“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
I recently came across the term “development mule” in an article at Jalopnik, and several Ford Mustang “mules” were featured in director David Gelb’s A Faster Horse, which documents the design, production, and development of the 2015 Mustang. I was fascinated with the term, so I did a little research, and according to Wikipedia, a development mule, test mule, or (simply) mule in the automotive industry is,
a testbed vehicle equipped with prototype components requiring evaluation. They are often camouflaged to deceive competitors and thwart a curious automotive press.
So what is the difference between a “prototype” and a “development mule?” The “GM Guide To Terms Used In Auto Body Design” defines a prototype as,
The original model during the evaluation stage in automotive engineering.
An automotive forum at eng-tips.com offers this definition for prototype,
A pre-mass production vehicle of new design that is used for testing and development purposes.
The following explanation from Wikipedia does a great job of defining the unique purpose and specific characteristic of an automotive development mule, test mule, or (simply) a mule:
Mules may also have advanced chassis and powertrain designs from a prospective vehicle that need testing, which can be effectively concealed in the body and interior of a similarly sized production model.
If no comparable vehicle is available in-house or an external benchmark is being used mules may be based on another manufacturer’s model. For example, in the 1970s the new powertrain package of first-generation Ford Fiesta was developed using mules based on the then class-leading Fiat 127, as Ford had no comparable compact model of similar size to utilize.
Mules are also used to conceal styling changes and visible telltales of performance alterations in near-production vehicles, receiving varying degrees of camouflage to deceive rival makers and thwart a curious automotive press. Such alterations can span from distracting shrinkwrap designs to substituting crude cylindric shapes for taillights, non-standard wheels, or assemblages of plastic and tape to hide a vehicle’s shape and design elements.
Perhaps the key to the meaning and use of the term mule in this context, is the vehicles purpose of “carrying” various “hybrid parts” for testing its “handling, roadloads, and powertrain” characteristics. After all an actual Equus mulus by definition is a “hybrid” of a male donkey and a female horse, and is valued for its sure-footedness, strength, and endurance. Mules also tend to be more independent than most domesticated equines, and can be effectively packed with various loads.
Mule – I discovered several origin stories for the term at Stack Exchange:
In French or Italian, car racing teams were/are called “écurie (de course)” or “scuderia”, literally racing stable: the race cars are the horses and the replacement car is called in French “le mulet” (the mule) and in Italian “il muletto”.
Both in French and in English, the sense of mule/mulet later extended to development cars (testbed vehicle equipped with prototype components requiring evaluation).
Chevrolet’s practice car had fiberglass body, was called ‘the mule’ – 1956 Road & Track
…while the SS in both “Mule” and “show” variants ran they went like stink. The officially released lap time set by Fangio at Sebring in the prototype Mule was 3:27.2, a very respectable figure. – 1957 Car and Drive
With a rough fiberglass body this became the “Mule”, which went down to Sebring for on-the-spot trials while the actual race car was completed… the Mule was revised and cleaned up in detail to be exactly like the race SS, but the ax fell on the project before the ex-Mule could be assembled … this car, the Mule… – 1960 Car & Driver
…had built a pair of muletti — “mules” — whose design had been hastily roughed out by the same internal talent that had drawn up the Dischi Volanti and many other “house” designs. The workmanship of these muletti also was rough as they were never intended to be seen by the public. – 1964 Road and Track
In the comments section of the same post at Stack Exchange a reader contributed this observation,
My understanding is that a “mule” is a crude vehicle used to test engines and other components. Likely from its resemblance to a mechanical “mule” on a canal — basically a small locomotive with no cab, just frame, engine, and wheels. And that term, of course, comes from the animal it replaces. (I first read the term ca 1965. Likely it goes back at least 20 years. prior to that.
Charles Darwin, who knew a thing or two about the Origin of Species, wrote: “The mule always appears to me a most surprising animal. That a hybrid should possess more reason, memory, obstinacy, social affection, powers of muscular endurance, and length of life, than either of its parents, seems to indicate that art has here outdone nature.”
