A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

The power of names

Marshall McLuhan (July 1968, age 57). Poor old Nix-on

The Nixon campaign has been consulting me on the best ways Richard Nixon can use the media to win this year’s race for the Presidency.  I told them that he should put his campaign ads on radio rather than TV.   A hot character like Nixon is ideally suited to radio.  His hot-stuff will not go over well on TV.  If they insist on putting him on TV, I told them, they should make sure he says as little as possible.  He should be as silent as his beloved ‘silent majority.’  That should cool him down.  Unfortunately, Nixon can do nothing about his name.  The ‘Nix’ sound in Nixon has a pronounced negative subliminal effect on voters.  A name of course is a medium.  And the medium is always the message.  You can turn off your TV but you can’t turn off your name.  Names are numbing blows from which we never recover.

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  Good old Mars-hall?

Douglas Coupland has a good deal of irreverent fun with Marshall McLuhan’s name.  He places “the name Marshall McLuhan into commonly available internet name generators” and generates for example McLuhan’s porn star name (Pud Bendover), pimp name (Slick Tight) and drag name (Vanilla Thunderstorm).  He also uses a word scrambler to break and reassemble ‘Marshall McLuhan’ into a large number of three and four letter phrases such as ‘alarm small hunch,’ ‘clam hah small um,’ and ‘call sham man hurl.’   But these exercises – entertaining as they are in a smirking way – do not tell us much if anything about McLuhan or the power of names.

However, a case can be made that McLuhan may have suffered from a negative subliminal effect associated with his name in the more pedestrian way he alleges Nixon did.  McLuhan’s name was played with by his academic enemies who mocked him by calling him ‘McLoon.’  How much of a blow was this?  Did it encourage his readers to view his ideas as loony?  On the other hand his boyhood nick name was ‘Mars’ the Roman God of War (from Mars-hall) which may on balance lent him considerable subliminal strength and contributed to his combative nature.

What does your name say about you?  Or not?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan, 2009, pp. 2-9.

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger, 1989, p. 3.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, August 14th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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