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The Power of Names (newyorker.com)
53 points by giorgiofontana on June 5, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

It would be interesting to have some kind of statistical information about startup names. There's definitely trends, the "missing vowel" is basically Web 2.0's metal umlaut. But while that might appear trendy at one time, it might almost be a death knell once that style is passé. Coming back to people's names, probably the equivalent of "upper class names" becoming lower class.

Are we back to "John" and "Michael" company/product names again, or is the "Aidan" and "Teagan" phase still going strong?

The perception of being exotic can also be an advantage, though. Would you rather buy olive oil from a brand named Granny Smith or Emilia-Romagna? As another example, Häagen-Dazs was named to "sound Danish" to American consumers, despite not actually meaning anything in Danish. I think the name has worked rather well for them.

Exotic product names in the U.S., however, must somehow be Anglicized to make them easy for American consumers to pronounce and remember. Flickr and Tumblr are okay, despite the missing vowel, because everyone knows how to read them. Mazda was smart enough to bastardize their founder's name (Matsuda) before trying to sell cars in America. But good luck if your company is named Xaro Xhoan Daxos!

Or if you're Ingvar Kamprad from Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd.

Or Adolf Dassler.

I speak both English and Chinese. I gave my children both English and Chinese names. It would be a very good idea to try to replicate these preliminary findings across more languages. We can't assume that English-speaking people in developed countries are representative of the whole world.


Besides the issue of whether or not the findings fit all of humanity rather than just people in some cultures, there is also the issue of whether the findings are even true. A lot of psychologists are discovering that many reported findings on human psychology are not from studies with adequate statistical power to show that the findings are genuine. The more astute psychologists, such as Uri Simonsohn at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business,


are alert now about applying statistical tests to published findings to find out if the findings are really likely given the described experimental conditions, or are the result of "p-hacking" or undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis or other researcher behavior that obscures truth-finding.

The author of this brief article has a book coming out, and "is an assistant professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, with an affiliated appointment in the N.Y.U. psychology department." I wonder what he thinks of the work of Simonsohn and Simonsohn's colleagues about testing research findings that make it into the business journals to find out whether or not the findings are even true or generalizable to other cultures.

Maybe people in the northern hemisphere associate going north with going uphill because the climatic changes are similar. For instance you can find plant ecologies at 3,000 feet of elevation in West Virginia that are very similar to what you would find at sea level in eastern Canada.

In countries which their language is based in Chinese, there's a whole branch of theory on how different names affect people's lives. The meaning and sound of each characters and even how many strokes it take to write each character are taken into account.

This is also the case with Hebrew (Jewish) and Gurmukhi (Sikh) names.

Jews believe Hebrew is a Holy Language (loshn-koydesh). All the names of characters in the Old Testament describe their role in the story. For instance, my name, ‘shmu-el’ (Samuel) is short for ‘shma Elokim’, which means ’listening to the Word of G-d’. The Biblical character Samuel was a prophet, hence the name.

Sikhs also believe that their language, Gurmukhi, is a sacred language. It is believed that uttering sounds in a certain order, and repeating those, has an effect on your consciousness. This is called Nada Yoga. A Sikh name is chosen using vedic astrology, and it is descriptive of the challenges you’ll face in your life. Listening to your name and repeating it often is said to help you in realizing your destiny.

I feel this is horribly close to some big data magic.

When I was young, my family lived 200 miles north of my grandpa's town. Whenever grandpa visited us, he insisted that the road north was uphill all the way. I always knew that it was nonsense. After all, we lived in a coastal area, whereas grandpa lived inland (and it was definitely not below sea level), and there are no significant mountain ranges in between, so if anything the drive north should have been mostly downhill. Only later did I realize that the perception of driving uphill probably had something to do with the way most maps are drawn. Grandpa probably did burn more gas on the road north, though, because he didn't have to haul any gifts on the road south.

I read things beginning with gl are correlated with light effects e.g. glisten, glimmer, glitter, gloss, glow.

So I suppose that's why a "glorious day" evokes beaming sun.

Glum and gloomy rain fell on Gloucester like globs of runny goo in the gloaming. :-)


Related: Voilá! In view a humble vaudevillian veteran cast vicareously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valerous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to venquish these venal and virulent vermin venguarding vice and vouchsafing the violent, vicious and foracious violation of volition! The only virdict is vengance. A vendetta, held as votive not in vain but for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and virtuous. Yet verily this vichessoice of verbiage veers most verbose. So let me simply add that it is my very great honor to meet you, and you may call me, V. // Only know it from hearing, I probably misspelled half the words.

Did you memorize that? If so: wow, you were quite close. The correct text from ‘V for Vendetta’:

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition! The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”

If I'm entirely honest, I cheated two words. After seeing "This visage" I remembered the rest again. But yes, mostly by heart. Loved that part of the movie (and audiobook) :P

The V comics are full of stuff like that.

And then there are glLight, glLightModel, etc.

I had to look this up because my surname begins with those letters. Thanks for the lead!


and now I know the name for it, awesome!