Beltline: the line going from the hood which usually follows the bottom edge of the windows and continues to the trunk. The beltline is a major component of the vehicle’s overall appearance, as well as the safety aspect of blind spots.
Bubble Up: a preproduction stage of design. Also know as the theme stage or concept stage.
Brightwork: anything reflective added to a car to enhance appearance. May also be called chrome.
Buck: a full size model of a vehicle used to evaluate comfort, entrance, egress, vision; usually made of wood, metal, foam and/or fiberglass.
Clay Buck: a full size mock up of a vehicle made from a clay covered armature to show vehicle shape.
Down the Road Graphics: the styling of the front end of the car, which people will instantly recognize and associate with a manufacturer.
Concept Car: A Full size vehicle made to illustrate a design concept or idea, usually with futuristic components and faetures; often shown at auto exhibitions and shows.
Greenhouse: the glassed-in upper section of the car’s body.
Oscar: a mannequin representing the 95th percentile male and used in packaging a vehicle.
Proveout Model: a clay model developed to verify surface drawing conformation with the appearance of the model originally approved by management from which a recorded fiberglass cast is subsequently made.
Show Car: a car having features or shapes not offered in production cars, and designed for display.
Trim Buck: a fullsize model showing interior design finishes of a specific model of automobile.
Tumblehome: refers to the way the sides of a car rounds inward toward the roof, specifically of the greenhouse above the beltline.
A Faster Horse: the title for David Gelb’s documentary was derived from the adage “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” which is often attributed to Henry Ford. (For more on that story see our “Debunking Henry Ford’s ‘faster horse’ quote” blog post.
Giuseppe Mulè: was an Italian composer and conductor.
Headless Mule: is a character in Brazilian folklore. In most tales, it is the ghost of a woman that has been cursed by God for her sins… and condemned to turn into a fire-spewing headless mule, galloping through the countryside from Thursday’s sundown to Friday’s sunrise.
Hinny: is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse, a stallion, and a female donkey, a jenny. It is the reciprocal cross to the more common mule, which is the product of a male donkey and a female horse.
Mule: is a small electric tractor used for hauling over short distances.
Spinning Mule: is a machine that makes thread or yarn from fibers.
Twenty-Mule Teams: were actually teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons that ferried borax out of Death Valley, California.
Besides being a drawing savant, Achilles G. Rizzoli was a playful, inventive, and idiosyncratic wordsmith. His visionary drawings are densely and compulsively layered with a language and vocabulary of his own making. Anagrams, puns, neologisms, and solecisms run wild amidst the voluminous inner monologue that he mistook for the voice of God.
Rizzoli was also an ambitious namer. He created over one hundred names for himself in his drawings, including: Abettor, Agent, Arbitrator, Conformist, Contender, Conveyor, Crusader, Decorator, Delineator, Edifier, Embalmer, Hack, Idolator, Jelly Maker, Journeyman, Kapellmeister, Kibitzer, Kingfisher, Limner, Magnifier, Messenger, Neophyte, Observer, Paraphraser, Promoter, Questioner, Rescuer, Retriever, Romancer, Scrivener, Suppliant, Translator, Witnesser, and Zealot. He also had a staff of imaginary “Delineators,” which he named Angelhart, Bellarosa, Grandocosti, and Maidenburg.
Rizzoli’s charismatic titles for his drawings — “Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza;” “A Bit of Architecture Requested by His Prince the Virgin;” “Expeau of Magnitude, Magnificence and Manifestation;” “Irwin Peter Sicotte, Jr., Symbolically Delineated / The Sayanpeau;” “Mother Symbolically Recaptured / The Kathedral;” “Sonnet Jesus Added;” “Virginia Ann Entwistle Symbolicaly Sketched / Virginia’s Heavenly Castle;” and “Y.T.T.E. The Expositon of Superior Beauty and Permanency” — are further evidence of his unhinged ingenuity.
