Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's in a Name? CarFreeinBigD

On long road trips, some people play the license plate game. My family used to play the shortsighted-business-name game. For example, McDonald's was a genius business name, even if accidental. When the market for hamburgers was saturated, this fast-food restaurant chain branched out into McChicken sandwiches and -- yikes -- McRib sandwiches, finding a way to use its brand name as a marketing aid, not a drawback. Even breakfast was able to fit comfortably under the Golden Arches. All things that, say, Burger King or Pizza Hut could never do easily because of their own shortsighted business names.

The most limiting names are on the mom-and-pop businesses. For example, "Best Thai Richardson" might have the best Thai food in Richardson hands-down, but its name suggests its owners have no ambitions higher than operating a Thai restaurant in Richardson. Even if they just wanted to open just a second location, what would they call it, Second-Best Thai Richardson? (On the other hand, the name is a Google-genius name. Google "Best Thai Food Richardson" and which restaurant do you think is going to be at the top of the listings? Maybe that makes up for its limited expansion options.)

I thought of the shortsighted-business-name game this morning when I read a tweet from Patrick Kennedy, the urban designer better known as the car-free guy. He used to have the Twitter name @carfreeinbigd (but now uses @WalkableDFW) and still has a website (although the title of the home page is "WalkableDFW"). Those name changes hint that he realized that having car-free in the name was boxing him in just a little. Today's tweet showed how. Kennedy tweeted, "In the market for some kind of Vespa/scooter. Who has a line on best place to get one?" In other words, the car-free guy is in the market for a two-wheeled car. CarFreeinBigD is an example of a moniker that would have scored well in the shortsighted-business-name game (and by "well" I mean high on the shortsighted scale) .

By the way, I recommend reading Kennedy, even if he does tend to view livability issues as pitting cities against suburbs. Driving wedges won't increase livability for either. We're all in this together.

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