Capturing Authenticity in Your Business Name: Dangerous Mathematicians

by cv harquail on April 6, 2010

calculating reality.jpg

Over the weekend I took my family over to Brooklyn to visit our groovy friend Lizz. Part of the plan was to wander around Boerum Hill and explore (okay, window shop and eat ice cream).

As per usual, I found it necessary to stick my nose in someone else’s business.

Wouldn’t you *have* to go inquire, if the store was named “Dangerous Mathematicians”?

Since I had my girls with us, I was only supposed to look in windows. There, I was captivated by a little display of a contest that Dangerous Mathematicians had just run on Facebook — asking customers to answer the question “What is a Dangerous Mathematician?”window math.jpg

The answers that people offered made my heart sing. (Although I am not a dangerous mathematician, if you let me near any statistical data analyses I can really hurt you.)

I was so moved by the answers, the cleverness of the contest, and the mystery of the name, that I tromped right into the store, kids trailing behind me, so that I could satisfy my curiosity.

Before I go on, tell me — what would you expect of a shop, in a funky neighborhood, called “Dangerous Mathematicians“?

Right. That’s what I thought.

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Business Names Should Convey Meaning

Choosing the name of a shop, or a business, is a challenging proposition. The name should communicate something meaningful to the potential audience as well as evoke a good set of feelings and associations to the folks who work there and/or compose the organization. The name should also be reasonably euphonious, easy to remember, and these days easy to condense into an available domain name.

But the kind of meaning can be up to you— the name can offer a literal explanation (Boerum Hill Hardware), convey the product’s uniqueness (Atomic Wings), flag that the organization is legitimate (Metropolitan Detention Center), or even make some kind of insider joke (Thornburg & Foster). Some organizations even choose names intentionally to mislead audiences.

So what is Dangerous Mathematicians trying to convey?

Dangerous Mathematicians” is a little awkward as a phrase, no? And it’s also more than a little odd. Who pays attention to mathematicians? And what can you possible buy from them?

dm description.jpgThe proprietor , Karen Patwa, was happy (actually enthusiastic) about answering my questions. Turns out, there is quite a bit of personal meaning, product meaning, and (potential) customer connection embedded in the name Dangerous Mathematicians.

Ms. Patwa told me about her first career as a math teacher, and how it gave way to the challenges of combining the beauty of math and the materiality of fabric, cut, color and fit. We talked about the ‘danger’ of purchasing clothing that never actually fits you very well, the challenge of calculating the payout (financial and spiritual) of made-to-measure clothing, and how much fun it can be to use a protractor AS AN ADULT for your actual job!

With all this time passing, I was worried that my girls would be getting restless. (After all the intended next stop was the Blue Marble Ice Cream Shop.) But when I looked over, they were both engaged in some math puzzles left out on the counter, right next to the jewelry.math puzzles.jpg

Of course, there were math puzzles on the counter, right next to the jewelry.

When I got home, I checked out the Dangerous Mathematicians website, which had more information about their clothing philosophy, their business model, and their customer following. It turns out that in addition to their made-to-measure business clothes, they have a popular line of business-casual corsets, as well as accessories for the sexy nerd.

At that point, the meaning of ‘dangerous’ was more apparent. And still fun. And unique.

As a business name, Dangerous Mathematicians is not one-size-fits-all. Most customers off the street, like me, will be puzzled. Many of them, unlike me, won’t tromp into the store looking for an answer. They’ll just move on to the next cool boutique (The Banquet).

But, oh, for the customer who gets it.

She will gathered up in a concept that tries to capture her imagination and appeal to her brains, and she’ll walk out with a pencil skirt (and corset belt) that are a perfect fit for the area under her curves.

Annassa kata, Dangerous Mathematicians.


Susan Mazza April 8, 2010 at 8:52 am

What a brilliant name and fabulous game. I would think curiosity alone would draw more people into the shop. Personally would have been right behind you!

Your point “the kind of meaning can be up to you” is a great one. The meaning may not be great for SEO, but in the process of instilling your meaning to something that does not already have a meaning somehow seems to make the connection for those drawn in that much more meaningful.

.-= Susan Mazza´s last blog ..Are You the Master of Your Time? =-.

cv harquail April 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

Hey Susan,
thanks for your comment and tweet….
It’s a great point, and an interesting dilemma, to contrast what kind of name ‘SEO’ and findability would suggest, and what kind of name is really evocative. Sadly, often at odds…
Also, you’re making me think again about the absolute beauty of the “What is a Dangerous Mathematician” game, in terms of getting outsiders engaged in the idea. I think that I responded as a woman/mom with a belated appreciation of math (I didn’t “get it” until my required college calculus course, then discovered rather late that I was ‘good’ at math), then as a potential customer. Now, I’m a potential customer.
Maybe we can get them to come to a NoNJ Leadership Meetup for a trunk show :-)

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