I find it curious that several critiques of Rizzoli’s work take exception to his writing skills, as if they were reviewing a conventional novel, or perhaps an instruction manual:
Also, like many Outsider artists, Rizzoli ultimately proved inept in communicating his visions to the world. Both his prose and poetry are unreadable. Meaningless phrases strung together apparently verbless go on and on and then go on some more. Even his partisans admit that the soft surfaces of his texts are as impenetrable as if they were chiseled from stone.
~David Bonetti, San Fransisco Examiner
The delirium of styles in Rizzoli’s buildings and the drawings’ precision make them an astonishment. The drawings are blazoned with acronyms, titles, verses and pronouncements so grandiloquent that at times they seem to tip naturally into self-parody.
~Kenneth Baker, San Fransisco Chronicle
But as Kenneth Baker goes on to say, “Yet Rizzoli believed that his visions and inscriptions were dictated by God,” so you can hardly question Rizzoli’s source material, can you? Nor his unbridled and uninhibited enthusiasm for language, and the aesthetics of meticulously (and/or compulsively) rendered text.
1896 – Born in Port Reyes, California. His parents, Innocente and Emma, were Swiss Italians who immigrated to the United States in the 1880s.
1915 – A sister got pregnant without benefit of marriage, his father “disappears” with a stolen gun after his wife and children fled to Oakland in disgrace, and an elder brother ran away, never to be heard from again.
191(?) – He attends the Polytechnic College of Engineering in Oakland, taking classes in mechanics, geometry, magnetism, and electrical engineering.
1915 – The Panama Pacific International Exposition took place in San Francisco. He visited the Exposition on several occasions and the next year began lessons in architectural rendering.
191(?) – He was recommended for membership to the San Francisco Architectural Club.
1923-1933 – He wrote short stories and novellas about a group of architects attempting to realize various utopias. He collects 280 rejection notices from various publishers in the process.
1933 – Under the pseudonym Peter Metermaid he self-published a novel entitled The Colonnade.
1933 – He and his mother Emma settle into a small four room house in Bernal Heights, San Francisco (some sources claim he lived in the Mission District).
1935-1944 – He produces a body of architectural portraits that symbolically represent people that he knows as monumental buildings, and creates another series of architectural work entitled Y.T.T.E. or “Yield To Total Elation.” According to The Biography Project, “Y.T.T.E. develops over the years into an island complex with over eighty buildings (‘The Toure of Phallism,’ ‘Palace of Relaxation,’ ‘The Temple of Dreams’) and twenty monumental sculptures of such abstractions as poetry, happiness, and peace. The ‘Acme Sitting Station,’ A.S.S. was the toilet’s designated name. And if you so desired to shake off this mortal coil, there was: ‘The Shaft of Ascension’ where you would be pleasantly and painlessly euthanized.”
1935-1940 – Rizzoli held annual exhibits in the front room of his home, charging ten cents admission, which he called the Achilles Tectonic Exhibit Portfolio (A.T.E.P.). A few neighbors, relatives, and two curious co-workers attend these exhibitions.
1936 – He is hired at an architectural firm, where he was regarded “merely as a competent draftsman.”
1936 – After twenty-one years, the remains of his deceased father are discovered. He refers to his father’s (apparent) suicide in an architectural portrait entitled, “The Dark Horse of the Festival Year.”
1937 – Rizzoli’s mother dies due to complications of a leg amputation from diabetic gangrene. At the funeral, Rizzoli is remembered to have stood by the casket trying to open his mother’s eyes.
1945 – He experiences visions which he considers to be the third testament to the Bible.
1958 – After an unproductive phase, he initiates a new project called the A.C.E. (Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza). The 350 drawings of the A.C.E. series were comprised of architectural renderings, quotations, and musings on falling snow, the election of John F. Kennedy, the celebration of saints, and the metamorphoses of deceased relatives, among other topics.
1977 – While working on a piece from the “Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza” series entitled “Rest in Peace Awhile,” Rizzoli suffered a stroke. Other accounts suggest he had a stroke while on a walk in his neighborhood.
1977 – He is moved out of his home, many of the items in it are auctioned off to support his last years of life in a nursing home.
1981 – Rizzoli dies.
