What’s in a name?


I’m walking around with Tigg and Justin, and we pass by a Banana Republic outlet. And I think to myself a variation of what many people probably have floating around their head as they reach for the handle on the door… “Oh cool, a Banana Republic. Let’s go inside.” As I open the door, I wonder why it’s been so long since I stepped inside.

Understand that the thought… “Oh cool, a Banana Republic. Let’s go inside.”… is actually a deeper, somewhat inexplicable idea than just a happiness at seeing the store and the desire to enter. There’s an attraction there… in my mind, virtually a disconnect… that separates the contents of the store from the name. I recently read an article where Xerox was announcing that they were changing their logo as part of a new marketing campaign. While considering this, I realized I couldn’t think of what the logo they were changing looked like. (Must have made quite an impression on me.) And the same idea works here… Banana Republic… cool name. Fun… goofy… be a part of something… shop at our store. I’m reaching for the door.

But ask me if I know for certain what they sell. (Answer: nope.)

After about five minutes (I’m being kind, it was more like two), I come to the conclusion that they got me again. There wasn’t much of anything inside Banana Republic that interested me. There never has been anything inside Banana Republic of interest to me. (In fact… has anyone ever found anything cool in a Banana Republic? Sorry… that’s my out loud voice going off again. To stay in business the way they have, obviously people aren’t meandering in and making nothing but $4.50 “while I’m here I might as well” pity purchases.)

But for me… and I still believe at least a few others join me… I had been suckered in by the name… again… and I was wondering why.

The name shouldn’t do it. A “banana republic” is one where the rich create a ruling class that is essentially corrupt. They keep the poor uneducated and at their service. The “banana” part not only refers to the idea of tropical climates (hmm… go figure… most places referred to this way are in regions where one would normally picture bananas growing), but is also in the realm of the “top banana” joke making it sort of an insult.

Sure… that’s a really simplistic definition and perhaps half-assed interpretation… but still accurate. Is that the kind of store you’re looking for? Corrupt and suppressive? Of course not… and it isn’t that kind of store at all. You don’t think of banana republics when you visit a Banana Republic.

Banana makes for a unique, funny name. Would Broccoli Republic be as successful? I think not. Wouldn’t be exotic either.

Of course, the history of the store does bring about some of the reasoning. When the store first started, it was travel oriented (and cool). Then the Gap bought it, seems to have used it as a label rather than an experience and… well… you’ve seen the rest.


It did get me wondering though. Are their other places I’ve ever been attracted to because of a name that seemed to create an appealing image.

Yeah… actually… there are.

Providence, Rhode Island has a mall known as The Arcade. At least, that’s what we locals call it. The Westminster Arcade (fancy, official name) is a multi-level, Greek-themed, fancy marble-ish building. Really old too. I believe it may be the oldest shopping center in the country, dating back some 150-170 years.

I think there are three floors… so shoot me if it’s actually four. The thing is… you walk in… and there are a couple of places to eat. And the food looks ok. Actually… it looks pretty darn good. And the place seems interesting. (Especially during the week, when it is sort of a “the place to eat lunch” location for the Monday through Friday business suits.)

So you get something to eat… and it’s ok (not knock you on your behind good, but it’s fine)… and you wander upstairs to see some of the other stores. Not everything catches your eye, but every two or three shops you see something in a window and meander in. And you see enough that you reach the next set of stairs and without hesitation you head up… or you decide to complete the full circle (it’s one of those open-in-the-middle things on the second and third floors).

When you’re done with your visit to The Arcade, you won’t have any bags in your hands. No further out the door than the sidewalk, and you already can’t really recall any of the stores you saw. And while heading home, you think to yourself that it was nice and clean and a fine way to spend an afternoon… but if you don’t make it back, well, that would be ok.

And… you never do make plans to return. Doesn’t even cross your mind.

But three or four (or eight (or more)) years later someone mentions that they’re heading in to Providence for a meeting… or to do some shopping… or just to get lunch someplace different… and hey, would you like to go to The Arcade? And since you can’t recall anything bad about the place… heck, you can’t recall anything about the place… you figure that it sounds like a great idea to check it out again and you go. Only you find when you arrive that you suddenly remember exactly why you never think about going there.

Here’s the crazy thing… I want to go to The Arcade. Just typing this article had me thinking about it. It was on my mind, so I used it as a comparison in describing the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Now I’m itching to go.

Willing to pay for parking.

And I already know I’m not likely to see anything once I get there.

I’m sure that there are plenty of places like the Banana Republic… places that some people like and others don’t… but the name just sounds so damn appealing that you simply have to check it out.

Or is it just me?

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com