Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: W


Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: What’s in a name?

Shakespeare once posed the question: What’s in a name?

Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: W


Allow me to trumpet the answer with proud humility: A name is part of a brand and mirrors the promise of an experience.

A difficult name at birth is often a heavy piece of baggage and an easy name a fast travel ticket. My surname is an example because the G in Greeff is pronounced like a Scottish “och aye it’s Loch Ness”. So when I introduce myself as Greeff many people probably want to say “bless you” because it sounds like a sneeze-cough combination – something like “chreehugh”.

The world is overrun with strange names.

Take Donald Trump and his wife Melania. How far would they have gone if they had stuck to their original family names? They would now be President Donald Drumpf and First Lady Melanija Knavs.

In his 2004 book, Think like a billionaire, The Donald stated that the family name once was Drumpf but was changed to Trump in the 1600’s. Other writers say his grandfather, a German immigrant, arrived as Friedrich Drumpf in the late 1800’s. Maybe the 45th President of the USA’s Washington DC memorial will one day be an Arc de Drumpf.

But the Drumpfs of Germany and the Knavs of Slovenia were not alone.

The British politician Boris Johnson could have been Boris Bey as his paternal grandfather was a Turk called Ali Kemal Bey.

When Queen Victoria and German Prince Albert married in 1850 the British Royal family took on the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. That turned out to be a Zeitbombe (Zeit being time, as Einstein knew). It was a time bomb because World War I arrived and it became sehr difficult und ganz impossible for the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha royals to fight Germany with an internal German connection. In 1917 the British Royal family changed themselves to the House of Windsor.

When Kaiser Wilhelm II heard that, he declared drily that he looked forward to attending Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. As Shakespeare might have said: Was it in einem Namen?

Around that time many British noble families with German links decided to bring down the cost of broken windows and the exorbitant cost of the removal charges of bricks on their carpets. They changed their German family names. The Von Battenberg family became Mountbatten, the Tecks of Württenberg became Cambridge.

Talking of difficult German names, who was born as Philippos Andreou of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderberg-Glücksburg? Never mind, in 1947 he changed his name in line with his maternal Von Battenbergs and became Philip Mountbatten. Do you still not know who it is? Well, it is Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

Interestingly as a malapropism, I have been told that, when they arrived in Windhoek for the Independence of Namibia in 1991, a Namibian news broadcaster said that Queen Elizabeth the Eleventh and the Duck of Edinburg were met at the airport.

But, let us scratch around again in German tongue twisting family history.

Adolf Hitler’s father was born out of wedlock. For the first 39 years of his life he bore his mother’s surname – Schicklgruber. Then he changed his name to that of his stepfather, Hiedler, which was misspelt by officials as Hitler. And that is how Adolf Hitler arrived in the world. How effective would the Nazi take-over have been with Der Führer Adolf Schicklgruber? Imagine hundreds of thousands of ecstatic Germans with perfect diction at 1930’s rallies shouting in unison: “Heil Schicklgruber! Heil Schicklgruber!”

For me Schicklgruber rolls as easily off the tongue as the German nonsensical name for a butterfly – schmetterling – which sounds like a splattered insect on a car’s windscreen.

As leaders go, however, the man with most Scrabble points in his name for me was Joseph Stalin. Just imagine that Namibian broadcaster having to pronounce Josi Wissarionowitsj Dzjoegasjvilli.

Or imagine an Oscars master of ceremonies calling Hellen Mirren to the stage in her real name: “And the Oscar goes to Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov!” Nazdarovya to that one.

Kirk Douglas of Spartacus fame and father of actor Michael Douglas is now 101 years old but started life as Issur Danielovitch Demsky. Think of a voice in a film trailer announcing: “Spartacus, the thrilling adventure of a slave who changed the world! Starring Issur Danielovitch Demsky!” What? Who? Danny the Dam Skier?

How far did the company name BackRub go? Not too far. Well not until its owners changed the name to Google. And that was an accident of sorts. The founders of BackRub, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, decided BackRub as a search engine name was a mistake. They talked of using the term googol for a new name – a googol being the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. A friend, Sean, looked up available website names for registration thinking a googol was spelt google. The site for Google was available. Page and Brin decided it was more fitting than the correct spelling.

And then there was another search engine with the awkward name Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web which only found its direction once it was renamed as Yahoo for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”.

Many other companies became successful after name changes that rolled easier off the tongue. Pepsi was a slow starter as Brad’s Drink.

Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, a start-up in a bombed out building in Tokyo became Sony. A business with the fancy name Blue Ribbon Sports became Nike. A mouthful of names, The Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice, Il Giornale Coffee Company became Starbucks.

Click on the website for and where do you arrive? Amazon. That is because Amazon started as Relentless. Bad name I think. It sounds like ruthless. Not exactly a good sales pitch to persuade customers to believe in you.

I reiterate a name is a brand. It is a promise of an experience. That is why we love Elton John and not his original alter ego Reginald Kenneth Dwight, why Ralph Lifshitz, fortunately, changed his name to Ralph Lauren and the effeminate sounding Marion Robert Morrison (also known as Marion Mitchell Morrison) decided John Wayne would be a better name on stage.

Difficult names are complex. Easy names are simple. Take President Harry S. Truman as an example. His middle name stood for nothing. It was just S and nothing else.

It is like Mr. and Mrs. Legg calling their son A and nothing else. Now that would be a leg to stand on. 

Read more Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff:

Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: Three stars for griminess

Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: A tit over the bop with Spooner 

Jet-Letter by Rhynie Greeff: Play piano not war games