1989 – A woman found several examples of Rizzoli’s work in a dumpster and brought them to art dealer Bonnie Grossman at The Ames Gallery.
1990 – Grossman tracks down one of Rizzoli’s nephews, who had a garage full of his “uncle’s stuff” in storage.
He never married and slept on a cot at the foot of his mother’s bed.
“I live in an unbelievably hermetically sealed spherical inalienable maze of light and sound seeing imagery expand in every direction.” – A.G. Rizzoli
Warby Parker is a great example of a brand created from an invented character name, similar to Pink Floyd and Humphry Slocombe. With this invented construction the brand perfectly evokes the milieu of 1920s-1950s history, literature and music, with many eyewear products named after historical and cultural figures: Crane, Chandler, Duke, Winston, Fillmore, Roosevelt, Beckett, Miles, Crosby, etc. But the extra special vibe that the name “Warby Parker” exudes is that of the incognito comic book superhero who spends half of his or her time as an awkward, nerdy dude or gal just trying to blend in with the crowd, though we readers or viewers know their true, powerful identity — think Peter Parker (Spiderman), Clark Kent (Superman), and non-superhero supporting characters like Snapper Carr (Justice League television news reporter) or Iron Man Tony Stark’s amanuensis, the brilliantly named Pepper Potts. And speaking of smart and sassy women, many were portrayed in such period films as His Girl Friday (Rosalind Russell as the feisty Hildy Johnson), Philadelphia Story (Katherine Hepburn as the regal and queenly Tracy Lord) or Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (the incomparable Jean Arthur’s Babe Bennett opposite Gary Cooper’s Longfellow Deeds), and are vitally important to the brand narrative of the unisex-named Warby Parker, making the name equally powerful for selling women’s eyeglasses as men’s.
On its website, the company directly answers the question, Why did we name our company Warby Parker?:
We’ve always been inspired by the master wordsmith and pop culture icon, Mr. Jack Kerouac. Two of his earliest characters, recently uncovered in his personal journals, bore the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. We took the best from each and made it our name.
They did a great job. And of course Kerouac himself was a product of the generation that the name Warby Parker alludes and pays homage to, extending the brand’s metaphor range into the Beat era as well (think Allen Ginsberg with his iconic black-rimmed glasses, for example), perfect for a brand catering to today’s prep school iconoclasts and creative class hipsters. Somewhere out there in the cultural exosphere, Clark Kent is thinking, Peter Parker is slinking, Sam Spade is drinking and Pepper Potts is winking.
On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) premiered in Paris. The public hissed and laughed, and a riot ensued. Critics called it “the work of a madman.”
Less than one year later, on April 5, 1914, The Rite of Spring was performed again in Paris. It was a rousing success. After the performance the composer was carried in triumph from the hall on the shoulders of his admirers.
Here’s what I think happened. Note for a moment the dual meaning of the word culture: it is both a set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaving of a particular society, and a group of bacteria or other cells that have been grown in a scientific experiment. We are, all of us, participants in our culture, part of a vast group experiment in our orbiting petri dish earth. The Rite of Spring, when it was first performed, was a hostile bacteria invading the culture of the day. Parisian society was mentally sickened by the performance the first time around, because it had been so new, so different from anything anyone had ever heard before. It literally drove people crazy. But after hearing a few performances, the audience adapted to this threat by developing cultural antibodies to prevent them from getting sick again. So next time they heard The Rite of Spring, in 1914, they no longer got sick in the head, and could appreciate the music; and by 1940 The Rite of Spring was so safe for consumption that it accompanied a large section of Disney’s animated film Fantasia. The work of a madman had become the work of a genius and then a work of pop culture, same as with Van Gogh and countless other artists.
