The Stories of Names

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Behind every name, there is a story.  So what is the story of your name or the name of your business? I guess it will be interesting if you tell us. Let us take some examples from personal and corporate names in my country, Nigeria.

You must have heard that Nigeria’s acting President is Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He assumed the presidential seat because his boss is very ill. Goodluck was a former university teacher. To expand his horizon, he entered politics and became Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, the heart of Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta.

When his boss was removed from office by the state legislature, a few years ago, Goodluck was elevated to the seat of governor. In less than three years, he became Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Again, in less than three years, he became Acting President.

The story making the rounds in Nigeria now is that the man’s name is propelling him forward. The story of why he was named Goodluck has not been made public.  But the belief in Nigeria is that good luck is really following this man who is presently Nigeria’s Chief Executive and Commander –in-Chief of the armed forces.

Another story making the rounds in my country is that if your deputy’s name is Goodluck, you better be careful and be watching your back, else the force in that name will orchestrate change in your circumstances that will throw you out and create room for another Goodluck to take over your position.

So what’s in a name? Plenty and much of it are stories. In Nigeria, when a new baby is born, the circumstances within or around the family at time of birth will determine the baby’s name. Have you read Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart?  You will find out in that novel that the Igbo name , Nneka for females, means ‘Mother Is Supreme’. Ikemefuna, another character (male) in that all-time best selling book means, Let Me Not Lose My Strength.  In fact, the author’s first name in full is, Chinualumogu (Chinua for short). It means, Let My God Fight For Me. If you probe further and ask Chinua Achebe the story behind his name, he will have an interesting one to tell. Behind every name, there is a story. So what is the story behind your name, in your name?

In some cases, names are changed to tell a new story and create a new image. Marketing professionals call it rebranding. That is true but technical. The real thing is that when you change a name, especially for corporate, you want to tell a new story. That new story is what will create the desired perception or new image in the marketplace.

Take this example from Nigeria.

In 1985, pharmaceutical company May & Baker Nigeria Plc (M & B) changed its name to Embechem in line with the indigenization drive in the country then. The name confused consumers. They reacted by rejecting M & B brands bearing the new name. The change caused an identity crisis in the market. Why? Consumers have trusted the M & B brand initials over the years.

Generations of nursing mothers inNigeriahave used the popular M & B over-the-counter (OTC) medicines over the years to care for their babies. M & B had stuck firmly in their minds. Suddenly they began to see the same drugs with a new name. They became suspicious and stopped buying M & B. The pharmaceutical company reacted immediately and reverted to its original name, May & Baker. It has remained so since then. May & Baker wanted to tell a new story with the name change, but consumers did not buy that story. So what’s in a name? There’s is plenty in a name.

When the Malaysian consummate storyteller, Aneeta  Sundararaj wanted to repackage and rebrand her internet storytelling newsletter, I brainstormed with her at length on this, (I guess she did same with others)  until she finally came up with, Great Storytelling Network; good name for a  storytelling brand that has garnered  global recognition, at least in the storytelling world. If you ask her to tell you the story of choosing the GSN name and packaging the newsletter, I am sure she will write an interesting one.

Nations also change names to tell new stories about their people and lands. A new leader emerged in the West African country Upper Volta many years ago and changed its name to Burkina Faso which means, Land of The Brave. In yet another African country, Zaire’s strongman, the late Laurent Kabila reverted the Central African country’s name back to its original name of Congo.

What’s in name?  Beyond stories, there is plenty in a name: reputation, character, power, credibility, confidence, vision and image. Every name, individual or corporate, tells a story that sends a message to the market, positive or negative. A change of name can improve your fortunes or create an identity crisis which can ruin your business.

Names have to send the right signals and tell the right stories that will connect with the audience and command patronage. The impact of your name in the marketplace and the story it tells depends on customers’ perception, interpretation and understanding of your story.

We shall continue our discussion on the “Stories of Names,” in subsequent editions of the Great Storytelling Network.


Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com

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