Yale or Dummer?

What if Yale was Dummer?

We recently made a trip to Yale University on our Physics of Brand book tour. Part of the visit included some of Yale’s history and how the prestigious university got its name. It sparked another perspective on the Shakespearean line;

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

One of the first benefactors of Yale was a gentleman named Jeremiah Dummer. The pronunciation may be “doomer” or “dooma”, but I think we can agree that in today’s culture, this name would reference a lower I.Q. It’s an unfortunate name for someone donating his hard earned British pounds to an institution of higher learning.

So, when Elihu Yale was persuaded by Mr. Dummer to donate goods worth a small fortune, the university made a decision to take on Mr Yale’s surname. As our tour guide so aptly pointed out, if this had not happened she would be attending Dummer University and her classmates would be called Dummies.

Yes, it may have been a rather unfortunate development and certainly amusing for Harvard, Princeton and the rest of their competitive institutions. Yet how important is a good name to a brand? Well, here’s our judgement and something you can use when judging your own set of name options.

It's what we like to call the Anchor or Sail method. Consider your name options for memorability, matching your brand attributes and social value on a -5 to +5 scale. Anything below zero is an anchor and anything above is a sail. A great name can work like a huge sail on a perpetually windy day. An anchor is the thing you can’t see, but holds you back from more accelerated growth and opportunity.

Rarely do we see a situation like Dummer vs Yale where the options are in such contrast - and in this author's judgement a -5 and +5 respectively. Most name options are nuanced differences, but it's important to consider getting above zero. If you're facing a diminishing rate of return, continue your search for a new brand name.

Our recommendation is anything deemed to be above +3 is a great name and achieving a +5 is likely an uncomfortable place for many people. The reason for the discomfort is a +5 name is likely to be very distinct and outside the norms of your category. An example of a +3 name is Setu, a chair we named for Herman Miller. In contrast, the name Mosquito for a specialty gift design business goes just a bit outside most comfort zones. Yet, you will find Mosquito as a brand is hard to forget.

For more examples and lessons in naming, feel free to reach out to the team at Capsule.

About The Author

Aaron Keller

I am an author, strategist, researcher, cyclist, reader and consummate entrepreneur. When an interesting idea crosses my path, I find any way we can bring it to life. Earning an MBA from the Carlson School and numerous valuable credits at the school of hard knocks, I’ll sit at a boardroom conversation with anyone. Want to talk business strategy, consumer behavior and design? Oh, it’s on.