When you meet a person with a weird, or even inappropriate name, what do you do? For example, how do you NOT bust up laughing when someone introduces you to a guy named Dick Winker? At a business branding conference, no less?
In this instance, as I shook Mr. Winker’s hand I politely gave him an out, in case the person introducing us was just trying to be…well, be a dick.
“Nice to meet you,” I said struggling to keep a straight face. “Do you go by Richard, Rich, or Dick?”
“Dick’s fine,” he replied. “I’ve been a Dick as long as I can remember.”
I just stared at this guy trying to assess the situation. Being a comedian I live for moments like this, and yet here I was, dumbfounded that a guy named Dick Winker actually beat me to the punch. But since we were in a professional environment I bit my tongue to stop myself from pointing out that his name just might be holding him back.
Good thing I kept my trap shut, because in short order I found out he owns an independent distribution center for personal care products, one of which is urinal cakes for public restrooms. Honestly, this dude is either as clueless as a Baptist homecoming queen, or one of the most brilliant business branding strategists ever to grace the planet.
Business Branding in the Wrong Hands
Just like you need a license to drive a car, but no credential to be a parent, I find it ironic that there are entire industries built around helping entrepreneurs find the right name for business branding, but nothing professional in the way of helping parents choose names for their kids. Honestly, at what point did Dick Winker’s parents decide Richard paired well with Winker? And why did they decide to call him Dick?
Fortunately for Mr. Winker it worked out. But I would bet his parents had no idea their son would go into urinal cakes when they named him. Most of the time you have to wonder what the heck parents of poorly christened kids are thinking when the light bulb suddenly goes off and one of them blurts out, “I know! Let’s name our new son Bojo Hambone.” In which case, those parents need to start saving now for little Bojo’s therapy, because that kid is destined to be playground meat from preschool on up.
Case in point: In high school I had brother and sister twin classmates named Clark and Candy Barr. Yes, their parents did that to them. And every Halloween, Clark and Candy would get pelted with Hershey products in the lunchroom. Unless those kids grew up to be chocolatiers, I’m sure Clark is now going by his middle name (let’s hope it’s not Gaye), and most likely Candy got hitched as soon as possible just so she could legally change her name without having to admit to a judge her parents were high when they named her.
But worse yet, is when a woman takes a married name that saddles her with a character moniker you swear you first heard on South Park. Take my sister’s first grade teacher. Her first name was Marsha. I have no idea what her maiden name was, but she married a man named Mr. Mellow, and thus became Marsha Mellow. I kid you not. That had to be true love, because quite honestly, that’d be a deal breaker for me. Yeah okay, Mr. Mellow, we’ll sleep together between now and the end of time. And yes, I’ll bear your children. But if you think I’m going through life named after the key ingredient in candied yams, then you’re just as delusional as Clark Gaye Barr’s parents.
When Bad Branding Happens to Good People
Then we have the people who should go through a rebranding process, but for whatever reasons won’t.
For example, coming up through the stand-up comedy ranks, I knew a comedian named Holden Lipshitz. Every time he was introduced to someone, that person would always say, “I’m sorry…what are you holding?” You’d think he’d either capitalize on being given such a crappy (pun intended) name by taking “Holden Lipshitz” through the whole business branding process, or just opt out completely by changing his handle to something more benign, yet recognizable, like Ralph Nader.
But he did neither. So his name was always the elephant in the room. Audiences would wait with bated breath for him to address the fact that someone who spouts nonsense for a living is named Lipshitz. But since he never cashed in on that golden nugget, he eventually gave up stand-up comedy.
Last I heard he went to law school and became an attorney.
So I guess Lipshitz still fits.
Hmm. Sometimes bad branding works out after all.
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Stacy Dymalski is an award winning keynote speaker and stand-up comic who gave up the glamorous life of coach travel, smokey comedy clubs, and heckling drunks for the glamourous life of raising kids (who happen to be bigger hecklers than the drunks). This blog is her new stage. For more of Stacy’s comedy check out her book Confessions of a Band Geek Mom available in bookstores and on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.