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Mind your language: Hibu

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Yell, which publishes Yellow Pages, is changing its name to Hibu, after seeking ‘an identity to tell our story’. It prefers to spell hibu with a small h. It admits that hibu means nothing (though to me it looks like a mis-spelled French owl), but it knows how it is pronounced: high-boo. If it were a real word it would certainly be pronounced hee-boo, for reasons too prosaic to find room for here.

Yell is a good enough name. In America it is commonly used instead of shout (‘Quit yelling at me’). Its origins are ancient and go back to the same root that gives us the gale in nightingale. Who’d have thought it?

Changing trade names in the hope of prosperity is a fool’s errand. The Financial Times noted recently that no positive results followed upon Ofex changing its name to Plus Markets, Debt Free Direct changing to Fairpoint or, more mysteriously Moneybookers, an online payments group, to Skrill, which sounds like a kind of shrill krill.

Some enterprises overcome an unattractive name. I had always supposed that Yahoo!, the name of an internet company, represented an exclamatory cry. The Oxford English Dictionary remarks drily that the interjection is ‘supposedly characteristic of cowboys, especially when executing daring feats on horseback’. Yet I discover that a founder of Yahoo, David Filo, adopted the name with reference to Jonathan Swift’s race of brutes in the form of men. It seems that, in Mr Filo’s student days in Louisiana, yahoo was applied to a rural Southerner, and his girlfriend applied it to him. I’d have though that, for the name of a company, you might as well choose Morlock.

Changed names confuse us. I threw away important documents from RSA because I took them for junk mail from the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) not from RSA (the former Sun Alliance). Nor did ICI’s partial metamorphosis into AstraZenica contribute much to the joy of the world. The nadir was surely the Post Office becoming Consignia, which sounds like the Esperanto for ‘left-luggage office’.