That, more or less, is the standard telling of the tale. Madison Mainwaring makes the case, in her excellent article about this event, The Riot of Spring, that it was the ballet aspect of the work — choreographed for forty-six dancers by Vaslav Nijinsky and performed by the Ballets Russes under impresario Sergei Diaghilev — that is what really drove the audience insane (aided and abetted, of course, by Stravinsky’s radical score):
The riot is often discussed in relation to the ballet’s modernist score by Stravinsky. Its dissident chords went against every precedent of melodic harmony, while a beat captured the inchoate rhythms of the “scratching, gnawing, and wiggling birds and beasts.” Stravinsky upended tradition so completely that The Rite almost exceeded the limits of musical notation— when he first conceived of the sounds for the finale, the “Sacrificial Dance,” he did not know how to write them on paper.
At the time of the ballet’s premiere, critics didn’t pay so much attention to the music, giving it brief treatment (“deformed,” “demented”) before moving on to the first offense of the evening: the dancing. This was likely due to the frenzy of the audience noise, which reached such a pitch that it probably drowned out the ninety-instrument orchestra. The forty-six dancers on stage, deafened by the mass chaos in front of them, had the impossible beats of the score shouted to them from the wings.
In any event, this “a musical-choreographic work,” as Stravinsky described it, had succeeded in exploding the culture one year and beginning its journey into the classical canon only a year later. Mulling this over today, over a hundred years removed, prompts an interesting question: Does this sort of thing still happen in our contemporary world? Does art or literature, music, poetry, or dance still have the power to be new and strange enough to turn our world upside down with confusion and make us sick in the head? I keep an open mind that it’s still possible, but I don’t see many examples of it. No riots at the ballet, or at art galleries, or at poetry readings.
Unlike art, Science and Technology dramatically affect the lives of nearly everyone alive today. The primary result of true disruption is change, for after such an event, you can never go back to how things were before. In today’s culture, then, art is rarely disruptive, because it isn’t a primary driver of change. It can be a disturber, influencer, annoyer, irritant, motivator, gadfly, or provocateur, but rarely does it cause a fundamental shift in the culture.
In this light, the right wing forces of anti-science, seen most flagrantly in the denial of climate change, is manifestly hypocritical. You can’t pick and choose your science, or your preferred disruptor. Computers, the Internet, digital technology, the smartphone, wearable tech, the Internet of Things – you cannot accept these technological marvels – and by extension the science that begat them – and simultaneously deny the science of evolution or climate change or anything that contradicts your personal or religious worldview.
Science and Technology disrupt the culture, causing irreversible change. Art and marketing do not. Can you name a single contemporary artist who has impacted the world as much as the Internet, smartphones, or social media have? So when we hear companies claim to be disruptors, we need to know: are they unleashing the next truly disruptive scientific or technological breakthrough, or are they merely a cultural ripple aided and abetted by PR, marketing, clever branding — even, alas, naming? This makes all the difference where adaptation is concerned. Adaptation to true disruption is necessary for survival, and leads, through evolution, to the advancement and improvement of the organism or culture. False disruption – non-science-based cultural irritation – can be fought off with marketing expenditures, Congressional spending cuts and other counter-distractions. Such tactics will never work against true disruption, and will ultimately fail. [Read more…] about Bacteria, brands and ballyhoo: the culture of creative disruption
Humphry Slocombe is a unique, “adult oriented” ice cream shop in San Francisco’s Mission District that makes quite possibly the best ice cream on the planet. If you’ve ever had their “Secret Breakfast” flavor ice cream, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Humphry Slocombe is an ice cream pioneer, mixing unusual flavors to great effect, using ingredients such as bourbon and toasted corn flakes (the aforementioned Secret Breakfast), Huckleberry Crème Fraîche, red wine and Coke (Jesus Juice), or Boccalone Prosciutto. They have over 100 flavors that rotate every day, sometimes 2-3 times throughout the day.
As incredibly good as this ice cream is, however, we wouldn’t be talking about it here if the company didn’t have an amazing name, a name that sets this shop apart from all other ice creams and magnifies their social media draw. Founder Jake Godby worked as a dessert chef at several outstanding San Francisco restaurants before opening the store, honing his craft as a crafty experimentalist. According to a profile in the New York Times (I’ll Take a Scoop of Prosciutto, Please), “With Humphry Slocombe, Godby continued pressing food buttons, beginning with the name, which is aggressively obtuse. (Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe were characters on the bawdy old British sitcom ‘Are You Being Served?’ Godby insists that if Alice Waters could name her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, after a highbrow French film, he could name his ice cream store after a lowbrow British farce.)”
