But when Bell Labs changed its name to Lucent in 1997, it was like Pandora opening her box. What followed was a deluge of macaronic neologisms: Altria, Vocera, and on and on. And why? "Bell Labs" was easily the most respected name in privately sponsored research. They invented everything you've ever heard of, and their original name carried so much weight that, as the company's fortunes declined, Lucent eventually re-rebranded itself as Bell Labs again, in a futile effort to stave off its corporate decline and retreat from basic science.
Despite this, other companies jumped right onto the bandwagon. Latin was appealing because the rebranders could easily find familiar-sounding words that nobody had yet used. Lucent itself, of course, is a form of luceo: they shine. But its successors got wilder and wilder. Novartis, for example, might conceivably be a dative or ablative plural of the feminine noun "novarta," meaning new art -- if such a word existed, which it doesn't. It's just gobbledygook, and transparently fake gobbledygook at that.
But the dogs piled on. James Archer has a list of them here, several of which he counts among "the biggest jokes in corporate naming." And you know what's on the list, right?
Thrivent. Of course.
The names of Lutheran Brotherhood and the Aid Association for Lutherans may not have been quite as prestigious as Bell Labs, but they sent a message of solidity and community. Thrivent, a Latinate verb ending stuck onto an Old Norse root, sends just the opposite message. It cries out phoniness, fakery, Potemkin-villagery. And, for the record, we at the Egg like Thrivent, a lot, and have trusted it with much of our financial well-being. We're just worried about the name, which stinks of desperation and lack of corporate confidence.
So comes now the most ominous name-change yet. The ELCA Board of Pensions is changing its name to Portico. The word itself is not fake; it is a real English word, with obvious Latin roots (porticus and of course porta). And that's the nicest thing we can say about it.
In an astonishing bit of double-speak, the BOP website claims that " This is nonsense of the arrant variety. "ELCA Board of Pensions" was nice and clear. Sure, they've had some bad publicity lately, as the value of their investments (and therefore ours) has plummeted. But at least you knew what the organization was there for.
As for the new name, well, it doesn't say much of anything. The publicity makes a big deal about how a portico is a covered area where people gather, and well as the entrance into "something larger" -- they mention Solomon's Temple, although not a church, but let's assume that's what they meant. There's no real sense to this; they aren't a social organization, and they although they serve the church's mission, they certainly aren't leaders in evangelism per se.
Color us mystified, and annoyed. And a little scared: it took twenty years from the moment of its rebranding for Bell Labs to get out of basic science. How long will it take the Board of Pensions to get out of ... pensions?
On the other hand, you can't fight progress, or city hall, or the tide. Maybe this is a good and God-pleasing development, soon to be followed not merely by church-related organizations, but by churches themselves. After all, none of us likes the alphabet soup that makes churches sound like New Deal agencies, so maybe it's time for some ecclesiastical rebranding. Here are some suggestions; yours are welcome:
- The Presbyterian Church USA becomes ... Kirkitas.
- The RCA becomes ... Extra-Calvinisticum.
- The United Methodist Church becomes ... 1000Tongues.org
- The Roman Catholic Church ... well, they already think they have trademark protection on "The Church," so they're not going anywhere.*
- The United Church of Christ becomes ... Occupy Wall Street.
As for our own tribe:
- The LC-MS has often been ... Virulent.
- The ELCA, if not careful, may wind up ... Silent.
* The Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA is in court right now, fighting the RCC's trademark claim.