Several recent examples both here in Los Angeles and around the nation underscore the intrinsic importance of choosing the right name for a company, organization or institution. Just as parents don’t haphazardly pick a name for a newborn son or daughter, the leaders of organizations also need to marry logic with emotion in selecting the name for an emerging enterprise.
The L.A. landscape is dotted with many memorable names that have made their way into our collective culture: Mulholland Drive, Griffith Park, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Getty, Hollywood Bowl and Mount Wilson among them. Sunset Boulevard became a classic film, and the name Hollywood itself evokes dreams and fantasies in people around the world.
All of that brings us to the new L.A. arts school that sits patiently as it awaits a new name. Currently dubbed “Los Angeles Central High School No. 9,” let us hope the school board has the wisdom to select a name that binds the rich heritage of the arts with the city in a way that tells a compelling story – and one that effectively builds on the history, tradition and future of arts education.
Sadly, such forethought isn’t always the case.
In Washington, D. C., the U.S. Navy, apparently increasingly concerned about the prospects of defense cutbacks and wanting to curry political favor, recently announced plans to name the newest amphibious transport ship after the late Congressman John Murtha, which has become a cause célèbre. Eschewing the tradition and system established in the early part of the 20th century of a system for choosing ship’s names (in this particular classification of vessel, American cities), one wonders about the appropriateness of naming a transport ship after a congressman. Having served in the Naval Reserve for nearly 30 years, I believe the Navy would be well-served if it returned to the ship-naming custom established decades ago and avoid politicians altogether, with the exception of U. S. presidents.
Likewise, the merger in Indianapolis of Indiana University Hospital, Methodist Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children resulted in the “made-up” name of Clarian Health. As time has proved, Hoosiers did not warmly embrace the invented name and, as a result, hospital leadership recently announced the hospital system is taking a name that is recognized and respected locally, regionally and nationally: Indiana University Health.
Whether one is naming a school, ship, hospital system or any other important entity, the name selected should meet the “8 Bs” test:
Be a “force multiplier”
Be value added
Be appropriate to the entity’s location, role in society, purpose
Be a story (ies) that can be shared
My great uncle has a school named after him in Roseville. Described as a gifted teacher and caring administrator, his name was deemed preferable to the lackluster Public School No. 5. as it perpetuates his legacy of leadership while encouraging teachers and students to strive to live up to the high academic and public service expectations for which he stood. And it resonated much more with the community than the au courant practice of using the names of trees, streams, animals and hills so common across the United States.
Selection of the right name can elevate an organization and make a lasting impression. It can foster enduring relationships and underscore the overall integrity of the entity. It also strengthens and emboldens those who already feel an emotional investment and, perhaps most importantly, builds authenticity, trust, knowledge, loyalty, imagination and a moral high ground. Conversely, an ill-conceived name can doom that same organization to ridicule or obscurity.
What’s in a name? Plenty. Just ask me to explain the importance of my boyhood idol’s ballpark at UCLA, the Jackie Robinson Stadium!
Ritch K. Eich is president of Eich Associated, a Thousand Oaks leadership and management consulting firm.
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