I live in Chicago, where there’s an expressway called Lake Shore Drive. You know why it’s called that? Because it’s a drive that goes by the shore of a lake. Simple, easy to remember, and everybody shortens it to “LSD” when giving directions. It’s been called that since the ’40s and nobody’s had any complaints.
But a few summers ago, in 2021, the Chicago City Council decided to rename it after the area’s first non-indigenous settler. So now it’s called “Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.” I refuse to call it that, and so do a lot of other Chicagoans. Not because we have anything against Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable. But because the new name is stupid.
They’ve tried this with us before, renaming the Sears Tower in 2009. It’s now the Willis Tower, or as any self-respecting Chicagoan calls it, the Sears Tower. Because that’s its goddamn name!
These were the thoughts that went through my head when I heard the news that Twitter is rebranding itself as “X.” As Elon Musk explained it, “The Twitter name made sense when it was just 140 character messages going back and forth—like birds tweeting—but now you can post almost anything, including several hours of video.” The Twitter name, he added, “does not make sense” anymore.
I’m sorry, but I’m not calling it that. I didn’t do it when Netflix tried to become Qwikster, or when Tribune Publishing rebranded itself as Tronc, or when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol that looked like a trumpet being impaled by an arrow. And I’m not doing it now. It’s Twitter. And it will always be Twitter.
As others have already pointed out, there’ve been many companies that changed their name and gone on to be wildly successful. Amazon was originally Cadabra, Starbucks was once Cargo House, and (my personal favorite) Google was first launched with the best name given to any tech company ever, BackRub. (It apparently had something to do with how the search engine analyzed the web’s “back links.”) But in almost every case, these were companies still in their toddler phase, learning to walk and finding an audience.
Imagine if Google announced in 2023, “We’re changing our name to BackRub!” We’d all be like, “Um. . . why?” And they’d say, “Well, ‘Google’ just doesn’t make sense anymore.” And we’d be like, “It never made sense.” But then they changed it anyway, and were like, “From now on, you don’t Google something, you BackRub it.”
Nobody would do that. Nobody.
Sometimes a name change just makes good business sense. The electronics chain Sound of Music was reaping profits during the ’70s, but when a tornado demolished their most profitable store in 1981 and they launched a sale offering “Best Buys,” they sold more merchandise in four days than in a typical month. Changing the name to “Best Buy” was a no-brainer.
What advantage does “X” have in the social media sphere? Mark Zuckerberg may have rechristened his company Meta, but no one calls it that. “Best Buy” makes me feel like I’m saving money. “X” makes me feel like I’m George C. Scott in a dark movie theater, about to realize that his runaway daughter is an adult film star.
The most obvious reason for the name change is that Twitter is sucking wind. Fidelity recently estimated that it’s worth about a third of what Musk paid for it, and its ad sales have plunged 59 percent since early April. Twitter wouldn’t be the first company to think changing its name might do the trick, like when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC so it wasn’t as obvious that their secret recipe is basically a deep fryer, or when Philip Morris became the Altria Group so our first thought when hearing their name wasn’t “Damn, you sure have killed a lot of people.”
But it’s not going to work. As sure as I drove Lake Shore Drive to get to work today, it will always be Twitter. It doesn’t matter how many weird “X” logos you put on the site that look like something a Bond villain would use to decorate his volcano lair, it was born Twitter and it will die Twitter.
There are two concessions I’d be willing to make. One, instead of making the app seem darkly ominous, add a little levity. I still think it was a mistake that Pepsi-Cola dropped its original (and far superior) moniker, Brad’s Drink. (It was named for the North Carolina pharmacist, Caleb Bradham, who first came up with the recipe.) How much more fun would the cola wars of the ’80s have been with that soda competitor? Take the Brad’s Drink Challenge! Do you prefer Coca-Cola. . . or Brad?
Subway was originally called Pete’s Super Submarines when it first opened its doors in the mid-1960s, named for a guy who was trying to help a friend pay off his college bills with sandwiches. If Pete kept the name, we’d still be thinking about a plucky PhD student doing the right thing, and not that other guy. (You know the one I mean.)
Elon reminds us every day that he’s running the show, so why not remind us in the name? Call it Elon’s Funtime Zone. Or Elon’s Place to Feel Less Lonely. Or Meme World with a Dose of Actual Geopolitical Chaos Club. (I’m just spitballing here; they can’t all be winners.)
You want a game-changing name? Rebrand it as Elon’s BackRub.
Read Eric Spitznagel’s latest Free Press article, America the Stoned.
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