NUTELLAby Geoff Olson

A French court has barred a couple from naming their daughter Nutella, according to a report in The Guardian Weekly. The court ruled that a girl named after the popular hazelnut chocolate spread would suffer from “mockery or disobliging remarks” by others. In response the parents lopped off the prefix, leaving her as Ella.

The word “brand” is of Old Norse derivation. In this medieval Viking language, “brandr” meant “to burn.” Over time, the word was used to describe the searing of cattle, convicts and slaves with red-hot irons. So it’s not wrong to say that the French legal system stepped in — or overstepped, depending on your point of view — to keep the kid from being burned.

What were the parents thinking? Who knows. The late psychologist B. F. Skinner, major domo the now-discredited school of psychology known as behaviourism, conceived of animal minds as black boxes: all you could do was record were the inputs and outputs. His assessment of human beings wasn’t much higher.

Stimulus: a sweet new baby girl. Response: naming her after an insulin-spiking spread.

Let’s not rule out the possible role of drugs. Perhaps weed played a part in the naming of Wisconsin teacher Marijuana Sawyer, and alcohol in the naming of ESPN Montana after a sports broadcasting network and football star. In comparison, 26-year old Linda Dagless seem a model of sobriety. The UK woman named her fourth daughter after the Swedish furniture maker Ikea.

Too bad Ms. Dagless didn’t look to the company’s signature scented candle  (Flärdfull) or duvet cover (Grönkulla) for baby-naming inspiration. Oh well, perhaps little Ikea will grow up to marry someone named Allen Key.

Unfortunately, such brand-crazed parents may be harbingers as much as outliers. In  Mike Judge’s 2008 black comedy Idiocracy, American citizens of the future are named after company products, among them “Frito,” “Velveeta,” and “Beef Supreme.” It doesn’t seem a stretch, considering there’s already a real-world American rap star who took the stage name Ludacris, an alteration of the synonym for ridiculous.

What’s in a name? Plenty. Big firms are very protective of their brands and logos — and south of the border, corporations have the legal status of personhood. A 2010 legal decision (The U.S. Supreme Court vs. Reason Itself) ruled that because corporations have the right to free speech under the First Amendment, there can be no restrictions on financing U.S. political campaigns. Corporations can now carpet bomb candidates of their of choice with obscene amounts of filthy lucre.

Contrast this with a U.S. federal decision in 2014, when lawyers for the Obama administration declared that people detained at Guantánamo Bay prison are not “persons” protected by the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

So in the Bizarro World of America, corporations are persons while some people are not. Needless to say, prisoners subject to “indefinite detention” — many deemed innocent of terror activities — don’t have the opportunity to rebrand themselves into retroactive personhood for public relations purposes. (I can imagine a social media campaign to free “Ahmed Mountain Dew” and his fellow brandees, and I’m not being entirely facetious.)

Personhood in everyday life is being eroded by changing concepts of privacy. Also, there’s significant pressures on people to professionally “brand themselves” through social media sites. They are coached to think of themselves as mini-corporations complete with “mission statements” and other marketing-related bumpf.

The thesis of Joel Bakan’s 2004 film The Corporation is that if the average big corporation is a person, then its behaviour suggests a psychopathic personality. In other words, we’re not talking about ideal models for personhood, let alone baby names.

Consider the final words of the notorious mass killer Gary Gilmore — “Let’s do it ”—just before his death by a Utah firing squad in 1977. Dan Wieden, the founder of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, “realized that a slight tweaking of Mr. Gilmore’s last words might make a good slogan for athletic gear,” according to a 2009 report in the New York Times. Hence Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.

That’s right: Nike’s “Just Do It” tag line was inspired by the last words of a mass  murderer. Branding-wise, naming a child after a chocolate hazelnut spread seems like chump change in comparison.

The Vancouver Courier, Mar. 20

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