I was getting dressed for work yesterday when I heard an interesting story on the news – the Corn Refiners Association is petitioning the FDA to change the name of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to “corn sugar”. It seems that 58% of Americans think HFCS is bad for you, and numerous products are either ditching HFCS or proclaiming that they were always HFCS-free to generate sales & alleviate fears. Needless to say, the Corn Refiners Association thinks they are getting a bad rap & that if they change the name, folks will start using their product again.
This got me thinking about how one alludes their past. This change from HFCS to corn sugar is but one example in history of a product or company changing their name to get over an ugly incident. Another example is Airtran, who emerged after the Valujet crash in Florida in the 90’s – Valujet bought Airtran Airways & switched to the Airtran name because the Valujet brand was forever tainted. Yet another example is the firm Xe Services, formally known as Blackwater Worldwide, the security company notorious for ambushing Iraqi citizens.
While companies and brands have the ability to change their name to get away from a bad past, do people have the same luxury? Think about all the folks that are infamous…or even folks you know or have just “heard things” about. The majority of them are stuck with their names, and the associated infamous behavior, forever. Its not like Monica Lewinsky could just decide to call herself Pauline & be done with the whole thing, you know?
In July, the New York Times Magazine ran a great piece titled “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” which discussed the hardship of moving past an ugly incident in our digital age. Everything is logged, saved on a server, print-screened, etc. Where human memories fade & falter, digital ones forever store not only a mention of your transgression, but the evidence alongside it. In a time where everything you do is not just remembered, but saved forever, how do you distance yourself from youthful transgressions? Simply moving across the country (or across the pond) isn’t enough when anyone can Google your name and find out that your loser ex-boyfriend posted naked photos of you online, or that you wrote a less-than politically correct blog post back in college.
People scoffed & laughed, but I think Google CEO Eric Schmidt was on the right track when he said that everyone should be allowed one name change to “distance themselves from youthful hijinks stored in their friends social media sites” Granted, some would say that people should be more diligent about protecting their name & avoiding controversary…but at the same time, we’ve all been young. And stupid. Most of us just did our young stupid stuff before you could be tagged on Facebook or before someone could Tweet about it. Kids now don’t have that luxury, and as we all know, your name means everything. Ruin it & you’re ruined.
So what do you guys think? Does the Google CEO have the right idea? Can a name change change your past & give you a fresh start?