Saturday, September 06, 2014

Name Changer

Consider the predicament of Matt Broomfield and Peter Endicott of London, the editors of the student magazine at Oxford University. Or Jim Fleshman from the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco TX, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the International Species Information System. Likewise Dr. Herbert Bernstein from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, the President & Chief Scientist of the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies. Each of them probably envies Mayor Lorraine Pyefinch in Queensland, Australia. You see, back in 2008, Mayor Pyefinch and her constituents dodged a bullet when they redrew the local governance lines. That's when their name changed to its current incarnation of the Bundaberg Region. Before that, had you journeyed down under, you would have had to call it by its former name, one that is shared not only by the aforementioned groups, but with one entity more in the news these days. For that area of Queensland was formerly known as the Shire of Isis.

While you can pin a lot of things on Australia, being the home of today's most notorious terrorist group is not one of them. The current ISIS, or "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," has grown from an offshoot of al-Qaeda to a self-declared Caliphate straddling the border between those two troubled countries. The group has become known for their extreme ideology and brutality, and taken the name of the Egyptian goddess of fertility to places it was never intended. That's not to say it hadn't gotten a workout before this. After all, it is also the name of a pharmaceutical developer, a line of lingerie from the British company Ann Summers and a post-metal rock band whose 2009 album "Wavering Radiant" on the Ipecac label opened with the well-received "Hall of the Dead."

Then there's Verizon. Back in 2010 the communications giant and its partners were looking for a moniker to differentiate their new mobile payment venture from PayPal and Google. I'm sure when they tallied up all the focus group responses and marketing research, ISIS Mobile seemed like a clear winner. But odds are better than even that their branding gurus are having second, third and even fourth thoughts right about now.  

After all, aside from the difficulty of creating a marketing message ("Triumph with ISIS" or something similar), there are some practical issues as well. Any web search for ISIS results not in connections to the platform, its mobile apps and all the great advantages it has over its competitors, but to images of marauding thugs in black hoods. Sure you can find links to ISIS Wallet, but they are three pages in. And oh, about that web page. The one the company registered is Since exchanging money with terrorist organizations is a federal offense, people might not rush to buy their potholders from Etsy using the platform. As Michael Abbott, CEO of Isis Mobile said in a statement, "As a company, we have made the decision to rebrand." Good call, that.

But it might not be necessary. Officials and the media have tried several nom de guerres to see what resonates with the public. And in fact, in recognition of the group's larger ambitions, both the U.N. and the U.S. State Department have recently been referring to ISIS as ISIL. That stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," where Levant is a broader term for the region, encompassing not just Syria, but Turkey as well as other countries. In that light, Verizon and the others might wind up in the clear after all is said and done. But in a case of one man's ceiling being another man's floor, one can only imagine the anguished conversations among the attendees last week at the annual convention of the right-leaning Libertarian group the "International Society for Individual Liberty." After all, their initials are – well - you can figure it out.

If there's good news, I guess it's that either abbreviation is as lightly used and known as it is. Imagine the gnashing of teeth, sleepless nights and endless meetings that would ensue if they had taken the name "Waji Hali Monafa' Lana IllHeta Iradicali'." A rough translation of that Arabic is the "Front for the Organization of the Radical Divine." In that light, "Built FORD Tough" takes on a whole new meaning, doesn't it?


Marc Wollin of Bedford uses MW when required, and is hardly ever confused with a terrorist organization. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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