My name is Detlef Reis — and I am also known as Dr. D of Thinkergy. How did I end up with this personal brand as my alter ego? Today, allow me to share with you some experiences that I’ve had with my name over time and space. In a globalized world, names matter as much for people as they do for brands. What lessons can we learn when we have to name a child, or create a catchy (personal) brand?
My German family name“Reis” translates into ‘rice’ in English, and you pronounce it in exactly the same way. I’ve always liked my family name: it’s short and crisp, and everyone could get it right away once I highlighted the commonality with the staple food (“rice like noodle”). After I landed a posting to Asia, the jokes came fast and furious. I’ve heard so many, I can now make up my own: “As if Asia needs more Reis”; “Sending Reis to Asia is like sending coals to Newcastle”; “Don’t they have enough rice to begin with?”; “Wow, Reis to Asia, how original!”
After I had moved to an environment where (bad) English is the unifying language in business, however, I quickly found out that many people called me “Ries” instead of “Rice”. No big deal, I learned to flexibly respond to both pronunciations, and learned to appreciate those few people who bother to ask how to pronounce my family correctly. I also found out that in Asia, some locals take the letter “r” for an “l” (and vice versa), so I embraced “Leis” as a further Asian interpretation of my family name.
Tip: Choose a name that is easy to pronounce in every language.
Apparently, my parents first wanted to call me Dieter. At the name registry, however, my Dad had a sudden hunch to switch my first name to Detlef, which means “son of the people” or “belonging to the people”. In the 1950s and 1960s, Detlef was a popular name in Northern Germany, but was rare and unique in Southwestern Germany where we lived. which was probably why my Dad preferred the name over the more common Dieter.
Tip: Most names have a meaning. Make sure that you investigate the historic roots of a name before you use it to name a child or a brand.
The ending of my first name comes in two variations, Detlef and Detlev. Predictably, I regularly saw my first name misspelled with a “v” at the end. So if you were me, would you be surprised to receive your doctoral degree and see your first name written with a “v” at the end? The official document was written in Latin, the traditional scientific language of learned people in Europe. In Latin, a “v” is often used in lieu of a“f”, which is why I suppose my university switched to Detlev in my official document. I had already moved to Asia when I received my official doctoral degree, and was busy getting into business in my new job and environment, so I accepted the document as I received it.
Tip: Ensure that the name of your brand or baby is spelled in one unambiguous way.
As a little boy, I liked my first name Detlef because it was rare and unique. When I got older, suddenly other kids began teasing me because Detlef was supposed to be a “gay” name. As a teenager, this silly name-calling began to get on my nerves, even more so as I didn’t feel attracted to men. For example, when AIDS came into public awareness in the early eighties, one joke suggested that “AIDS: Alles ist Detlef’s Schuld”, which translates as ”It’s all Detlef’s fault”, or “Blame it on Detlef”. (Nowadays, as the leader of Thinkergy, this motto makes much more sense to me; after all, as the boss, I have ultimate responsibility for anything that goes wrong at my innovation company, so “blame it on Detlef”.)
Despite the occasional teases on my first name, I never thought of abandoning it. Why should I? I am Detlef and always will be. I believe it’s a wonderful name for me that I am destined to carry proudly in this life. (In contrast, one of my childhood friends decided to officially drop his middle name Detlef as soon as he came of age.)
Tip: Names may evoke surprising negative connotations over time that you cannot anticipate in advance. Shrug it off if you have a thick skin, or if you can’t, consider letting go of the name.
So how then did I become Dr. D, and why? When I left my home country to work in Asia, I quickly noticed Detlef to be a name that many non-Germans have problems pronouncing, learning and remembering correctly; this wasn’t only true at first contact, but even with colleagues and students who I worked with for extended periods of time. So, I had the rare opportunity to collect a multitude of creative interpretations of my first name that I encountered in conversations, emails or handed-in assignments, such as: Deplet, Deplef, Detler, Deflet or Deflep, to name but a few. Clearly, Detlef isn’t an international commonplace name like Tom, Dick and Harry.
Tip: Consider using names of one syllable that are catchy and easy to learn; in the case of first names, Tom is undoubtedly easier to remember than Thomas (particularly when paired with Jerry), Ben has a ring to it (especially when associated with ‘Big’), and Max beats Maximilian (unless you happen to be an emperor).
Because of the problems that non-Germans had with Detlef, I wondered how I could simplify my first name to make it easier for people to learn. So why not go for one of my German nicknames? Unfortunately, “Deddy” and “Det” don’t work so well in English environments; due to their connotations, these nicknames tend to provoke answers such as “You’re not my Dad” or “Dead? You still look pretty alive”.
Tip: Check for connotations that short names or nick names may evoke in different languages or locations.
Eventually, I realized that I should make my first name even simpler, and I arrived at “D” (pronounced “dee”, which in Thailand, where I live, also means “good”). “D” sounded like a good start, but I felt that something is missing So, I added my doctor title in front and became “Dr. D”, which for me complied to Albert Einstein’s maxim to “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (After all, I had worked very hard on my Ph.D. for roughly 3 years). Moreover, from a Thai perspective, I became “Dr. Good”. Finally, in English “Dee” rhymes with Thinkergy, the name of the innovation company that I founded. So in the end, I became “Dr. D of Thinkergy”, which is a harmonic play of words that took my personal brand from great to wow.
Tip: Play with words to arrive at alliterations and rhymes, which tend to stick in the mind (think of YouTube, Dunkin’ Donuts or Piggly Wiggly).
Conclusion: In our Genius Journey training courses, one exercise we do at the second destination stop of the journey is called “I am”. Thereby, delegates first have to introduce themselves to the group using a celebrity persona drawn at random (e.g., “I am Madonna”, or “I am Mahatma Gandhi”). While some delegates feel proud about a person they draw, most introductions look and sound awkward, unconvincing and false. Thereafter, everyone introduces themselves again to the group with their real name, and the second time around, all name introductions sound confident, natural and genuine.
So how do I introduce myself nowadays? I use both “I am Detlef” and “I am Dr. D of Thinkergy”, as that’s who I am. While some people may regard me as having a split-personality, I enjoy all of my names — knowing that truly creative people are tolerant to how people may call or write their name, and embrace all shades of their personality. It is little wonder that most modern superheroes have an alter ego: Clark Kent aka Superman; Barry Allen aka The Flash; Bruce Wayne aka Batman; and Detlef Reis aka Dr. D of Thinkergy.
Contact us if you want Dr. D and his fellow-superheroes at Thinkergy help you solve your next big innovation challenge. Thinkergy — know how to wow.