The Name's the Thing

Knowing the name of a thing provides power over that thing. Even more power is bestowed upon the person who actually names the thing. Our histories and mythologies are replete with examples — Adam naming the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, deities whose names were not meant to be known by mere mortals, Rumplestiltskin where the knowledge of the troll’s name freed the queen’s daughter. Even today there are fraternal orders that provide secret names for their members, and naming ceremonies continue to be an important part of many tribal initiations.

I am reminded, almost daily, how careful one has to be when one is naming things. Names stick — whether you want them to or not. Here is the current burr in my office chair.

Almost five years ago we were struggling with scheduling our fieldwork. We have always been a decentralized shop and, at that time, we were having a lot of trouble matching our resources and their location with audits and their location. I came up with a nifty little Excel spreadsheet that solved a couple of the big problems we were having. In a fit of whimsy I named it the Worksheet of Wonders. When it was time to distribute the spreadsheet to the other two people involved I noticed the acronym and, enjoying the joke, started calling it the WOW.

Fast forward to today. The spreadsheet has been through numerous, painful incarnations. Much has changed in the way we do work and the way we schedule. With every change, I have had to make changes to the WOW. At one point two years ago, I had to spend a frenzied evening making it do things it was never meant to do. The programming was ugly, but it got the job done (kind of). Sometime after that someone else attacked it and made it better and worse at the same time. I’ve since cobbled more pieces to its Frankensteinian body. 

It works, but I’m no longer sure why. And it is not an easy program to use.

What makes this all worse is that, not only do we still call it the WOW, but the entire department now uses this spreadsheet. And everyone knows it as the WOW. Never has a name been quite so ironic. (Of course, the nice thing about an acronym is that it can be flexible. Many have begun calling it the Worksheet of Woes — which is much better than those who call it the Worksheet of Blunders)

But it could be worse.

About ten years ago we were doing a major restructure of our audit shop. As a part of the restructure we were building a support team — a team that would help coordinate the administrative and IT issues for the entire audit department. The CAE, the two AVPs, and three of us minions worked for almost six months to complete the project. During our next annual audit conference, we unveiled our pride and joy. In front of approximately 30 members of our internal audit department (Directors, Managers, Supervisors, emerging leaders) the team introduced the new structure including the new department — Audit Support Services.

There was an embarrassed quiet in the room when that slide went up — the kind of quiet where you can actually hear crickets trying not to rub their legs together. Finally, one of the long-time managers spoke up. “Have you noticed the acronym?”

No, we hadn’t. We had worked hard to determine how to name the thing, and we were so proud of our final naming, a name that seemed practically perfect in every way, that we missed that one, small issue. Suffice to say: 1) the jokes that evening over drinks were only hilarious to those who had not made the presentation (for example, what do you call the person in charge of the department if they only work part time? I’ll let you figure out the answer) and, 2) we immediately changed the name.

Of interest, I can’t remember that new name — probably because it didn’t make a nice acronym. But that is the power of names. When there is something memorable about them, they will stick.

There are many other instances I could mention — Functional Leads for Auditing (the FLA in the system), the FIAL meeting, the CAFÉ conference, and the Special Projects Audit Manager. But the idea of “Acronyms Gone Wild” is only part of the story. I want to take on another aspect of this whole “naming” thing — in particular, the naming of audits — but we will have to wait until next week for that discussion.

Until then, feel free to share the worst name you’ve ever seen given to a committee or a worksheet or a job title or any other such thing within auditing — acronym or full name. The only thing I require is that you not cheat — actual names only, not ones you just made up.


Posted on May 9, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Talking about names, when I had a vacancy in my department, there was a candidate who applied and her name was... Ms. Horror.

    I just imagined how she would recommend herself: Hi, I am Ms. Horror, from Internal Audit. I assume, everyone who have answered: of course you are...

    Happily, she was not a good candidate, otherwise I would have been probably accused of discrimination for elimintating her.

  1. We have a committee chaired by Loss Prevention called the Asset Protection Committee.  For some reason, the "et" usually gets changed to something more appropriate.

  1. A favorite I encountered is a committee focused on "Strategic Harmonization of Information Technology."  The acronym fit the general lack of enthusiasm for the accompanying meetings. 

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