So there I was, browsing casually throughout the Internet, looking for a topic for this week’s column, when all of a sudden, there it was! On the website of my old college newspaper (now called the Daily Gamecock—we were a weekly print-only paper then) was a banner ad for a competing school: California University of Pennsylvania. I swear I’m not making this up.
Cal U of Penn is a school that offers an online Master of Arts degree in Tourism Planning and Development. Again, I swear I’m not making this up. A west coast school in the Keystone State offers a Masters’ degree in what we do every day here in the Keys.
I don’t know about you, but it sounds like the school’s founders could have spent a little more effort on coming up with a name… or just settled on one location for the school. Although location doesn’t matter nearly as much for online course work—they could have called it California University of the Universe. Or Tourist-Related Areas with Internet Access. (In the interest of accuracy, I do know that the university is located in the town of California, Pennsylvania. Still, that makes as much sense as naming a town North Carolina, South Carolina. But I digress.)
Stupid institutional names aren’t the exclusive territory of any one type of institution. Even mighty financial institutions sometimes fall victim to stupid naming strategies.
Fifth Third Bank, for example.
My mind hurts trying to think of any sane rationale for this stupid name. Was it branch location number five for the original (First) Third Bank? Did the original owner(s) just get tired of the expense of changing all the branch location signs when branch number six came online (Sixth Third Bank)? Was the fifth third a profit goal? Were they worried that no one would place their deposits in a Two Thirds Bank? Here’s the real story, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia:
“Fifth Third’s unusual name is the result of the June 1, 1908 merger of two banks, The Fifth National Bank and The Third National Bank, to become The Fifth Third National Bank of Cincinnati. Because the merger took place during a period when prohibitionist ideas were gaining popularity, it was believed that ‘Fifth Third’ was better than ‘Third Fifth,’ which could be construed as a reference to three ‘fifths’ of alcohol. The name went through several changes over the years, until on March 24, 1969, the name was changed to Fifth Third Bank.”
Even though it’s a stupid name, the Fifth Third Bank is still solvent… unlike the next stupidly named bank, Washington Mutual.
Now, there’s really nothing wrong with the name Washington Mutual. Their problems were compounded by the ad agency that decided to show how different they were from other banks, and how much more casual and cool they were. When their new slogan came out—the positioning statement for what was a large financial institution—I knew then that they weren’t long for the world.
“Woo Hoo – WaMu.”
I’d almost rather deposit my money in a Two Thirds bank than something that sounded like a cute name for a killer whale. What used to be the nation’s sixth largest bank became the largest bank failure in American history on September 25, 2008. Boo Hoo, WaMu.
Then there are those companies that have names that don’t appear stupid until, however, one reads their name as a dot-com website address. Experts Exchange becomes www.expertsexchange.com. Art design firm Speed Of Art becomes www.speedofart.com. And have fun yourself with the web address of a writing tool company known as Pen Island.
I’m sure you’re aware of some stupidly named businesses, so feel free to post yours on my Facebook page. Until then, I’m going to start on my third fifth. Woo Hoo!