What’s in a name? In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet argues—more or less—that a name is nothing more than a convention to identify a person, or more broadly a noun. A rose by any other name still retains the sweet smell of a rose, right? But in today’s world a name has a little more weight and could mean the potential to lose millions of dollars in trademarked merchandise—just ask the NFL’s Washington Redskins. The well-established sports team had its trademark protection canceled this past week when the U.S. Patent and Trademark office revoked it, calling the team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans.” Although the team and NFL plans to appeal the decision, it raises the question: “What’s in a name?”
This week’s Friday5 looks at what it means to have an established name and the consequences that may follow.
1. A Name is an Identifier
First and foremost, a name identifies a brand, product or service on the market. The identification aspect is the most important reason to secure a brand name. Unfortunately for the NFL team, the team name is considered a racial slur. When selecting a brand name, or even campaign name, it’s important to remember how it will be identified by most or even some.
2. A Name Carries Meaning
A brand is a set of associations that one has related to a person, place, product, service, or pretty much anything else. Despite the team’s performance and championships, its name’s reputation as a racial slur is finally catching up to the team after 82 years. When creating a brand name or even campaign name it’s crucial to understand the name’s connotations and denotations locally, regionally and even nationally.
3. People are Familiar with a Name
Unfortunately for Washington’s NFL team they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: the proponents of the name change versus the die-hard fans. The die-hard fans are familiar with, and loyal to, the current name, while critics primarily understand its derogatory nature. No matter which way team owner Dan Snyder and the NFL go, they’ll anger one side or the other. It comes down to the decision of how the owners want to be remembered and what they stand for.
4. A Name has Heritage
Most names evoke a sense of history and legacy. Generations will very often pass along an affinity for purchasing a certain brand or cheering for one team. The children of these children see nothing wrong with rooting for this team because they have history with the name. However, in parallel, families have grown up knowing that a specific term holds its own derogatory heritage. Again, Washington’s NFL team has run itself into a corner.
5. A Name has Investment
Washington’s NFL team made significant investments in its name for decades with relatively little resistance. However, as Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a-changin’.” Activists’ voices are being heard and public opinion is shifting toward their support. The NFL team may have to consider its options and evaluate the long-term investments in its name. Although Snyder plans to appeal the cancelation of its trademarks it’s clear that they’ve lost the public opinion. They risk seeing millions of dollars in knockoff merchandise being sold at half price, as they perhaps consider cutting losses and investing anew by changing its brand.
At the end of the day, everyone must ask themselves, “What’s in a name?” Of course, it’s never ideal to change a well-established name but, when push comes to shove, it might be best option to give ground and acknowledge the shift in public opinion.
What does a brand name mean to you?
Photo courtesy of Jack Doresy