I'm thinking of changing my name. I'd like a name more befitting the kind of guy I really am, a name like Harrison Ford. No, wait. Maybe I should get a name representing the kind of guy I'd like to be in the future. Maybe a name like Peyton Manning. No, make that Richard Branson, that handsome and rich Virgin guy. Yeah, that's the ticket.
The reason I'm thinking of changing my name is that corporate America sure seems to think it's a good thing. Just last week, FedEx announced it was going to drop the Kinko's name and call its chain of copy shops FedEx Office. And Ihop Corp. of Glendale last Monday officially changed its name, too. The new name is DineEquity, unless that's a misprint here on this press release.
I have to admit that I couldn't believe it when I first read of these changes. I used to go to Kinko's regularly to get copies and such, and I always liked the place and its distinctive name. I even felt a little comfortable there. I was wary when the named changed to FedEx Kinko's, but I still went a few times. But now, I probably won't walk into a FedEx Office store at all. It sounds like some back-office operation of FedEx's corporate headquarters, maybe its HR department or something, and I don't want to interrupt them.
Same is true with Ihop. I always liked the friendly, goofy name. (I hop, you hop, we all hop to Ihop.) I've ordered Pigs in a Blanket, maybe one of the least healthy things you can eat, just because I like the name. Of course, the restaurants won't change their name, but the restaurants will be owned by a corporate entity that doesn't want the Ihop name but wants the DineEquity name because. ... Well, I'm not sure why. But I'm sure they know why.
I admit I don't like name changes, but I must be wrong. These companies are smart, powerful and good. They make studied decisions. They must know that they're casting aside the good will they built up in their old names, so they've surely figured how the pluses outweigh the minuses. I guess.
I mean, a big and smart Japanese automaker sure made a good move when it dropped the Datsun name, right? Who cares if the Datsun name was all over the 240Z, the best car sold in the '70s? Who cares if the corporate parent, Nisun or Nissan or whatever it is, spent hundreds of millions of dollars making the name change and sustained hundreds of millions more in lost sales from confused customers? Who cares if a poll showed Americans were still more familiar with the Datsun name five years after the changeover? The benefit of having that new name, whatever it is, must outweigh all those negatives, even if I have no idea what that benefit might be. Besides, it's only been a little more than 25 years since the name change, and I've already grown to accept Datsun's new name, Nisson is it? Heck, we'll probably all but forget the Datsun name in just a few more decades.
You know, on second thought, I think I'll keep my old name. The Harrison Ford and Richard Branson names are already taken, anyway, and besides, I'm not remotely like those guys. I'd like you to think I am, but even if I had their names, you'd know better.
People, like businesses, spend a good deal of time, effort and money building up their names (and sometimes a few misguided moments besmirching them). You can change your name, but it won't change you.
It will confuse folks, though.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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