In our opinion, the name Humphry Slocombe is not so much “aggressively obtuse” as it is strange, distinctive, memorable and totally original, just like their ice cream. It is a name with attitude, a name that establishes a character, with a handcrafted, old-timey feel that plays perfectly against the avant-garde nature of their ice cream. It is also similar in its construction to the name Pink Floyd, creating a new character out of the recombinant parts of old characters. As a testament to just how good and unique are Humphry Slocombe’s ice cream AND brand name, ask yourself how many small, one-store ice cream parlors are there with nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter? With an unbelievably great company name and product, and some brilliant flavor names, imagine how far they could go if only they would just address the issue of their graphically-challenged logo and website.
Humphry Slocombe is a company that has created the perfect brand name to represent the very unique thing that it does. A name with character for an “ice cream with attitude.” And that’s just aggressively brilliant.
Whatever you think about their music, past or present, the band Pink Floyd has an amazing, enduring name, with a subtle power that reveals itself gradually over time. The name was created on the spur of the moment by early member and “crazy diamond” troubled genius Syd Barrett, by combining “the given names of two blues musicians whose Piedmont blues records Barrett had in his collection, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council” (Wikipedia). The unique combinations of strangeness and familiarity, modern (“Pink”) and retro (“Floyd”), young and old, have led to this being an enduring name still vital nearly 50 years after it burst upon the London music scene in the mid-1960s. Contradiction and simplicity combine to form one of the greatest band names of all time. And it only works because “Pink” can be a name and not just a color, which is only the case because “Floyd” is a name; note, for instance, how much less interesting is the contemporary band name Pink Martini.
The band wouldn’t have been in the pink without the influence of Syd Barrett, however, as a look at the names of their previous, pre-Barrett incarnations reveals: Sigma 6, The Meggadeaths, The (Screaming) Abdabs, Leonard’s Lodgers, The Spectrum Five and, finally, The Tea Set, a name they would have stuck with had there not been another local London band with that exact name. A great example of viewing a name or trademark conflict not as a problem, but as a blessing in disguise if it leads to a much stronger name.
In a world where too many bands try too hard with their name to be different, the name Pink Floyd is one that, with seemingly little effort, stands out clearly from the pack. Shine on.
“Overall, Zinzin was very easy to work with and collaborative, which I’ve found is not common in this space. … We were very pleased with the process and the result. We’re very happy with the name. I feel like I developed a friendship with Jay and the rest of his team. We definitely stay in touch, and we’re inviting them to our launch party.”
—CEO, Éclair Naturals (case study here)
In case you have not yet heard of it, Clutch, a company that we named (case study here), identifies leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients, through the process of conducting extensive research interviews with the clients of said professional services firms.
Seven of our fantastic clients have been interviewed so far by Clutch researchers for reviews about their experience working with Zinzin, which you can read in full on our Clutch profile page, or download a nicely-formatted PDF of all our client Clutch reviews on our Resources page.
This project began with modest ambitions: a casual examination of some band names that have inspired us over the years and their origins or creation myths. As we dove into this treasure trove of nomenclature, however, the scope escalated into an deep investigation of over a hundred years’ worth of band name etymologies. The first dozen or so entries are not band names per se, but stage names, nicknames, and pseudonyms of seminal artists that have shaped the course of music and the manner in which bands and musicians are branded.
Our goal here is not to be exhaustive and include every famous band you’ve ever heard of, but rather to be definitive without being overly obvious, and keep the emphasis on interesting and intriguing band names, or bands with name origin stories that illuminate different aspects of the naming process. See the bottom of the article for a postscript identifying some of the trends in band naming over the years, along with a list of links to sources we consulted during this project.
So let us introduce to you, the acts you’ve never known for all these years…
1900s — Blind Lemon Jefferson: The stage name for bluesman Lemon Henry Jefferson.
