The Lean Marketer Blog

What’s in a Name? Hopefully, not much

It’s pretty much a given that there are fewer women tech entrepreneurs than men – even without finding an industry statistic to back it up, I know from personal experience in working with early-stage startups, that there are a lot more men in this business (not much competition for the ladies’ room stalls when I attend entrepreneurship events). That is why when the Tel Aviv University Entrepreneurship Center (StarTAU) announced that it was opening a special program for Women entrepreneurs, I was excited to learn more about it, and see how I could get involved.

Their opening gala was an inspiring event, with two high-powered women taking the stage to present personal experiences surrounding their achievements, and discussing societal issues that impact women’s success. Both Colonel Jana Modzagrashvili, Chief Military Prosecutor for the Israeli Defense Force and Judith Grisaro, VP of Customer Service at El Al (incidentally, she is El Al’s only female VP) held the mainly female audience’s rapt attention while they shared anecdote after anecdote about their own and women-in-general’s accomplishments.

Phenomenal networking, inspiring and talented speakers, what more could you ask for? Well, how about a name for the organization that reflects its lofty goals of supporting and promoting women entrepreneurs?

While StarTAU is a made-up name, it has the benefit of having the words “star,” “start” and “TAU” (short for Tel Aviv University). But this is a sub-program run within StarTAU, specifically for women. Hmmm… what should it be called?

Marketers are often called in to help with names – names for companies, new products, and so forth. There are also high-priced consultants who use scientific and not-so-scientific methods for coming up with the perfect name (The New Yorker has a great podcast about the company that came up with the name “Pentium” for Intel). StarTAU itself has a great article on its site about the subject. While it can be fun to have the opportunity to name your baby, naming can also be fraught with associations and difficulties.

That’s why I can understand how the well-meaning folks at StarTAU took the three tracks of the Women’s entrepreneurship and career program – “Membership, Internship, Scholarship,” put them together and said “MIS…hey, this is a women’s program – let’s call it MISS!”

Uh….. did I “MISS” something?

My first impression, and even my second impression, was that MISS is a bad name. This type of program needs an aspirational name, like “WIN.” Even if you didn’t grow up an American feminist and picture a “miss” as a young girl in a frilly dress, Miss is a miss. “Miss” is the salutation historically used to subjugate women, to indicate that they were unmarried (after marriage you became Mrs.), since a woman was defined by the man she had become attached to. In other words, “Miss” brings up the furthest possible connotation from the self-assured women that this program is targeting.

Putting aside the associations of  “Miss” the salutation, let’s think for a second about the word “miss.” Is there some positive connotation to this word that I have overlooked (ahem, missed)? Because whenever I think of missing something, it’s in the context of things like “I can’t believe Bill Buckner missed that ball,” (1986 Red Sox-Mets World Series)  or “I really miss my kids when I’m travelling,”  or “that presentation really missed the mark,” and so forth. In other words, if it’s not a HIT, it’s a MISS.

So how big of a miss is this name, and will it doom the organization to failure? Not necessarily.

There is the classic example, that appears in nearly every marketing textbook, of the Chevy Nova which supposedly didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries since “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish. I even brought up this story when I spoke with the MISS organizers, who, to their credit, accepted my criticism with grace and patience. The funny thing is, when I looked for a link to the Chevy Nova story to illustrate this blog post, I learned that this is just an urban legend. That in fact, the Chevy Nova sold very well in Latin American countries, and to this day there is a fuel company in that region called “Nova”, and no one mixes up “Nova” with “no va” (doesn’t go). In other words, it’s not the name, it’s the car. A not-great name might make things more difficult, but not impossible.

Putting aside my emotional response & thinking practically for a moment, one downside to a name like “miss” is that it’s hard to find even when you search for it on Google. But Apple seems to have overcome that problem quite handily – in fact when I did a simple Google search for “apple”, every single link on the first page of the search engine results refer to the company, and not the fruit. Amazing. In other words, success infuses the name with popularity. Success makes the name a good name, and not necessarily the name makes the company.

I think there is a lesson here for women entrepreneurs, since every Julie, Dahlia and Yifat will be known first by her name, which often exposes the fact that she is a woman, long before anyone has met her. While society may be predisposed to see women in a certain way – not as entrepreneurs, not as high-powered military prosecutors, not in the boardroom – we can overcome this through our own excellence. Our own accomplishments will infuse our female names with the aura of success. As Judith Grisaro said at the MISS opening gala, you can legislate equality all you want, but this will not make it happen – women have to simply make it a reality through our unceasing excellence.

The first MISS event I attended this week was truly excellent, and the women I met there can — and with the right support, will — take this society to great new heights. If the organization continues on this path, participating in MISS will soon be a mark of prestige… in spite of whatever I may think about its name.

What do you think about company and product names? Are they a significant factor in success or failure? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

image credit: Life experiences of a Southern Rose

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