Naming people or places after admirable figures is nothing new, of course. The difference today is that the intent often isn't so much to honor the memory of luminaries as to sell something by piggybacking on their image -- even if the image has to be modified and tweaked. The trend offends many people. The state of California passed a 'Dead Celebrity Bill' to protect dead celebs from advertisers. Now, California advertisers will have to get permission from heirs, who are assured of getting a piece of the action.
But in the thick crowd of retail, endorsements help, even if you're just vaguely hinting at one by disinterring a dead artist and making him a pitchman. Sometimes the connection between person and product is obvious. Revere pots and pans, for example, work well since the American who announced the movement of British troops was, after all, a silversmith. Tour operator Abercrombie & Kent's Hemingway Safaris works, as does Shakespeare & Co. books in Paris, France, and the Victor Hugo Bookstore in Boston. But Monet Jewelry? Victor Hugo's Latin & Salsa Music?
Geniuses' names are frequently appropriated by companies eager for fame or respectability to rub off. There's the Franklin Mint, of course, and the Franklin Fund, a mutual fund company, which both nabbed the 18th-century American renaissance man. Italian stemware maker Luigi Bormioli has wine glasses named for Stendhal, Strauss and Michelangelo. Many companies use Leonardo Da Vinci's name, especially designers and any people who regard themselves as innovators. My favorite is the Da Vinci Tandem Bicycle.
After putting some Da Vinci syrup in your coffee, you might want to brush with Rembrandt toothpaste. Why, though, did the toothpaste company choose, of all artists, Rembrandt? The Dutch master's dark paintings don't exactly bring to mind gleaming smiles. Norman Rockwell toothpaste -- now there's an idea.
Sometimes products eclipse the fame of the figures they're named for. I wonder what percentage of Ethan Allen Furniture's customers know who Allen was. 'De Soto' and 'Pontiac' make you think of cars, not the explorer and tribal chief. The contributions of Samuel Adams, the proclaimed father of the American Revolution, were no small beer, but he's probably better known for the bottled variety.
In London's Covent Garden, you can go to the Brahms & Liszt pub. In this case, though, the use of the musical titans' names is layered with an altogether different cultural meaning. It draws on the Cockney tradition of implying meanings through rhymes; in this case, Liszt rhymes with pissed, the British word for drunk.
"A good name is better than precious ointment," said Ecclesiastes. Hemingway's name has proven a precious ointment indeed, and his heirs have rubbed it into gold by putting their father's imprint on a collection of rusticated furniture designs. Frankly, I think Papa would've swallowed the last cloudy drops of a Pernod, cracked his knuckles and trashed the place. Of course, if the furniture is worthy of his name, it would take whatever punishment he was ready to mete out, and the distressed look would only enhance its value. And no marketing professionals would mind publicity from the incident. You can almost hear their immortal phrase: "As long as you spell the name right."
Todd Pitock is a writer in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He hopes that his name may live on as