MAD DOG: What's in a Name?

It's not easy making a name for yourself. Manufacturers spend millions of dollars advertising products to increase name recognition, politicians hold press conferences to keep their faces in front of the voters, and Angelyne has been putting herself on billboards around L.A. for a dozen years in the hope that eventually people will quit stopping her on the street and mistaking her for Space Bimbo Barbie.So how effective is all this? A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (company motto: "You think it's easy being named after a church bench?") is revealing. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed knew who Tiger Woods was. In case you're one of the 18 percent who thought he was a new subdivision outside Dallas, Tiger happens to be the hottest thing to hit the links since the motorized cart took the exercise out of golf. In a very short time he's managed to get Nike to fork over $40 million for an endorsement ("Ever seen a Tiger wear running shoes?"), American Express to give him $30 million ("Never leave the 19th hole without it!"), and Rolex to cough up $7 million. Oh yeah, he also won the Masters golf tournament this year.Contrast this with FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose name was recognized by a pitiful eight percent of the people surveyed, most of whom were probably aware of it because they saw it at the post office, where his name is on the bottom of the wanted poster with their picture on it. A picture, by the way, that puts their driver's license photo to shame.J. Edgar Hoover must be rolling over in his pink chiffon grave at this news. As anyone who's ever watched the Untouchables, most James Cagney movies, or longs for the 50's to return so they can go back to baiting communists, J. Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI for the first 100 years it existed. Or 150. I forget. Anyway, everyone in the world knows J. Edgar Hoover, and he's been dead since 1972. It wouldn't be surprising to find out that one of the unreleased tidbits of the Pew survey is that 85 percent of the people interviewed think Hoover is still with the Bureau. The remaining 15 percent, I'm sure, think it's John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted.It's a sad commentary when the most well-known people in the country are athletes and entertainers. Eighty percent knew who Dennis Rodman was while 62 percent recognized Ellen DeGeneres' name. Catch this: Nearly twice as many people knew that Tony Blair was the prime minister of England than recognized our own Louis Freeh!Maybe Freeh needs a new publicist. Maybe he just needs a new name. Freeh sounds a little too much like he was raised on a commune in Big Sur, wore nothing but tie-dye until he was in college, and has siblings named Bliss, Sunshine, and Blue Fescue. Do we really want someone with that image running our number one federal crime-fighting unit?It could be worse. He could be named Vomit. While this sounds pretty ridiculous to those of us whose surnames don't describe half-digested food, it's a long-standing family name in Germany. Of course, over there they use the German word for it, which is Kotz. I suspect members of the Kotz family don't go into politics very often. "Vote for Vomit" isn't exactly a campaign slogan that would make James Carville's heart go pitter-patter. But the Kotz's aren't alone in the foul name category ("I'll take embarrassing names for $100, Alex!"). Other families listed in the German phone book include Faul (Lazy), Moerder (Murder), Fett (Fat), and Brathuhn (Roast Chicken). Not to mention Dumm (Stupid), Dreckmann (Filth-man), and even Hitler. I think what Freeh needs, other than to pep up his image by wearing Fedoras and carrying a machine gun everywhere he goes, is to promote his name on a credit card. A company called FamilyCard MasterCard is starting to offer credit cards with your family name on it in place of the bank's. "Impressive?" their mailer trumpets. "Oh, yes indeed!" I don't know about you, but my credit cards already have my name on them. Sure, it may be a bit smaller and in fewer colors, but it works fine for me. Except when those waiters cut them in half and hand them back to me.Maybe calling this new credit card the Freeh Card would be mistake. After all, someone in his position has to be concerned about truth-in-advertising laws, which is more than you can say about our elected officials. But affinity cards, as these specialized pieces of plastic are called, are big business. KISS, the rock band that recently parlayed a 17-year absence into a massively successful tour without the help of a cosmetic company's sponsorship, has put out their own credit card, complete with the band's faces and logo. The Pew survey didn't mention KISS, but I suspect they're already known by a lot more people than Freeh. And why not? Freeh doesn't have a 12-inch tongue, blow up his guitars, or wear 8-inch platform boots. That was J. Edgar Hoover, remember?If this consciousness-raising scheme works I expect I'll get a call from Director Freeh. Or at least one of his agents. They'll probably show up at my door with a badge in one hand and a file in the other. And yes, my name will be neatly typed on the file folder. Okay, so it's not my own credit card, at least I'll have increased my name recognition too.©1997 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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