and focus groups would never have come up with Health o meter, Dictator, Hornet, Mirage, Edsel or Chas Parker Meriden Connecticut. But they might have come up with Kool Operator Jr -- I’ll have to check the date on that one. Gotta go...in my Suburu Outback.
Causes Michael Lipsey Supports
Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Nature Conservancy