The Name Game: Why Your Words Matter

As a professional communicator, you already know that your words matter.  You understand the power that each word holds.  You carefully consider each word’s precise meaning and utility.  But how often do you take your words for granted?  It may happen more often than you would like to believe.

What’s in a name?

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, right?  Well, not so fast.  While, it might not be obvious on first blush, names can be a really controversial topic!  It is easy to use a common name or phrase without questioning the underlying insinuations.


Geographical renaming is common, and often disputed.  Consider the name Mount Everest.  While, this iconic peak has been around a very long time, the English name didn’t even exist until 1865.  In recent years, there have even been calls to revert back to a traditional name.  A few more controversial examples would include places like Ireland, Macedonia, Burma/Myanmar, and Israel/Palestine.


The name game is especially important in politics.  For instance, a 2013 survey found that 47% of those polled opposed Obamacare versus 37% opposed to the Affordable Care Act.  Consider yourself for a moment.  Do you prefer the term climate change or global warming?  While, similar these terms are certainly not synonymous on a scientific or political level.  Do you use the phrase marriage equality?  If so, you probably don’t believe marriage should be defined as one man and one woman.


A militant group that is wreaking havoc in the Middle East has saturated news media and inundated our daily lives… but what do you call it?  If you are like most Americans, you know this terrorist group as ISIS.  While the most common names for this organization are ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or the Islamic State, these are not necessarily the best names to use.

Opponents of these names argue that any name including the phrase Islamic State legitimizes to the terror group’s religious claims.  This is why news outlets like NPR preface the name with a qualifier such as “so-called” or “self-proclaimed.”

Other names have been coined in an effort to undermine the organization.  ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) has been widely used, even by the Obama Administration.  A new name is gaining popularity.  The French government has announced it will adopt the term Daesh (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham).  This name is meant as an insult as it has negative connotations in both French and Arabic.

Whichever name you choose to use, it is important to consider the connotations of each.

 Why Your Words Matter

You, as a communicator, you have choices to make.  While, many words and names may seem interchangeable, you need to be aware of the implications of each and choose accordingly.  Your words have value and meaning.  They represent you and can be seen as either supporting the status quo or challenging it.  Remember, your words have power. Don’t take them for granted.



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