Getting the Name Right Really Matters – (The Parable of the “Datsun Fairlady”)

Vocabulary matters.

What you name your company, your product, your device makes a difference.

The wrong name can do real damage. The better name is ok. But a brilliant name raises the potential for success to a new level.

And, I’m not sure we know we’ve got a great name, or a not-so-great name, until after the fact.

And I’m not sure why this issue popped into my mind. (Maybe because my sister-in-law just bought the most recent version of this car).

Think of the way the words roll off of your tongue when the words are the right words. “I have an iPad, and in iPhone, and an iMac,” I told someone recenlty. Apple’s brilliance with their naming – iMac; iPod; iPhone; iMac really does teach us something. Oh, they add upgrades (“iPad Air – even the “Air” is borrowed from their other line, MacBook Air; iPhone 5s…) but the core name stays the same.  Brandingnaming — these matter.

So, I remembered one of my favorite stories. I read it in The Reckoning by David Halberstam years ago. (Sorry, I don’t have my copy handy – so I can’t give you the direct quote).

It was the late 1960s. He described how the American head of Datsun eagerly awaited the ship full of the new sports cars to arrive on the West Coast. When they arrived, he loved the car – but not the name. The Japanese leaders of Datsun (Nissan) were big fans of the popular American movie, so they named their car the “Fairlady.”

Now, this was not a dainty car. This was the first Z, and it’s likely purchasers were going to be predominantly male, wanting a fast car. As I remember the story, this American leader of the company physically removed the nameplate off of each car, and replaced it with the internal company designation – the Datsun 240Z.

Here's a 1973 "240Z"  - not the 1973 "Nissan Fairlady"
Here’s a 1973 “240Z” – not the 1973 “Datsun Fairlady”

So, here is the product, a cool, fast car. Here are the two possibilities for what to name this car:

The Fairlady

The 240Z

I think this was a pretty smart move to jettison the “Fairlady” name, don’t you?

Now, from this story, the American head of Datsun changed the name not because he knew the 240Z was a brilliant name, but because he knew the “Fairlady” was definitely the wrong name.

Getting the name right really matters. And avoiding the wrong name matters even more.


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