The other day I was speaking to a consultant who specializes in morale. He told me about a hospice where the employees had formed a softball team. Curious about the tension between levity and decorum under those circumstances, I asked him what the team called itself. "They don't have a name," he replied.
I was surprised by that. The urge to name is strong and—I imagine—universal. It is at once a way of asserting ownership and of bestowing identity: simultaneously selfish and generous. Names reveal so much about the namer. You have only to look at a company name (You-Toe-Pia Pedicures/AAA Towing/Martin Kleegerman Inc.) to suss out the founder's salient characteristics (creative/practical/egotistical).
Naming also demonstrates the affection we feel for that which is truly ours. I read somewhere that people who own their cars are more likely to name them than people who merely lease. I always think it's a good sign when CEOs urge their staffs to name conference rooms, printers, servers etc. The message: "This business belongs to all of us. Here's a chance to exercise your humor and creativity to make it more personal to you." Names are also a great form of internal branding. Job candidates interviewed in The Bull Pen instead of Conference Room B have a better idea what they're getting into. I know of a medical-device company that prides itself on serial innovation and has several brainstorming rooms named after famous scientists and philosophers. I once visited a technology company where the men's and women's bathrooms were called Sam and Carly, after the CEOs of IBM and H-P respectively.
Naming is also an opportunity for a little friendly competition. When Inc. moved offices last month, our CEO staged a contest to name the company's four new conference rooms. The winning names riffed off Monopoly: Park Place, Boardwalk, New York Avenue, Jail. I personally prefer my own submissions--Studio 54, CBGB, The Stone Pony and Paradise—mostly because I think they make me seem cooler than I am. But I like the Monopoly monikers too. Among other things they provoke introspection. Do I feel more like a race car today, or a thimble?
Of course sitting around thinking up names is a distraction from work, and maybe not fun for creatively challenged companies. ("How about "The Printer Next to the Coffee Pot" and "The Printer Not Next to the Coffee Pot?") Perhaps someone should publish a book similar to those baby-name guides: "1001 Clever Things To Call Your Office Equipment." Anyone got suggestions? We can start collecting them here.
Last updated: May 18, 2007
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan