If you’ve read “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink, you know that in a world of increasingly parity products, the intangibles are often what make the difference. Things like design and likeability and tone of voice. This got me thinking about the ways companies name themselves and their products. We’re all probably familiar with the story of how Nike needed something to put on the shoe boxes before they rolled off the printing press, and at the eleventh hour, Phil Knight made that fateful proclamation, “Go with the Nike thing I guess.” But what about the hundreds of thousands of companies whose names range from “Armor All” to “Zune?”
While there are plenty of businesses who’ve pocketed large sums of money by helping brands with these naming chores, it occurred to me that we could all learn a lot about the subject from boat owners. So, while I was recently on vacation in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, I took the liberty of snapping a few photos of watercrafts I passed while struggling to catch striped bass.
First, you have what I like to think of as the garden variety boat name. These names are typically rather lofty and rooted in boat terminology — nautical terms, constellations, weather patterns, tides and, um, birds. I imagine these names make their owners feel proud and important, but the truth is, most of them are infinitely forgettable. (In fact, “Infinitely” is probably on the back of a 32-foot yawl owned by an investment banker.) I equate these names to brands like “Coffee Bean” and “Blockbuster.” There’s nothing wrong with them, but they lack personality or soul.
For those of you didn’t know, Alcor is a star. Sailboat captains like to talk a lot about stars — typically while they’re following their $10,0 Lowrance radar.
The second group of names are what I think of as the, “I’m just so damn happy to have a boat” monikers. These names include, but are not limited to: Wet Dream, Emotional Rescue, Aquaholic, Silver Lining, Just Right and proverbial Sanity Saver. Analogous brand names would be Jack In The Box, Geek Squad and, of course, T.G.I. Fridays. What they all share is a sunny disposition, a love of the seven seas and a fondness for jalapeno poppers.
It’s water, it’s therapy — it’s “Hydrotherapy.
Marina Bum takes the category to another level. Partly because the name isn’t boastful. Partly because I know the guy who owns the boat and the name is completely accurate. He’s always on the boat. He’s always tied to the dock. And he’s always willing to share a cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The final collection of names I’ll affectionately refer to as, “The Badass Names.” These are identities created by guys with fish guts under their fingernails and little concern for how the folks who pass their craft feel about their choice of name. There are two themes that are pervasive within this category: Hard women and jail time. Rarely do these names speak of ladies who’ve graduated from Ivy League colleges or become treasurer of the rotary club. Equally rare are references of good deeds.
I love that woman, but damn it, she’s pesky. Just like the four who preceded her.
Ex-cons always proclaim their innocence.
Sometimes everything works out and you’re able to combine both themes into one name. Look, it’s part single woman, part legal infraction.
In the end, I don’t know that this last group of names is really any better than the others except for the fact that they tease a story I want to hear more about. I don’t know about you, but if I’m at a party and have a choice of standing next to the guy in the Dockers (There’s another garden variety brand name) who determined his craft should bear the regal moniker of “Alcor” or the guy with the red and white lobster buoy who is full of salty tales of how his boat earned the name “Miss Conduct,” I know which way I’m going.
I guess what I’m saying, is that in a world of increasingly similar, vanilla things, it’s nice to encounter people, products and brands with a little bit of grit and personality. And a properly named boat is just that.