1900 — Jelly Roll Morton: Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. At the age of fourteen, Morton began working as a piano player in a brothel (or, as it was referred to then, a “sporting house”). While working there, he was living with his religious, church-going great-grandmother; he had her convinced that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory. In that atmosphere, he often sang smutty lyrics; and took the nickname “Jelly Roll,” which was slang for female genitalia.
1903 — Lead Belly: Born Huddie William Ledbetter, there are several conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the nickname “Lead Belly,” though it was probably while in prison. Some claim his fellow inmates called him “Lead Belly” as a play on his family name and his physical toughness. Others say he earned the name after being wounded in the stomach with buckshot. Another theory is that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine. Or it may be simply a corruption of his last name pronounced with a southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing.
1918 — Fats Waller: Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, and singer. Andy Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind…known for his generosity…a bubbling bundle of joy.”
1920s — Son House: Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. was a blues singer and guitarist.
1920s — Roosevelt Sykes: An American blues musician, also known as “The Honeydripper.”
1920s — Tampa Red: Born Hudson Woodbridge, he moved to Chicago and adopted the stage name from his childhood home and light colored skin.
1924 — Bix Beiderbecke: Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer. His father was nicknamed “Bix,” as, for a time, was his older brother, Charles Burnette “Burnie” Beiderbecke. Burnie Beiderbecke claimed that the boy was named Leon Bix and subsequent biographers have reproduced birth certificates to that effect. However, more recent research—which takes into account church and school records in addition to the will of a relative—has suggested that he was originally named Leon Bismark. Regardless, his parents called him Bix, which seems to have been his preference.
1928 — Count Basie: The stage name for William James “Count” Basie.
1928 — Mississippi John Hurt: The great blues singer and guitarist was born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Missisippi, and raised in Avalon, Mississippi. He learned to play guitar at age nine.
1928 — T-Bone Walker: Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker was a critically acclaimed American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues” / “Trinity River Blues.” Oak Cliff was the community he lived in at the time and T-Bone a corruption of his middle name.
1929 — Memphis Minnie: Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. In 1929 she and Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband, began to perform together. They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. When she and McCoy went to record in New York, they were given the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie by a Columbia A&R man.
1930s — Lightnin’ Hopkins: The stage name country blues singer Sam John Hopkins.
1931 — Skip James: Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.
1935 — Dizzy Gillespie: John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. Dizzy was christened John Gillespie, earning his nickname later in life when he was known for his sense of humor and practical jokes.
1937 — Sonny Boy Williamson I & Sonny Boy Williamson II: The recordings made by John Lee Williamson between 1937 and his death in 1948, and those made later by “Rice” Miller, were all originally issued under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. It is believed that Miller adopted the name to suggest to audiences, and his first record label, that he was the “original” Sonny Boy. In order to differentiate between the two musicians, many later scholars and biographers now refer to Williamson (1914-1948) as “Sonny Boy Williamson I,” and Miller (c.1912-1965) as “Sonny Boy Williamson II”
1939 — The Squadronaires: A British Royal Air Force band which began and performed in during World War II.
1940s — Howlin’ Wolf: Chester Arthur Burnett was a great Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather,” who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved, the “howling wolves” would get him. Paul Oliver wrote that Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers.
1940s — Muddy Waters: The stage name of Chicago bluesman McKinley Morganfield. Waters’ grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Della gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Waters later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters.”
The NFL recently announced that it has suspended Tom Brady for four games for his “243-page, more probable than not” role in the Deflategate (AKA Ballghazi) scandal. The Patriots will also be fined $1 million and lose their first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. And so concludes yet another chapter in America’s long running love affair with gatesuffixing every scandal du jour, which originated in 1974 with two politically motivated burglaries at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, then located at the Watergate Hotel and Office Building. Ever since we have been awash in gates, or what sociologist John Thompson calls, “scandal syndrome.”
