Names will never hurt me

Peter Jackson
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Peter Jackson

The day I was born, my father popped out to pick up some cigars. When he entered the store, he was greeted by a display for a new brand of cigarettes: Peter Jackson Filtered Kings.

The name had been around since the 1930s in a regular-sized brand called Peter Jackson Virginia. But Imperial Tobacco had just launched the new king-sized cigarettes to replace its predecessor.

So, instead of stogies, those are what everyone puffed on to welcome me into the world.

The other day, I happened upon a photo of the original packaging for that 1961 brand, which I’ve reproduced here.

Something was missing, however; it took me a minute or two to figure it out. Then it dawned on me — no health warning.

Of course! This was when cigarettes were still good for you. They relaxed you, calmed your nerves and helped facilitate social interaction.

Everything was so black and white back then.

I’ve endured a lot of ribbing over the years because of my name. Sometimes, total strangers would snicker and giggle. Occasionally, I’d play dumb: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re on about.” Usually, though, I’d just laugh along at my own expense.

Lately, it’s not so bad. The younger crowd now associates me with that New Zealand fellow who directed “Lord of the Rings.”

I say all this with tongue in cheek, of course. It’s not really a big deal going through life with a semi-famous name.

It’s not like my parents were, say, Chicago Cubs fans and decided to name me Wrigley Alexander Fields (which a couple actually did a few years ago). And I’m not in the same company with much more mockworthy monikers like Al Fresco and Brooke Trout.

Besides, most people take great pride in their names, no matter how odd. I’m reminded of that chap with a name like Hymie Göttheschitz who put in a request at the registry to have it changed.

“What would you like to change it to, sir?”

“Ezra Göttheschitz,” comes the reply.

Which leads me to an astonishing news story on the wire last week. If you think North Americans are litigious, get a load of this court case in France.

According to Agence France-Press, French automaker Renault had to fend off a lawsuit from families of the same name who complained it would bring ridicule on their relatives called Zoé by giving that forename to its planned 2012 electric car.

The new car will actually be called the Renault ZOE, so the exact parallel would only crop up during roll call. And the trademark specifies the name be capitalized without the customary French accent on the “e.”

Nonetheless, the two Renault families who filed the complaint feel any child given that surname would suffer unimaginable torture for the rest of her life.

“We don’t want to hear, ‘It’s time for your oil change’ or ‘Show us your airbags,’” the families’ lawyer, David Koubbi, told the court last month.

The case was thrown out, but Koubbi said they would appeal.

Car companies, as everyone knows, go through an extensive process to come up with new names. They have to make sure the name is not already trademarked, and that it doesn’t mean something rude in another language.

If they also had to worry about duplicating the names of individual people, it would be a nightmare.

True, I doubt you’ll find many “Chevrolet Impalas” listed in the phone book, but there must be countless people out there whose names coincide with other product brands. How about Johnny Walker? Joe Boxer? Swiffer WetJet? (OK, not so much that last one.)

Even Koubbi admits that as more companies turn to people names, the possibilities are endless.

“If you’re lucky, you could end up as a pretty pot of flowers. If you’re not, as a whip, a vibrating dildo or a toilet brush.”

I guess that risk is even greater if your last name is Leather, Shaft or Bristle.

Sometimes, though, there’s no way you could see it coming. I heard some years ago of an unfortunate soul named Diet Coke, although that may have been a myth.

But what’s in a name?

Even if your name is Klem Kaddidlehopper, surely you can conquer the stigma of that old caricature by comedian Red Skelton. Come to think of it, Red Skelton wasn’t the most dignified name in the world, either.

But names are not important.

 A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And I’m sure my grandmother Rose would have heartily agreed.

Meanwhile, if you’re thinking of making me the “butt” of any cigarette jokes, don’t bother. I’ve heard them all.

And like a puff of smoke, I’ve learned to rise above it.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. Email: Got a weird name? Let me know and I’ll publish it for everyone to see.

Organizations: Imperial Tobacco, Chicago Cubs, Agence France Joe Boxer

Geographic location: New Zealand, France.According

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Recent comments

  • Frank Blackwood
    November 19, 2010 - 12:20

    The amazing imagery of Peter Jackson, as usual great journalism Peter. Frank Blackwood

    • Laurie Blackwood Pike
      November 26, 2010 - 17:28

      Peter is always an interesting read. I'm curious though,--where did Imperial Tobacco come up with the name, Peter Jackson? Was he a successful tobacco planter like John Rolfe? All the best to a very readable writer and a nice person to boot. Grandpa Pike