Friday, August 26, 2005

What’s in a name? (Should Diddy's dropping the P. inspire Lisa to add the T.?)

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY - Madonna does it regularly, in numerous fashions, always like it's the very first time. J-L0, Liz and Roseanne do it with husbands. Demi does it with hair. Halle and Meryl do it for movie roles. Oprah does it with diets. Jacko pays plastic surgeons to do it for him. And Diddy just did it with his moniker. Again. Without missing a beat.

What is it? Grabbing prime media attention by making periodic changes. High profile vicissitudes - whether artful ploys to boost marketability (a la Madonna-Electronica and Diddy) or undesired fallout from their glass-house celebrity status (in instances like power-couple breakups and celebrities' weight fluctuations) - keep the media magnets and has-beens who experience (or engineer) them in the headlines. The changes need not be especially noteworthy to get spotlighted. Notice how changing diet plans, botoxing and moving violations garnered tabloid spreads (and spike search engine rankings) for the likes of Jennifer Anniston, Melanie Griffith and Matthew Perry?

Most recently, P. Diddy announced a name change during promotional rounds for next month's MTV Music Awards, which he's hosting. He is dropping the "P." and will hearafter answer to "Diddy."

Whoa...scratch the record! Didn't recent above-the-fold coverage spotlight his earlier string of aliases (from given name "Sean Combs" to "Puffy" to "Puff Daddy" to "P. Diddy?"). My Ivy League professors and white shoe consulting firm instructors had hammered home the importance of choosing--and remaining loyal to--a strong brand identity, and the risks associated with changing it. But what do they know? They, and most of us "intellectual" shmucks who invested time and money in expensive, prestigious academic degrees, don't earn what Diddy spends in pocket change. Rather, the creator of Bad Boy Entertainment, Sean John fashions and (some say) the meteoric ascendancies of Mary Jay Blige, Jodeci, and (by association) Jennifer Lopez/Jenny-Lo/J-Lo, obviously knows from branding. So much so that some media outlets (such as Yahoo! Top Stories and the national TV and radio news networks) reported the news of Diddy's name change alongside coverage of the War on Terror, Gaza Strip desettlement and Hurricane Katrina.

Who is the man encased under these layers of names? (Click here to read "Q&A With P. Diddy" on VH1's "Say it Loud.") The rapper-mogul was born in New York City in 1970 and hoisted himself by his bootstraps, Horatio Alger-fashion, from paperboy cum hustling events promoter (who tragically over-booked a 1991 City College event where nine people died in a stampede) to millionaire by age 19. He's now a highly regarded entertainment industry impresario and acknowledged maestro of several high profile arenas: food, fashion, Broadway, the silver screen, and glamorous women. Continued allegations of going gangsta (administering beatings, intimidation and shootings) and welshing on obligations (not delivering the memoirs that Random House advanced him $300,000 to write or fulfilling child support commitments with his ex, Misa Hylton-Brim, for 11-year-old son, Justin) have invited slings and arrows but apparently have not crippled his A-list cachet.

Well-known for his brilliant creativity and business acumen, Diddy remains widely heralded as the most influential force in the multi-billion dollar rap industry. Like a Teflon Don Juan, he apparently works his assets well. They were sorely tested recently in a sordid trial that some pundits feared could send him upriver. The upshot: acquittal on gun charges in 2001. Afterward, the media energetically reported Puff Daddy's quest for a fresh start, symbolized by his new label: "P. Diddy" (reportedly coined by Notorious B.I.G. before he died).

Diddy offers various justifications for his latest incarnation. One, "Because I can," is arrogant but true. Other rationales are kinder and gentler, seeking to simplify his cluttered namescape and leave no fan behind.

"I feel like the "P" is getting in the way of me and the public. From now on I will simply go by 'Diddy'," said the multi-named one.

"Nobody knew what to call me," he said. "I'd notice that people were uncomfortable when I'd meet them for the first time, and then they'd ask me what they should call me.

"I even started to get confused myself - and when I'd called someone on the telephone it took me a long time to explain who I was. Too long."

Hence the solution: to be known as simply "Diddy. "Five letters, one word, period."

So sez he, and so it will be. At least for a while. In the wake of such media splashes and changes in course, the public tends to go with the flow.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But only if you believe. Fact is, perception can trump reality.

This random rant has inspired me. So much so, I might apply what I've learned: successful people can't live on bread and hard work alone. They require PIE (10% competent Performance with a 90% blend of Image and Exposure). Taking a cue for P. Diddy and others, like "Material Girl" Louise Ciccone/Madonna/Madge/Electronica/Esther, I see I'm long overdue for a major overhaul. Step one, drop "Lisa Tolliver" (it's passe). An easy replacement is "Lisa T." (for a time) and I could inject some pep in my step later with something like "Liddy." Couldn't hurt. And so what if it did? I could always bury the old and reincarnate, shiny and new, like a virgin, named for the very first time.