What’s in a name?

March 7, 2020

What’s in a name?

May 29, 2023

I’m a bit contrarian when it comes to naming a business. When I started my boutique hotel company at age 26, I gave it the name Joie de Vivre, which is basically unpronounceable, unspellable, and unknown in the U.S.

Still, I liked the fact that our name was also our mission statement, creating opportunities to celebrate the “joy of life.”

Then, I joined Airbnb in early 2013, at a time when we were briefly considering whether we would change the company name. We aspired to become a global, mainstream hospitality brand and wanted to make sure our name reflected that. The original name was born out of a synchronistic moment when all the San Francisco’s hotels were full—at the same time the founders were trying to pay their rent. Their solution was to let a few strangers stay on three air mattresses on their living room floor. Airbnb was born. Cute story, maybe a lousy name. But I liked it. Like Joie de Vivre, there was a soul behind this company moniker.

Of course, my choice of the name Modern Elder Academy raised a few eyebrows. Who the heck wants to pay money to learn how to become an elder? Most people are spending their money on anti-aging solutions. However, as I outlined inthis blog post, I think it’s time to reclaim the word elder and give it an updated and modern spin. The Modern Elder is about relevance, not reverence. The name stuck and has now become a mantra for a new way to look at getting older.

This brings me to one final story. Over my two dozen years as the CEO of Joie de Vivre, we created and/or managed 52 hotels. One of them was a new, upscale hotel we built on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Our target market was a bourgeois bohemian (“bobo”) customer who’d burned out on the “W” but wasn’t ready for the Ritz-Carlton. They were getting older but seeking to stay vital. We named this hotel the Vitale.

Not long after the hotel opened, as both a show of goodwill and good PR, we decided to invite all 10,000 people from California with the name “Joy” to a Joy Party. They could bring a family member or friend, and the first twenty-five who RSVPed would receive a free waterfront-facing hotel room for the night of the party. What was miraculous about the 250 people who came was how these strangers bonded so quickly through their “joy-filled stories.” It was one big love bubble, full of laughter, tears, and, of course, joy. But not just from our guests. Our employees were unexpectedly touched by this party as well. Maybe for the first time, they truly realized the significance of our company name as a reflection of our mission to create joy in the world.

Do names matter? More than we can imagine.

But what do I know?

My silly name is Chip.

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