My Pokemon Namesake

We Ochwats have an unfair advantage in the irony department. For some, it takes until graduate school in the humanities to learn about the floating signifier (i.e., the sign that doesn’t point to an actual object, or an agreed-upon meaning). In fact, we Ochwats not only float the signifier, we get it lost at sea.

For the last name Ochwat, not only is the referent sometimes lost, but the spelling is also a little free-floating. I have collected over 30 misspellings, which I grouped by relative ineptitude (bonus points, for example, went to getting more than half the letters correct).

I’ve also answered to innumerable mispronunciations, and I once even accepted an award when the emcee said “John … uh …” (Yeah, they meant me.)

Now my children get to experience the same thing, and generate new and different mismanglings of the old, venerable and difficult name. For example, one of my kids recently got Ochwutat. Would you like some Ochwutats with that hamburger? Or, Nice ink, dude. I really like your Ochwutat.

This weekend, my son was looking through a Pokemon book, and turned a page to reveal: Oshawott. No, I’m not kidding. That’s his name, and it even gets 4 out of 6 letters in the correct order (O, H, W, T), which is far more than other inept humans have managed with mine.

What is this thing? He looks like a depressed love child of a panda and an otter, cursed to wear a frilled sweater containing an extremely unfortunate illustration of a penis.

In search of answers, I consulted “Bulbpapedia,” the Pokemon encyclopedia, and found an entry for him.

Turns out Oshawott, aka ミジュマル Mijumaru, is one pathetic-sounding bulbaped, especially because his “gender ratio” is slightly hazy 87.5% male, 12.5% female, and his Breeding is “field group,” and “21 cycles (5355 minimum steps)” … which, if true, means Cosmo is going to have to come up with another 5,000 or so steps to help sad little Oshawott get it on.

There’s even a breeding chart with an entire column labeled “father,” and icons for 75 potential fathers in categories like “Night Slash,” “Brine,” and “Screech.” Well no wonder Otter Boy is looking a little down in the mouth. If you ask him “Who’s your daddy?” he needs to consult a frickin’ chart, and hope its not someone from a Pokemon biker gang.

And what’s with that doinker logo on his sweater?

Oshawott’s torso is light blue, and decorated with a pale yellow seashell feature in the center. Made out of keratin, this appendage, called a “scalchop“, can be removed and used in various ways; mainly, as a weapon.

Oh, it’s a weapon! I followed the link, and there’s Ash Oshawott, proudly displaying it:

In this image, the weapon looks a lot less inappropriate. Like a little dirigible, maybe, or a football of doom. Anyhow. The sweater is a disaster, and we’re not going anywhere near the whole oedipal/father thing, or what “12.5% female” might mean, but at least he has a little keratin weapon thingy.

And I like that expression on his face, like he’s got it out because looking to start some shit.

Alright then. He must be one of us.

Our Dog and His Identity Problem

This handsome fellow is our dog. He’s about five years old, and we’ve had him for about a year. He was a shelter dog, so we don’t know his breed, if he had an original owner, or whether he had a name. (Do you know his breed? If so, leave me a comment.) Luckily, we know he’s not retarded.

In the shelter they named him Joshua, which was much too much like a person name, and lacking in hard consonants. Besides, we have kids. Nothing like letting the kids name the dog to help with the bonding and all that.

My younger son suggested “Pitch, because he’s pitch black.” (This was before his fur came in with a tinge of brown.)  A pretty good suggestion, especially from a six year old, but after mulling it over, we decided that if we were ever mad at our dog at the park, yelling “Come here, Pitch!” sounded a little too close to a certain word-that-rhymes-with-pitch-but-starts-with-B. And all things being equal, I don’t enjoy looking like a pimp.

We settled on Cailloux (French for stone, or pebble), and not far from Caillou, the name of a children’s TV show based on books by two French authors.

But that’s only the prologue to this story, because as I have learned, names change. My six year old started coming up to Cailloux, cupping dog’s chin in his hand, and saying, “Big boy!”

But it sounded more like Beeg boiyy!

A few weeks later, beeg boiyy had become mee-moy.

A while later, mee-moy became muy-muy (pronounced mooey-mooey).

I began to feel for the dog. True, he had come a long way, from homeless in Yakima to getting two squares a day, his own bed, and a family who dotes on him.

But how in the hell could he be expected to know his own name, if it had morphed in less than a year from Joshua to Cailloux to Beeg Boiyy to Mee-Moy to Muy-Muy?

(This is not counting the times I call him “Doggy,” or after the unfortunate incident after the skunk, when I called him “Stinkyboy.”) It all must be muy-muy confusing.

I guess he just rolls with it. I sure hope he does, because I noticed this week that his name just changed. Again.

Muy-Muy has now become Mug-Mug.

It’s a good thing I don’t order him a new name tag every time this happens.

Exclusive Non-Naming Rights Still Available

The Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has received an unprecedented gift totaling $85 million from a small group of alumni …. This innovative partnership provides a naming gift that will preserve the Wisconsin name for at least 20 years. During that time, the school will not be named for a single donor or entity.University of Wisconsin press release

“John Ochwat” – $10,000,000

This is the ne plus ultra of personal identities. It’s not just a name, it’s a unique opportunity in the personal brandosphere. The Ochwat brand is so uncommon, its spelling remains unequalled in every major language—making intellectual property enforcement a breeze. Yet the name’s phonetic properties are remarkably fungible, allowing a dizzying variety of pronunciation and spelling opportunities!

Note: Bidding for this is expected to be keen, since the Associated Kumquat Growers and the Society for Sanity in Spelling and Pronunciation both view “Ochwat” as crucial to the success of their strategic plans.