America, however, already enjoyed a deep and rich history of promoting, hawking and branding various forms of misconduct, long before Nixon’s bumbling henchmen had a chance to immeasurably disfigure the lexicon of scandal, going all the way back to our formative years as a country. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the more the noteworthy from a naming perspective:
1797 – The XYZ Affair: A confrontation between the United States and Republican France that led to an undeclared war called the Quasi-War. The name derives from the substitution of the letters X, Y and Z for the names of French diplomats in documents released by the Adams administration.
1801 – The Burr Conspiracy: U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr’s goal was to create an independent nation in the center of North America and parts of present-day Mexico.
1804 – The Pickering Affair: Federal Judge John Pickering was impeached and convicted in absentia by the U.S. Senate for drunkenness and use of profanity on the bench in spite of the fact neither act was a high crime or misdemeanor.
1831 – The Petticoat Affair: The husband of Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale was alleged to have been driven to suicide because of her affair with Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton.
1872 – Crédit Mobilier Scandal: The scandal involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company in the building of the eastern portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
1875 – Whiskey Ring: Massive corruption of Ulysses S. Grant’s administration involving whiskey taxes, bribery and kickbacks ending with 110 convictions.
1919 – Black Sox Scandal: The Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from baseball.
1919 – Newport Sex Scandal: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated an investigation into allegations of “immoral conduct” (homosexuality) at the Naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. After the report, which revealed nothing, the investigators themselves were also accused of homosexuality.
1923 – The Makropulos Affair: The Makropulos Affair is a play written by Karel Čapek and first performed in 1922 at the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague.
1924 – Teapot Dome Scandal: A bribery incident that took place in the United States during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall had leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two other locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding.
If your brand isn’t reaching the potential you think it should, perhaps it’s time for a brand audit. Specifically, take a long, hard look at the name of your brand, and see if it might be suffering from one or more of these fatal flaws:
The most important thing is that you should never “settle” for a mediocre name for your brand, when a great name can be such a powerful force for business success. Find a lot more tips in our Naming & Branding Manifesto, or download our free Naming Guide, which includes the Manifesto and much more.
I first encountered the X modifier in my youth. As an aviation enthusiast I was introduced to the radical X-3 Stiletto. The X-3 Stiletto was an experimental jet aircraft designed and manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The NACA was the precursor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The X-3 looks like a personification of the beaked-nose white spy from Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy, with its a slender fuselage, a long tapered nose, and ultra-modern white-on-white paint scheme. The X-3 was part of a series of experimental United States airplanes, helicopters and rockets used to test and evaluate new technologies and aerodynamic concepts, referred to as “X-Planes”:
The majority of X-Plane testing has occurred at Edwards Air Force Base. Some of the X-planes have been well publicized, while others, such as the X-16, have been developed in secrecy. The first, the Bell X-1, became well known after it became, in 1947, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight. Later X-planes supported important research in a multitude of aerodynamic and technical fields, but only the North American X-15 rocket plane of the early 1960s achieved comparable fame to that of the X-1. X-planes 7 through 12 were actually missiles(used to test new types of engines), and some other vehicles were un-piloted (some were remotely flown, some were full-on drones). (Wikipedia: X-Plane)
X has many other uses in addition to designating an experimental aircraft: it is a common variable for unknown or changing concepts in mathematics; in astronomy, X stands for a comet of unknown origin; X is a symbol on a treasure map to mark the spot where the treasure is buried; in bowling X signifies a strike; and X is a placeholder for the legal signature of an illiterate person. On a more romantic note, Xs symbolize the kisses paired with the Os of hugs in warmhearted salutations.
Besides these common uses, the X modifier is often deployed as branding shorthand to differentiate some person, product, or service as being advanced, audacious, bleeding-edge, bold, contemporary, daring, earth-shattering, forward-looking, fresh, game-changing, genuine, ground-breaking, gutsy, innovative, modern, newfangled, novel, original, pioneering, rejuvenated, sophisticated or unique. The use of X is everywhere, and seems to be the gift the keeps on giving. So I decided to look into the origins of the X that so often marks the spot. Here is a brief summary of my findings.
1895 | X-Rays: Physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X-rays. Röntgen named it X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. [Read more…] about A Brief History of X (1895-2014)
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