Friday, September 30, 2011

The naming of things

The October 3 New Yorker features an article by John Colapinto about a firm that specializes in coming up with names for new products for corporations. The article is interesting in that way that New Yorker articles about businesspeople tend to be: they tell you things you didn't know, nearly all of which confirm your baseline impression that you're glad you're not working in the world of big business.

This article, however, has one moment of sheer genius. Colapinto tells of a wide-ranging effort by the Ford Motor Company in 1957 to come up with the perfect name for a new mid-price car--and he reveals that Henry Ford wrote to, of all people, Marianne Moore to ask if she had any ideas. And Moore wrote back! Colapinto describes Moore's response perfectly:
Moore responded with a list of names that demonstrated a serene distance from the commercial marketplace: among them were Intelligent Bullet, Utopian Turtletop, Bullet Coisone, Pastelogram, Mongoose Civique, and Andante con Moto.
It's no surprise that Moore chose some animal names; I'd like to see the whole list--maybe there's hedgehog or two on there. Unsurprisingly, Ford didn't take Moore up on any of her suggestions . . . instead they named the car the Edsel.

I would suggest that car companies looking for ideas today turn not to poet's imaginations, but to their actual names. Imagine a stately town car called an Eliot; a beast of a motorcycle named Lord Rochester; a convertible called the Herrick. Detroit, I'm reachable at the e-mail address in the sidebar if you want more.


  1. For all of Marianne Moore's suggestions for names see:

    A Marianne Moore reader
    New York: Viking Press, 1961

    pages 215 through 224

  2. The Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian strikes again--thanks, Dave!