My wife’s name is Cathy Heng, but actually that isn’t her name.
That was the name given to her on the first day at school, in Singapore, by her English teachers.
They said they couldn’t remember all the Chinese names, so they gave the children names they could remember.
It’s understandable, her real name is Heng Siew Keow.
Her sisters are Heng Siew Hong and Heng Siew Cheng.
A person brought up in England couldn’t remember a classful of names like that
So Cathy was given an easier name, and her sisters were called Betty and Bebe.
And Cathy’s two brothers, Heng Boon Heng and Heng Boon Huat, became Tony and Alex.
There wasn’t any sinister, colonial motive behind it.
The children just needed to be easily identifiable and memorable to the teachers.
The children needed to fit into the teacher’s mental Roladex.
This is how the human brain works, it needs help.
In our business we call it a mnemonic – a device to aid identification and memory.
If we want to stake a claim in the mind, we need something to make it stand out.
This isn’t anything new.
Years ago in Africa, English teachers changed the Xhosa name Rolihlahla to the more easily memorable Nelson Mandela.
And few people in the west would remember the name Gautama Siddhartha, but everyone knows the name Buddha.
Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhia is too difficult a name for us, but Mother Teresa isn’t.
The power of a mnemonic wasn’t lost on Iosef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili either, he changed his name to Stalin.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento benefitted from a more memorable name as Pele.
In show business of course, it’s always been true.
A name not only needs to be shorter and more accessible, it also needs to be different.
Ehrich Weiss became famous when he changed his name to Houdini.
Steveland Judkins was more memorable as Stevie Wonder.
Terry Bollette stayed in the memory better as Hulk Hogan.
Caryn Johnson is much better remembered as Whoopi Goldberg.
Reginald Dwight found he stuck in the memory better as Elton John.
Paul Hewson found his name stood out more once it became Bono.
Declan McManus was more memorable as Elvis Costello.
Marshall Mathers stood out in the mind as Eminem.
Eric Bishop found he was more memorable as Jamie Foxx.
And great artists throughout time have always known the lesson of the mnemonic.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was known by just his first name.
While Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso is remembered by just his last name.
We should learn the same thing.
The human mind is too full to constantly take in and store new information.
Unless there’s a good reason.
Or unless we repackage it.
That’s why it should be our job, to simplify whatever we want people to remember and make it easy and fun.
So it slips readily into the memory, because this isn’t an exam.
People don’t get points for remembering who we are and what we said.
Anyway, they’ve got too many other things on their mind.
Unlike us, ordinary people have a life outside of advertising.