Ochwat family residence – $1,000,000

house_from_satelliteBe the envy of corporate marketers everywhere by owning 20-year exclusive rights to a blank plaque in front of the tastefully appointed Ochwat family home in the Portland suburbs. Imagine your brand’s return on investment among influential taste-makers such as public interest research groups, children selling magazine subscriptions and Girl Scout Cookies, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Make sure to lock in the $100,000 upgrade, which includes one-of-a-kind non-naming rights to the home’s roof, visible on Google Earth, Microsoft Terraserver, and numerous government satellites.

1997 Honda Accord – $50,000

The Honda Accord is such a coveted asset, it frequently appears on top-10 lists of most stolen automobiles. And despite the car’s Honda logos, and the license plate frames from Wisniewski Auto Body, nothing says anonymity like an 11-year-old four-door sedan with slight rear-bumper damage. Imagine your pride when saying to one of your competitors, “See that car you failed to notice? We own the non-naming rights to it.”

1987 Fuji Suncrest bicycle – $10,000

fuji_suncrestGreen is the new black, and nothing says green like a 21-year-old champagne-and rust-colored mountain bike. Those of you promoting your corporate social responsibility message should also consider the Brand Removal and Photograph Package. For only $2,000, you’ll receive high-resolution commemorative photos of this semi-derelict bicycle with its stickers removed, and the rights to let these images grace your next annual report. Not only will you score major sustainability points by not buying plaques or signage, such an authentic, forward-thinking green image is sure to make stockholders and environmentalists swoon with delight.

First-born child – $500,000

Though “John Ochwat” and the Ochwat family home, car and bicycle are undoubtedly prime non-naming opportunities, the bottom line is that all are depreciating assets. Yet after your first two-decade sponsorship of the Ochwats’ first-born child, your asset will only be in his late 20s—and just entering his prime branding years.

Consider your corporation’s proud legacy if you secure the rights to the Ochwat first-born now: With guaranteed preemptive bidding rights when the contract comes up for renewal, you could own the rights for the next 60, 80—or who knows, even 100 years.

Miscellaneous Opportunities – Negotiable

Many of these tempting opportunities will only be available for a short time, and the prices they’ll likely fetch will preclude all but the most aggressive Fortune 500 corporations. But to entice small businesses to partake of this great opportunity, we’re also entertaining a la carte bids on individual Ochwat assets (lawn statuary, bowling trophies, urinals). Make us an offer: the possibilities for corporate non-expression are practically limitless!

Quiz: Name that Product!

Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you three product names, and you try and guess what the products are. Okay? Here are the first three:

  • Rialto
  • San Martine
  • Rosario

It’s something exotic, right? Rialto is a movie theater name, and Rosario sounds like a Brazilian soccer players. So maybe they’re European sports cars?

  • Cabernet
  • San Raphael
  • Rochelle

Okay, not sports cars. You might give a car an incomprehensible genome name (E46 E series, or the CLK320), or if you’re Volkswagen, you might use bizarre-sounding names like Tiguan and Touareg 2, but you’d never name a sports car after a type of wine. The color, certainly — champagne, burgundy — but not the car itself. (Otherwise I’d be driving a Mickey’s Malt Liquor 40 Series.)

But I digress. Still, got to be exotic, right? Do you have a guess? No? Then let’s continue.

  • Palarre
  • Pillow Talk
  • Fables and Flowers

Hmm. With Palarre, I’m really thinking exotic, since it doesn’t even mean anything. But then … pillow talk? What do the sweet nothings whispered by lovers when they’re nekkid and amorous have to do with places like San Martine, or nonsense like Palarre? Maybe it’s lingerie?

Then: Fables and Flowers? That sounds like something from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Signature line of bedding and towels. Color me baffled.

Here are the last two:

  • Prairie Flowers
  • Laureate

Prairie Flowers has to be a scent, or a fabric pattern, right? But if that’s the case, what is Laureate? It means something worthy of honor or distinction, but if it were a product, I can only imagine a leather-bound notebook, perhaps, I dunno, burgundy-colored.

So … give up? Yeah, I would have been stumped too, only I happened to see the product list. But just to help a little more, I went to the company’s website, and pulled a few more names.

  • Portrait
  • Kathryn
  • Devonshire
  • Memoirs
  • Iron Works

… that help? No? Then how about …

  • Gabrielle
  • Cimarron
  • Pinoir

Give up? Okay, here’s the answer. They’re Kohler toilet models.

I bought a replacement flapper for my toilet. This is the package. Who woulda thunk?

Money for Nothing

The MacArthur Fellows Program (sometimes known as the “genius grant”) never goes to the people I think it should. Of course I always think it should go to me, and not only because with a no-strings gift of $500,000, I could buy a lot of beer.

Consider my impressive credentials:

– I failed only one class: 9th grade art, spring semester
– I’m pushing the scientific boundaries of vending machine research
– I never tattooed an ex-girlfriend’s name on my body
– I understand the nuances of the dangling modifier

But (the last two paragraphs notwithstanding), this post isn’t about me. It’s about Michael Knetter, my nominee for the 2008 MacArthur Fellowship. Who’s Michael Knetter?

Knetter is the dean of the University of Wisconsin Business School. As Stephen Levitt points out in his Freakonomics blog, Knetter raised $85 million for the school by promising not to name it for the next 20 years. Levitt notes:

Apparently, Knetter is now offering a full slate of objects not to name at the business school. For $50,000, you can have a classroom not named after you. For $5,000, you can not have your name on a plaque in the entryway to the building. For those of you with a little less to give, $50 will guarantee that the urinal of your choice will go unnamed.


More sustainable, too: Think of all those plaques and signage that don’t need to be produced!

I’m sure this masterstroke will immortalize Michael Knetter … just think: with the MacArthur Grant of $500,000, Knetter’s name could not appear on 10,000 urinals!