Tiger Woods, Accenture and Branding: Lessons for Baby Namers
An economics professor recently estimated that Tiger Woods' marital problems have had a whopping $12 billion stock market impact. This bizarre intersection of personal woes and global finance is all about branding. Woods had been the public face of a wide range of products and services. His image of focus, grace under pressure, and peerless performance resonated far beyond sports. It didn't hurt, too, that golf is the pastime of choice of the corporate set. So Woods added value, all of which drained away -- with interest -- over the past weeks.
The biggest corporate victim was consulting giant Accenture, which had made Woods the entire face of its organization. Woods' image equaled Accenture's image, so the company was forced to perform an emergency image-ectomy. And that's where baby names come in.
I've written before that naming a child after a living celebrity is risky business. The problem is that the name's cultural meaning isn't yet settled. Just as Tiger Woods "means" something different in our society than he did a year ago, the meaning of celebrity's name can shift unpredictably over time.
We already know that much about politician's names. Until Watergate, you could count on a new president being honored with a spate of little namesakes. Today, parents wait until the president is safely part of history to commit to the homage. (Don't believe the breathless media accounts of a flood of baby Baracks. Alf Landon inspired far more namesakes losing the election in 1936 than Obama did winning in 2008.) When it comes to athletes, actors and musicians, though, parents are still willing to pull the trigger. That can lead to regret when a sports star changes teams, or worse when scandal hits.
Not every name is at equal risk. As we saw with Woods and Accenture, the stakes are highest when the celebrity defines the name's image. Take a name like Beyoncé (#700 in America in 2001). It exists because of Beyoncé Knowles, and its impact rides entirely on her shoulders. In contrast, performers like Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera hold little power over the names Alicia and Christina.
It may seem a cold calculation, weighing the the chances of disgrace for a favorite star as part of the joyous process of choosing a baby name. And certainly, some celebrities grant a lasting luster to their names -- Audrey Hepburn, for example. But just like a corporation with a sponsor, parents choosing a celebrity-infused name are putting a little bit of their future in a stranger's hands.