Google? What kind of name is that?

The subject of names and name origins has always been good for a quick article to fill a few column inches of newsprint or five minutes of air time.

ABC News ran such a story recently. It was the fairly desultory stroll down the well-trodden paths and naming byways of Accenture, Uggs, Wii and Google.

“Imagine what life was like before Google”, the reporter began. “Worse yet, imagine if there was no Google and we had to look everything up on BackRub”. Gasp. Just imagine.

BackRub, so legend has it, was the working name for search engine before it became Google, which is itself an unwitting misspelling of the word Googol, a mathematical term.

Few people know or care what a Googol is but it’s interesting how a familiar name, no matter how obscure, can seem so perfectly apt to this reporter; and how an unfamiliar name like BackRub can be so weirdly cumbersome and inappropriate.

One of the greatest challenges in naming is helping people to get beyond initial gut reaction to unfamiliar words (that’s how names start life) and think of them as successful, familiar brands. In this facet of human nature lies the essence of a brand: people like what they know, they are uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.

Juliet had it so wrong. Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic warhorse from Minnesota,  said it better if not as prosaically :  In real life, unlike in Shakespeare, the sweetness of the rose depends upon the name it bears. Things are not only what they are. They are, in very important respects, what they seem to be” .


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