Here’s the latest edition of the #newsletter. While I post much of the newsletter here, some updates such as jobs are exclusively available to subscribers. Sign up now to make sure you receive it. What’s in a name?
The question keeps coming up, and with a name like mine, it probably comes up more often than it does for others.
It’s like when you have that weird dream about sea otters and then suddenly see otters everywhere. But imagine if your name was C. Otter Smith? It would never end.
That’s pretty much my life – but instead of sea otters, it’s names.
Names are everything. They shape us in ways mundane and profound. The New Republic covered some of the research into this in its 2014 essay, “If Your Name is Dennis, You’re More Likely to Become a Dentist.”
I noticed two references to names that came up recently. First came Dustin Glick’s recent Dustinland comic, which he recently adapted for Instagram; I first started reading the series two decades ago when he wrote it for the campus newspaper at Binghamton University. (My resigning from the co-editor-in-chief role at that paper would lead to the start of my digital media career a year later.) At the end of some musings on others screwing up his name, he asked, “Do you have any funny name stories?” Yes, I have a few…
Another came via the unlikely source of Marie Clare. A friend shared a year-old article, “The Perils of Having an Infamous Name” by an Elizabeth Holmes whose previously less memorable name became tainted by some bad blood.
There could probably be some scale of unfortunate name associations:
-Names that suddenly become associated with some passing fad or news event, like anyone sharing a name with the latest star of “The Bachelor.”
-Names that become associated with some memorable, newsworthy event that you’re stuck with for a while, like Elizabeth Holmes, or long-shot presidential candidate Andy Yang.
-Names that will likely be associated with a memorable event for decades, if not longer. Adolf was the 599th most popular name in the US in 1891 but left the top 1,000 names for good after 1928. The name Osama may be less common in Western countries, but for all the Osamas out there, they will always have to deal with the shift in its connotation. On a lighter note, how many American Bartman families will ever name their son Steve, even if the Cubs did win the World Series later?
-Names that were already tarnished, but parents gave their kids the name anyway. This is situational. It’s also my story. I was born the year AFTER the Son of Sam terrorized New York City. I don’t know this for certain, but it doesn’t seem like many Berkowitzes named their offspring David after 1977.
What do you do in that situation? You can run from it, live with it, or embrace it.
When I was in college, I took a Shakespeare class and was sitting in Lecture Hall 2 that sat 250 students. The subject was “Romeo and Juliet.” Professor Gayle Whittier asked the class if they think names can shape one’s destiny. Idiot that I was (and am), I raised my hand. I told 250 of my peers in one of the most packed classes, “With the name David Berkowitz, I’ve got a pretty memorable and infamous name.” This was great. Everyone was laughing. This must have been one of Whittier’s best days ever teaching this play. And then she asked, “So how has this name affected you?”
I responded, all too self-assuredly, “It’s given me something to live up to.”
The room was stunned, and then most everyone was laughing at me. I told 250 of my peers and one of the best-known professors to ever teach at Binghamton that I aspired to become a serial killer. Given all the dumb things I said in college, it’s hard to pick a crowning achievement in stupidity, but this was an epic moment in the annals of saying one thing and meaning another.
I forgot to tell the other part of the story. I was named after my grandfather, whose 8×10-inch framed photo is on my dresser. In this portrait, it’s 1939, and he’s sporting his Polish army uniform; he would save the lives of quite a few family members as he fled to Siberia and Kazakhstan and later post-war Germany before settling in New Jersey. My grandparents, David and Esther Berkowitz (formerly Dawid and Estera Berkowicz), are my heroes, and nothing will ever take that away from me.
But, from a fairly young age, I understood the difference between my perception and public perception. I may want to do Dawid Berkowicz proud, but I get that others will have another association. Fast-forward to 2016, and I finally embraced that perception and turned “Serial Marketer” into a brand, after a bit of inspiration from W2O Group’s Aaron Strout.
