What’s in a name?

wrong-name-brand-fail-knock-off15-400x365Today’s guest post is by Diana Soltmann,  Chief Executive, Flagship Consulting, a Peppercomm agency.

I can remember how a few years ago we nearly lost an account because we misspelled the CEO’s name. The head of communications contacted me and told me in no uncertain terms that the board felt that if we could not even get the head man’s name right how could they trust us to act on their behalf.
It was a point that had a particular resonance with me because people constantly get my name wrong, which is weird because Diana is one of the most recognised names on the web due to the high profile of the late Princess of Wales.

Americans always call me Diane, or Dianne…come to think of it President Reagan called the Princess ‘David’ which isn’t even close. I get called Di (which I hate) Dinah, Dianna even Diaanna. As for my surname… I have given up on that one.

However I do think it is common courtesy to get someone’s name right. It shows one has paid attention, listened and has made the effort to get it right.  A prospective applicant’s CV go straight in the bin if they get my name or the name of my company wrong. I don’t even read the covering letter which they probably spend hours on. I recently seriously considered resigning from our trade association because they not only misspelled the name of my company- in other words their fee paying member- but also the name of the key liaison person on the account. Why would I want to be a member of an organisation that is that sloppy?

Research shows that the ‘own name’ is among the first concepts that human being encounters. It is experienced countless times during a lifespan and is one of the most resilient entries in memory.  The ‘own name’ has the power to reach awareness in conditions in which most other stimuli remain unnoticed…that is why the use of ‘own name’ is always used to jolt people into consciousness after an accident or operation and is known as the ‘breakthrough phenomenon’. Research published by the German Research foundation showed that the brain will pick out ‘own name’ against highly distracting background noise and even a distorted version of ‘own name’ will be processed by the brain and recognised. Own name is a very powerful tool.

As communication consultants, we spend hours advising our clients about importance of brand, style and of course name. I cannot imagine how Mercedes would react if its agency referred to it as Merseedes. It would be a hanging offence in our industry. Equally, we spend hours working out how to best engage with staff and gain their loyalty and commitment. Fortunes are spent on sophisticated communication tools which are designed, debated and despatched. And yet the very basic part of demonstrating that the company really does care about the individual goes down the pan when the letter or the card is sent out…and the recipient’s name is wrongly spelled.

Our US partner Peppercomm has a great strapline which is ‘Listen. Engage. Repeat’. Maybe if we did a bit more listening and repeating before we engaged we might get the basics right.

8 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Love it! If memory serves, Amando Ford was a rising, young Dominican shortstop on the 1991 Mets until a shoulder separation ended his career.

  2. Love this…I thought “Sam Ford” would keep it simple. I had a state representative who constantly sent notes to “Sam Food,” and I had an old boss who never got over thinking my name was “Sam Adams.” To his defense, I believe he was an alcoholic…My favorite is that my wife was transformed into “Amando Ford” instead of “Amanda Ford” by one of our utility companies…I’m still waiting for Amando to pitch in on his part of the utilities…

  3. Thanks, Diana. The Leppercom incident occurred quite a few years back. We were visiting a non-profit organization to discuss their PR needs. I gave the receptionist my name and that of our firm’s. She proceded to pick-up a microphone and blurt over a public address system, “Mary, the Leppercom people are here.” I worried that a recent skirmish I’d fought with a skin lesion on my nose (courtesy of high altitude climbing) had prompted her mistake.

  4. Years ago when I was a young Assistant County Attorney trying cases in district court one judge often persisted in calling me “Sandy”, my married surname. After a few times I found the courage to correct him — suggesting that he either call me “Joan” (he often called the attorneys by their first names in his office) or “Mrs. Sandy.” He had the nerve to tell me he thought “Sandy” was a more suitable name for me. I told him that my mother was a very bright woman and if she had wanted to name me “Sandy” she would have, but she didn’t so my name is “Joan”. He generally referred to me as “the Assistant County Attorney” after that, but at least he didn’t hold me in contempt. Meanwhile, once I started using a hyphenated surname fewer people called me “Sandy.” Names DO matter!

    • Dear Mrs Phillips-Sandy,
      I got a new one yesterday..Dian. It still sends that bolt of irritation through me and I tend to remember the offending person. You have been very clever to hyphenate although I guess now you get both names spelled wrong! Double-barrelled names, as we call them here in Britain, are often used by the upper classes and recently Prime Minister David Cameron is alleged to have issued an edict to ask MP’s with double-barrelled names to remove one of them in a effort to show his party consisted of ‘regular folks’. It didn’t work! The main reason was because as you rightly pointed out, it is their name.

  5. Amen. Of course, my favorites are the vendors, suppliers, prospective clients and job seekers who refer to Peppercomm as either PepperCorn or, my personal favorite, LepperComm.

    • I have to say Leppercomm is certainly memorable…although perhaps for the wrong reasons. But that is not the point…agonies were gone through to add an extra ‘m’ to the existing name and it signifies a whole bunch of things. It is not up to other people to decide what your name is…it is your perogative and yours alone. So keep fighting the good fight!

  6. I can totally relate to this. My electricity company refers to me as “Allison Pierce” and my cable company thinks my name is “Alley Parze.” I’ve seriously considered not paying both bills because I don’t think they could find me if they tried. It also makes it harder for me when I go through their customer service because I know have to pretend that I am someone else for them to respond to my calls. It’s only 9 letters, it shouldn’t be that hard for them to get it right!