What’s in a Name

| illustration by Charles Marsh |

Have you noticed that lately we’ve started coming up with labels for pretty much everything? I’m at the age when the biggest thrill in life is having that competitive edge in Scrabble. (I’m also at the age when all my sentences start just like the previous one.) But to get that advantage, I spend my weekends combing through the online database of new word additions to my Merriam-Webster dictionary, and it’s amazing the things that have managed to get their own moniker.

For instance, there are words like “adorbs,” which means cute or adorable; “amazeball,” which, surprisingly, means amazing; and “cray,” an adjective meaning crazy, without that time-consuming extra syllable. And these days, anything that’s been a fad longer than 20 minutes winds up in the dictionary. These include “twerking,” “planking” and the go-to activity for the self-absorbed, “selfies.” Yep. Apparently mirrors never get tired of having their picture taken.

But labeling is also a huge marketing tool for giant corporations. They will pay giant amounts of money to have their names associated with something that creates consumer recognition of exactly what their brand means. So if Apple stands for innovation, it will gladly pay millions to have its name on products and services that are innovative.

Apparently Globe Life Insurance had that same marketing strategy when it supposedly agreed to pay upwards of $60 million over 10 years to put its label on The Ballpark in Arlington, which is the home field for the Texas Rangers baseball team. They wanted to be associated with winners. Well, sometimes those marketing strategies don’t quite work out as planned. It’s pretty hard for a baseball team to be a winner when you’ve got room temperature batting averages and pitchers with shoe size ERAs. And if you think that’s got the execs over at Globe Life scratching their heads, how do you think those folks at AT&T feel about paying between $12 to $18 million a year to have their label on Cowboys Stadium?

For some reason, we also decided that specific generations need a label. Over the past 100 years or so, there have been six of them. The first was the Greatest Generation. This one ran from around 1915 to 1945. Then came the Baby Boomers, which included the years from 1946 until 1964. Next was Generation X and Generation Y, which combined for about 15 years. Then came the Millennials, who were born from 1981 to 2001. We still don’t have a name for the current generation because nobody has ever seen them. They’re all holed up in their rooms playing video games. I, of course, was a Baby Boomer. Not only was there no Internet or Smartphones, television didn’t even really get off the ground until the early ’50s. The reason we’re the largest generation is because our parents literally had nothing better to do. The Greatest Generation was given that label just to keep our grandparents happy and less argumentative at the dinner table. I still have no clue what Generation X and Y were about. And Millennials are apparently the ones that attend Star Trek conventions.

What’s really weird these days is the media frenzy when a celebrity couple has a baby. They hover around the hospital hoping to be the first to announce the baby’s new name. But I guarantee you, somebody is paying that couple millions just to have the naming rights of their baby. Think about it. The new trend in Hollywood seems to be naming your child after a Glade Air Freshener scent. That would explain all those goofy baby names lately: Apple, Angel Whispers, Pumpkin Spice, Vanilla Joy. Sound familiar? It’s all about labeling.
And finally, behavioral science has always interested me. It has plenty of labels for different types of conditions. In fact, they’ve managed to label more than 400 different types of phobias. There is one for fear of bad breath (halitophobia), fear of buttons (koumpounophobia) and fear of nudity (gymnophobia). I can’t imagine how you’d develop the last one, unless your grandparents always left the bathroom door open.

But right now, you’re probably feeling logophobia, which is basically a fear that this column will never end.