A few blogs ago, close on the heels of perhaps the most (in)famous footballer of his generation, I wrote about the influence of numbers on our way of thinking. Now, with COVID-19 vaccines in the spotlight, and the very recent name change for one that has been beset by controversy, I turn my attention to the way names and their attributes affect our perceptions. And how the future of the world may be at stake. Tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Slytherin or Gryffindor?

On 25 March AstraZeneca changed the name of its COVID-19 vaccine to Vaxzevria. A new package. The same contents. The question is whether the scepticism surrounding the risks of this vaccine can be 'softened' by the new name. What's in a name? Associations and emotions. Why was Darth Vader so successful in conjuring up evil in the very first Star Wars movie - well, the facemask and all that black certainly played their part. Now it seems that Astra Zeneca has taken on a bit of a Vader persona. So, let's make it an Obi-Wan Kenobi - Vaxzevria. Make it the good guy everyone pinned their 'new hope' on in the fight against COVID-19. Hopefully, you Star Wars aficionados will get the allusion there. Or for the Harry Potter devotees - it's no coincidence that Slytherin accommodates Malfoy and his mates while Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, ends up in the much more welcoming Gryffindor. Of course, it couldn't have been otherwise, could it? Nutrition to feed our perception of the age-old battle between good and evil. Middle-Earth and Mordor. Heaven and Hell.

Saddam, Donald or Mahatma?

And some names, whether by coincidence or not, seem to be especially fit for purpose. Take Saddam, for example. In Arabic it means 'one who confronts'. And Wikipedia reveals that Donald is a masculine given name derived from the Gaelic name Dòmhnall, which comes from the Proto-Celtic Dumno-ualos ('world-ruler' or 'world-wielder'). How many of you knew that? I'm guessing just a few percent at most, myself not included. I got to wondering whether there could be some kind of algorithm that could somehow use names to predict the rise of future abusive power wielders, so I thought I'd also check out Adolf. Wikipedia again: "The name is a compound derived from the Old High German Athalwolf (or Hadulf), a composition of athal, or adal, meaning 'noble' (or had(u)-, meaning 'battle, combat'), and wolf." But are they all bad? What about Mahatma Gandhi? Mahatma is an adaptation of the Sanskrit word mahātman, which literally meant 'great-souled', and Gandhi means 'sun'. Is there some kind of astral dimension that nudges the bearer to take on the attributes of the assigned name? And if that is the case, are the parents to be blamed? Or, as in the case of Mahatma, to be lauded? And are the parents aware of the connotations when assigning their children names? Mine weren't, I'm sure, because I would not consider myself a Christ-bearer!

Mustang, Diablo or Defender?

Car manufacturers most certainly do consider the connotations and associations when they assign names to their vehicles - fit for purpose is top of mind. Like the Ford Mustang, for example. The very name conjures of wild, free, untamed. Or the Lamborghini Diablo, a devil of a ride, and the Land Rover Defender and Jeep Gladiator. Names that embody the personality of the car and not only captivate the imagination of the driver but also make a statement about how the driver perceives himself (or herself).

Maybe when renaming the COVID-19 vaccine, Astra Zeneca might have come up with a name that is both easy to spell and pronounce as well as conjures up a strong, positive association. One that gets the doubters and sceptics back onside. Bold and brassey, an incentive to get the jab and a better chance of saving the world! Once again, getting the language right is at the heart of achieving real impact. I can imagine the advertising campaign:

"No time to lose - come and get your AZ Defender now - and keep COVID out!"  

- Chris