Interesting about the north and south discrepancies where they say that property is more valuable on the north side of town. I was just thinking about this in terms of how cities are laid out. The two cities I know are Milwaukee and Chicago and it is pretty obvious that the north sides of each of them are way more affluant than the south. Any other examples of this or am I off base?

DC as well, although there are dozens of historical accidents in how its borders came to be.

Counter-examples are St. Louis and (I think) Minneapolis.

What about in other climates/non-western cities? Does north/south apply in Sydney? Beijing?


Yes, Minneapolis is a correct counterexample. What matters most for house prices in the Twin Cities is nearness to lakes. North Minneapolis has few lakes, the highest crime rate in the city (with a murder rate far higher than, for example, New York City), and blighted public schools. Southwest Minneapolis (same municipal government and same public school district) is a desirable neighborhood near lakes with a lot of high-income residents and a high school that is a feeder school to the Ivy League.

Counterexample: the northernmost part of New York City is the Bronx, which is far from the priciest. (Inwood, the northernmost part of Manhattan, also isn't as expensive as portions of the island to the south.)

Atlanta and Boston would be two more examples.

Ditto London

Speaking of ways in which our language affects the way we define the world around us, here's a list of Eskimo words for snow names (or rather: lexemes, in the article): http://www.princeton.edu/~browning/snow.html

Some would dispute that there exists a similarly diverse taxonomy of ways to classify snow in English, but I'd argue those rules are looser and more subject to interpretation.

Either way, it's really interesting to learn the ways in which the constructs of our language define the way we see the world. Another example of language influencing thought is the way gender assignments of words affect perceptions of their characteristics as masculine, feminine, or neutral.

’Eskimos Have Hundreds Of Words For Snow, and Other Myths Debunked’ by CPG Grey:


I live in the Netherlands, where it rains most of the year. According your logic, one would expect for the Dutch language to have countless words for rain. Instead, it has just a few, and less than a desert language like Arabic.

Sure, I agree that there's some contention over this.

It is interesting, however, if you entertain the fact that because there exists a separate word for different types of snow, you may perceive it as a separate entity entirely from another kind of snow rather than a just "snow" with a different modifier out in front.

I didn't realise Jody was a unisex name

To me it was the only one of the two that seemed like a normal and unisex name. But the article is American and I'm from the Netherlands, so I just don't know all the names like a native would.

It is traditionally a famous generic male name, like "Joe": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_cadence

It's used for boys much more commonly in the southeast.

I know one male Jody off the top of my head: Jody Davis, who played catcher for the Chicago Cubs when I was a kid.

Wall of text. Please, write "tl;dr" somebody.

It's less than 1250 words - is that really a problem?

OK, tl;dr - naming things can change how you think about them.

Oh, and in case you're interested, "War and Peace" is about Russia.

I think it seems longer and more taxing to read because the paragraphs are pretty long. It's harder to stay focused both mentally and visually in the middle of a large block of text.

Yeah, I stopped reading the article after 140 characters.

Thanks for tl;dr anyway :)

I want to see main idea of article first, then decide if this text worth my time to read. Sorry, if it's offensive for somebody.

Author of War and Peace was very frustrated about size of that book :)

Author of War and Peace was very frustrated about size of that book

I doubt that's true. I seem to recall that Tolstoy had his wife copy it 9 times by hand as he rewrote it.

Also, "wall of text", meaning "something that might take an effort to read", is not considered bad on HN, though verbosity (which is not the same thing) is.

Also, the phrases "wall of text" and "TL;DR" are Redditisms that most people here try to keep HN clear of. Other invasive species from Reddit include: addressing people as "sir" in comments; introducing something (usually something distracting) with "obligatory"; and others I can't remember right now.

There used to be a sign as you crossed the Alberta-BC border asking people to be careful about inadvertently bringing pine beetles from one province into the other. I feel like we should have one of those.

Well, it's offtop, but I hate when somebody calls me a liar.

In Wikipedia: "6 декабря 1908 года Толстой записал в дневнике: «Люди любят меня за те пустяки — „Война и мир“ и т. п., которые им кажутся очень важными»".

In English: (google translate) December 6, 1908, Tolstoy wrote in his diary: "People love me for the trivia -" War and Peace "and the like, which they seem to be very important".

I don't read Reddit at all, so I don't care about their Redditisms.

That quote expresses Tolstoy's frustration not about the size of his novels but about the importance people attached to them. In his old age Tolstoy wanted people to focus on moral concerns, not artistic ones. For old Tolstoy, War and Peace was empty of significance, but certainly not because it was too long—that would be the last thing he cared about by 1908!

Also, please don't use inflammatory language on HN. "Calls me a liar" is about the most inflammatory way you could put that. My comment was hardly about you, and "lie" implies something evil, which is way over the top. I'm merely saying that one of your points was mistaken.

Is there a word for the opposite of inflammatory language? That's what we're trying to do on HN, even at the cost—this took me years to figure out—of being a little more boring.

> I want to see main idea of article first, then decide if this text worth my time to read.

Well, usually you put the main idea of a text in its title.

Did you really have to write all of that, instead of just "gimme tldr plz"? I will never get those 12 minutes back.

Well, it's totally worth reading and it only takes a few minutes. I've seen way longer stuff come by on HN ;)

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