From The Side of the Road… naming schemes in the wider world
In the past we’ve discussed the issue of naming bands; I even offered a band-naming kit, in which you take an adjective (e.g. “blue,” “lonesome,” “grease-stained”) and combine it with an article in nature or rustic mode of transportation (e.g. “creek,” “mountain,” “Bombardier Dash-8”).
In another column, I brought up the fact that no “kit” is even needed for a bluegrass instrumental to be named; you can name them absolutely anything. Ricky Skaggs wrote one called “Spam Jelly.” I rest my case.
Meanwhile rock ‘n’ roll bands enjoy the same luxury when naming themselves. Anything goes, and I cite Garbage and Duran Duran as just two examples, and that’s just drawing from ones that have recorded James Bond movie themes.
Even though we in bluegrass music may have more guidelines about what’s acceptable in a band name (side note: there was a bluegrass band called Garbage once, but their full name was actually Lonesome Garbyge, and they weren’t together long), we have it a lot easier than people in other businesses when it comes to product-naming.
Take the automobile industry as an example. For decades, naming a car after a predatory and aggressive—or at least quick—animal was standard procedure: the Mercury Cougar, the Ford Bronco, the Buick Wildcat. Failing that, they fell back to foreign and exotic-sounding names: the Chevy Nova (this famously backfired on GM, because it means “doesn’t go” in Spanish), the Buick Le Sabre, or the Oldsmobile Firenza (you were probably trying to forget that one).
Of course, eventually you run out of appropriate macho-sounding animal names. Ford’s brief excursion into using parasites as car model names in 1982 was a failure. The proposed Ford Liver Fluke never made it out of the first committee meeting. Likewise, the exotic name, real or made-up, eventually gets old too, especially if there are too many in that model year’s selection. Automakers were forced to turn to car names that sounded like they come from the world of government and diplomacy: The Honda Accord, the Honda Civic, the Chevy Citation. Not very sexy, to say the least.
Car model-naming may have reached a low point when Mercedes decided to name a car after a mechanical part: the Mercedes Kompressor (that’s German for—you guessed it—”compressor”), which is a little like naming a car the Nissan Carburetor.
Sports franchises may have even narrower confines when coming up with names. The sign that predators were in short supply was evident when Nashville named their new expansion NHL hockey team, the Nashville Predators. I’m a Preds fan myself (all NHL teams must be reduced to one-syllable names, by the way), but the name always sounded like a compromise between disagreeing parties. Only the Nashville Animals or the Nashville Things would have sounded more generic.
Anyone who is a Mac computer user will testify to the perils of relying on predatory animals to name operating systems (should an operating system really be predatory, anyway?). They too had nowhere to go after Mountain Lion, unless it was to OS X Really Really Fierce Mountain Lion. Going the parasite or single-celled organism route, or releasing OS X Possum didn’t hold much appeal with consumer focus groups, so Apple opted do the logical thing, which was to start naming operating systems after California state parks and landmarks. After all, we’d all like a computer operating system to be naturally beautiful, serene, and just a little wild (but with easy access to bathroom facilities). The current issue is Monterey, though I’m sticking with High Sierra for now, holding out for their much-anticipated next release, OS Death Valley.
You realize where all this emphasis on the rugged and natural (two things we all associate with computers) is leading, don’t you? Names like “Natchez Trace” and “Smoky Mountains” are sure to follow, once California’s natural splendors have been exhausted, and suddenly computer operating systems will start being named like bluegrass bands.
About five years down the road, brace yourself for OS Lonesome Creek, or OS Foamy River . That’s when I plan to sell them my band-naming kit, and it won’t be cheap.
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