This might not help my namesake’s legacy. But I have a black-and-white journal I kept in grade school where I wrote down all these stories my father told me about my namesake’s practical jokes. He played so many jokes on others that I can only imagine he’d be proud that I’ve ensured I am always the butt of my own joke. My grandfather escaped the concentration camps and avoided the Gulag; may the worst of my problems be unfortunate name recognition.
Really, the worst part of having my name isn’t the association people have with it. It’s that people of a certain age and from a certain place tend to always remember my name better than I can remember theirs.
So yes, names are destiny, but not always the destiny you’d expect. As names are brands, brands have their destiny built into their names too. Should they run from it? Live with it? Embrace it?
For me, there’s only one option.
What about you? What do you make of the destiny of your name? And, as always, what are you making of yourself?
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PUT IT ON THE CHOCCHAIN
“Cocoa has a big data problem,” said Tom Daly, one of my favorite former clients who shared this post about his remarks to the Cocoa Merchants Association America conference. I love stories like this, taking tech whose applications are often elusive and showing unexpected use cases.
A POST BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL JUST AS TWEET
How do you define social media? I love and hate questions like this. The simplest, most straightforward questions are often the hardest to answer. Granted, the ad industry can’t seem to define what an impression, a video play, or an influencer really is. Heidi rounds up answers from some of the best, including 60 or so experts, plus a novice or two like me.
AUSTIN GOES FROM BURNT ORANGE TO GRAY
SXSW seems to be aging. Is that a reason to keep going, or to come back? Danica Kombol sought answers. (Perhaps this graying would explain why LinkedIn was the hottest brand at SXSW, per Brian Wallace’s hot take.)
HELLO AGAIN, COLUMBUS
Are other readers Philip Roth fans? When my daughter was born, I realized I didn’t have to read her anything age-appropriate, so I read aloud to her Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” – his first work, a book of short stories (and a novella). In high school, I did my AP English project on Roth and his portrayal of women, back when I understood neither Roth nor women. While I mourned his loss, he left behind so many gifts. This piece rounds up a smattering of Roth’s advice to writers.
Want to include your event below? Just reply with the details.
CATALYST’S SEO HOT TRENDS HAPPY HOUR
March 28, 6:30pm
Catalyst is heating things up with their SEO Hot Trends Happy Hour on 3/28 in NYC. Join them for a free evening dedicated to exploring the latest trends & changes in SEO.
FUTURE OF BLOCKCHAIN FOR ADVERTISING
April 3, 1pm
What are the five main online advertising challenges blockchain solves? The Future of Blockchain Advertising webinar. Register here. You’ll hear from blockchain leaders Brave, Lucidity, and Rebel AI, hosted by NSM Research. Expect fraud prevention to be a hot topic. Register below.
Also the same day as the webinar, New Yorkers should attend this fantastic event series – one of my favorites. It’s free, and they always get excellent presenters at the forefront of cutting edge ad tech.
The Crowdsourcing Week BOLD Awards, showcasing innovative businesses and individuals, will be a rewarding event for amazing projects, individuals and companies. Apply to attend.
ANA MEDIA CONFERENCE
The ANA Media Conference brings together media leaders to galvanize the industry and share actionable insights on the newest ways of connecting with today’s consumers. Attendees will be able to network with more than 600 marketers to gain firsthand knowledge from those facing similar challenges. Speakers will cover the industry’s most critical topics including media agency reviews, e-commerce, voice/audio, GDPR, programmatic, transparency, data, owned media, in-house agencies, digital media, and more. The agenda includes CMOs and Heads of Media from Procter & Gamble, The Hershey Company, JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Wayfair, GlaxoSmithKline, IHOP, Mars, Johnson & Johnson and more! This conference was sold out ast year so register and reserve your seat.
July 31-August 1
CommerceNext, the summit for next level customer acquisition (and one of the best events I’ve ever sponsored), is coming back to NYC. The 700+ person conference will have 80+ speakers from leading retailers, DTC brands and innovative tech companies. Speakers include Purple, TechStyle, Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Warehouse, Bonobos, Casper and more! Learn more: