My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”
-Johnny Cash, A Boy Named Sue
I love this song. It makes me chuckle every time I hear it. Its a story about a man who names his son “Sue” because he knows it will be the source of mockery and make him into a stronger man. It’s a tongue in cheek little rhyme that covers themes of fathers, sons, manhood and what’s in a name.
Today I was looking at a list of team names. Every single team in the list had named themselves after whatever they were working on. For example, there might be names like Printing Team, or UI Team, or Database Team. And check this out: if there was more than one Printing Team, guess what they called the second team? You got it: Printing Team 2.
I shook my head and thought to myself, “Who named you Sue?”
Right off the bat, I have to confess that I’m really a bit mystified by this kind of behavior. I refuse to believe that a normal human being, not coerced by any outside force, would name themselves after whatever they are working on. I’m working on a Mac right now. Maybe I should change my name to Mac too…nope…not gonna do it. It doesn’t make any sense to me (and I’m not really Scottish). I would rather name myself after something fun or aspirational. I’d use things like:
- Mountains (Team Everest, Denali, or K2)
- Animals (Team Angus, Viper, or Gerbil)
- Cartoon Characters (Team Mickey, Goofy, or Donald)
- Tools (Team Hammer, Bandsaw, or Monkey Wrench)
- Rock bands (The Police, Metallica, or Tower of Power)
The possibilities are endless…just like my cliches. Often I think that a team is either intentionally or unintentionally given a name by those who are sponsoring or responsible for setting up the team. After all, early in a project, before everyone shows up, you need a name for this new thing. Often this name is used purely for utilities sake, perhaps with the assumption that the team will replace the name with one of their own. The team adopts it by default, because that’s what everyone else calls them, and they never bother to change it again.
I’m sure there are also places that just tell teams what they want them named. Hello, welcome to Acme! We’re going to put you on team “Sue”. I think that’s ridiculous. Here are my rules for team naming (don’t worry, no one will adopt them):
- You can’t name yourself after what you are working on
- No one individual can name the team. The team must name itself
If you want someone to feel empowered and respected, you really need to let them decide what they are going to be called. If you can’t even do something as trivial as that, then you are probably going to struggle in other areas too.
So what are your rules for naming teams?