MAD DOG: The New Name Game

On March 26th the British Post Office will change its name to Consignia. Roll it around your mouth a little. Savor it. Then let me know when you're done spitting it out and sucking down a quart of turpentine to get rid of the bad aftertaste so I can continue.

They're doing this because they decided they needed the dumbest name possible and Ishtar was already taken. Just kidding. Actually, Ishtar is available since no one will own up to having had anything to do with the movie.

The truth is, someone in the soon-to-be-renamed post office thinks it's time to bring the organization into the new millennium. You'd think they'd have learned something from the Millennium Dome, but no, someone with more power than good sense thinks it will sound much more millenniumish for people to say, "Honey, I'm going to Consignia so I can sign over a consignment to Auntie Emma" rather than "I'm going to mail a letter." And they wonder why they have no empire left.

They're certainly not the only ones changing their name. Companies are doing it at an alarming rate. It's gotten so bad that my bank went from being First & Merchants National Bank to F&M, then Sovran, NationsBank, and finally Bank of America. For a while I thought they were doing it so I wouldn't know where to go to withdraw my money but then I realized that couldn't be it -- they knew I didn't have enough in my account to make it worth tracking them down.

The problem is, companies have run out of good names. Obviously there are only 26 letters in the alphabet and a finite number of pronounceable combinations. Unless, of course, you don't mind sounding like Sylvester Stallone on Quaaludes. They've used acronyms, put an 'i' and 'e' in front of every word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and have now resorted to making up dumb, meaningless names that tell us nothing. Thus we have Teligent, Lucent Technologies, Agilent, Visteon, and of course, the British Post...I mean, Consignia.

I'm not being old fashioned, but it is nice to hear a company name that gives at least a teeny tiny clue as to what they do. For instance, Bubba's Body and Fender Shop tells me a lot. I instantly know this is a place to go if my car needs body work, my motorcycle needs repainting, or I want to get my ass kicked by a drunk redneck wielding a sledgehammer and a tire iron while his friends ask me if I can squeal like a pig.

Changing the name to Bubigent doesn't tell me a thing. Or as people like to say now, "it doesn't speak to me," which is a phrase that makes me long for the good old days when those who publicly declared that names talked to them learned another euphemism when they "went away for a while."

Companies are trying too hard to sound unique. People walk around with the same first or last names -- sometimes both -- and we don't have any problems with it. There have been Josephs since before the Bible. There are more Smiths in the phone book than un-recounted votes in Florida. And you can't throw a stone in the Middle East without hitting a David or Muhammad. Hell, in California the most popular boy's name is Jose and you don't hear the kids there screaming "no way!"

It is true that sometimes people create new names, like Oprah, Condoleezza, and Lamar Alexander, though we know they're only playing around so we don't take these people seriously. Hell, in Bali there are only four first names -- Wayan, Made, Nyoman, and Ketut -- and you don't see them making up fancy-ass new ones.

They're assigned their name according to birth order, with men and women having the same four names. As if that doesn't complicate life enough, they don't have last names. Well, they do, but it changes throughout their life and it's different for each member of the family.

If there are more than four children in a family -- and if you're any sort of Balinese there will be -- they start over with the fifth child also being Wayan, the sixth Made, etc. Thus a large family can have three Wayans, with some being male and others female. This must be hell for teachers who ask Wayan to stand up and watch as half the class rises. On the other hand, it can make a mother's life much easier. Instead of having to call ten different children to dinner she can yell out four names and the whole brood comes running. Not quite as easy as Mrs. George Foreman has it, but close.

Renaming isn't confined to companies. Bombay, India is now Mumbai. In Vietnam dining on "little tiger" is what they used to call eating the neighbor's cat. And in the United States right-wing Republicans went so far as to rename themselves compassionate conservatives, though I'm sure once they're ensconced in their offices they'll revert to their old selves, much like Jack the Ripper falling off the wagon after making it through the first three steps of Slashers Anonymous.

Don't expect this trend to end anytime soon. AOL Time Warner will probably combine the words to become AtWar. "Temptation Island" will be back next season under the more appropriate name of "Who Wants to Be a Slut", giving Regis yet another gig, one he finally deserves. And the U.S. Postal Service will abandon the lame acronym USPS and start using the more accurate LostInSpace. Hey, it beats Consignia. Besides, it's the least they can do for the extra penny we have to pay for each letter now.


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