Tenacious Offense means no offense

Originally published Mar 2, 2007

If you found the title of this post a little confusing, then you have some idea what’s wrong with the name Tenacious Offense. This name belongs to young Seattle-based company that seems to be a kind of rent-a-bizdev team for small startups trying to land big clients. Thanks to Brant Williams for writing and sharing his concern about his company’s name.

The Name Inspector was quite surprised to learn that the phrase tenacious offense is actually attested in the world of sports. Much more common is the phrase tenacious defense, which gets 57,700 hits on Google vs. 238 hits for tenacious offense. The expression tenacious defense was the inspiration for the name of the satirical rock duo Tenacious D. You know, Jack Black and that other chunky guy who sometimes prances around in his tighty-whities while rocking.

The first problem with Tenacious Offense is that it has an ambiguous pronunciation. It’s unclear whether the first or second syllable of the second word should get the main emphasis. Both pronunciations are fine English phrases. The second pronunciation has a pretty bad meaning, though: it can be a criminal infraction, or in the social world, a faux pas or insult. It takes some imagination to work out what a tenacious one would be like, but it sure couldn’t be anything good, or anything you’d want to happen during a business meeting.

Of course, the company would like to call to mind the sporting meaning of tenacious offense, with the emphasis on the first syllable of offense. They’re trying to say that they’ll work hard and persistently to score for you and help you win. They use the common metaphor that casts business as athletic competition, and extend this metaphor into their job titles. Brant Williams, for example, has the title Offensive Coordinator–a position normally associated with a football team. But does he really want to have the word offensive in his job title?

The sound of this name doesn’t really help to make it more appealing. It’s pretty long, at five syllables, and gets an unusually mushy, noisy quality from all those hissing fricative consonants. The spelling isn’t very crisp, either–with the syllable cious, the double f and the silent e, it uses lots of extra letters to represent its sounds.

The basic message that this name is trying to deliver is a good one. The idea of hiring a special team to go score points for you is powerful. The Name Inspector read the marketing materials sent by Brant and wanted to hire the company immediately. So they do know how to sell–they just aren’t doing it with their name. Maybe it works for their market, though. Brant says the name was given to them by their clients and partners.

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