When naming backfires

Originally published May 20, 2011

On a recent flight to San Francisco, The Name Inspector was seated, by coincidence, right across the aisle from an acquaintance. On the return flight, he was moved from an aisle to a middle seat to accommodate a family, and found himself right next to the same guy. Weird. Anyway, the two had ample time to chat, and this guy told The Name Inspector about a Seattle business called BackFire Chiropractic. The Name Inspector was, needless to say, appalled and fascinated. This has to be the worst medical name he has encountered since learning about a dental practice called Fiddler on the Tooth.

What on earth would make someone think it’s a good idea to name their business BackFire? Especially a chiropractic practice (a chiropractice?)?

Here’s what the word backfire makes The Name Inspector think of:

  1. A plan going terribly wrong
  2. A loud noise coming from a vehicle’s tailpipe
  3. A back that is on fire

The least objectionable association is (2), and with a bit of imagination, that one is pretty bad (picture an especially elaborate chiropractic version of the “pull my finger” gag). (1) is just terrible in an obvious way (and chiropractic, with all that yanking and twisting, just seems like it’s bound to go wrong). (3) seems uncomfortable under any circumstances, but potentially especially acute in a chiropractic setting. If your chiropractic treatment backfires, you might find yourself saying, “Doc, it feels like my back is on fire!” And here’s the kicker: in the window of this chiropractor’s office there is a neon spine.

Just to be generous, let’s enumerate the appropriate things about the name BackFire:

  1. It contains the word back

That’s about it. Maybe that feeling of one’s back being on fire can be interpreted as the reason for seeing a chiropractor in the first place. Or maybe (this is really a stretch) a back on fire can be understood as a good thing–a metaphor for vitality. On second thought, maybe not.

A tip to business owners: don’t pick a name just because it contains a word related to your business. Context is everything.

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