The Cost of Changing Your Name

It has been the best month I can ever remember for stories about names. Wordability has written in the past about how changing the name of something changes how we see it. What has been interesting this month is to see how many times names have been changed because of the demands of sponsors, and what impact this has had.

First there is the positive, and Farnborough Town’s deal with bookmaker Paddy Power. To get the money, all of Farnborough’s players had to change their names by deed poll. So instead of  Reece Jones, Stephen Laidler and Scott Donnelly read George Best, Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham, while Pele and Lionel Messi are all, genuinely, in the line-up. Manager Jose Mourinho just adds to the comedy. The result of all this is an entertaining story and something genuinely amusing.

Compare this to the reaction to Merthyr Tydfil, who signed a sponsorship deal with an electronic cigarette firm and renamed their ground the Cigg-E Stadium as a result. No laughs this time, instead controversy about the promotion of something which has unknown ramifications on health.

And then there was the name change story which never was. Tennis star Maria Sharapova was supposedly going to change her name by deed poll to Sugarpova for the duration of the US Open in order to promote her Sugarpova line of sweets. Of course this was never going to happen, and simply provided superb publicity for the product, but the idea of the umpires announcing ‘Advantage Miss Sugarpova’ was absurd enough to be ridiculed globally.

So what does all this go to show? That as naming rights become an increasingly important part of sponsorship deals, the name that you choose is absolutely vital. I have said before that we become used to names and our sense of what a person or place is like is governed by what their name is, so to change that is to change our very perception of that entity. In all these cases, perceptions have been changed by the name changes – Farnborough’s players are imbued with ability that they probably don’t have, but may even play better because of their new monikers; Merthyr’s directors find their ground may be perceived as an unhealthy place to go; and Maria Sharapova would have been, well, just silly really.

It was also the month that the latest lists of the most popular names in Britain were unveiled, with Harry and Amelia’s continued lead slightly masking the changes happening underneath. It is not so much that newer names are coming into vogue, it is more that names like John and Rebecca have dipped out of the top 100, which shows how naming fashions are changing at the moment.

But perhaps the most intriguing story came from Tennessee, where a judge, who was not even supposed to be ruling on the subject of a child’s first name, nevertheless ordered that he could no longer be called Messiah, and had to be known as Martin instead. He felt that it would be unfair on the child to grow up with this name in a predominantly Christian locale, adding that Messiah is a title, not a name.

This story above all others shows that what somebody or something is called directly impacts on how we see them. Quotes from the child’s mother suggest she simply saw him as her son with a name she liked the sound of. The growth of Messiah as a first name in the States confirms many agree with her. And yet the perception of that child was different in the judge’s eyes and he saw a different future for that person as a result.

Having named my own child in the last few months, I know just how onerous a responsibility naming can be. And this month’s rash of stories proves the ramifications of getting it wrong.

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