At the drop of a name

IN OUR CULTURE, seeking favors from the powerful or asserting one’s status in society uses the indirect approach. Why not just drop names to open doors and gain access to powerful dispensers of benefits? Is association with higher status by a claimed, even if unjustified, familiarity enough to open doors?

The practice of claiming closeness, affinity, even friendship, loosely defined as knowing each other’s nicknames, with someone who is powerful or exerts influence in an organization no longer seems to work its magic. Maybe powerful people resent their names being associated with some highly reported crime — no, I will not resign.

Social media and chat groups have devalued name dropping as a social tool of persuasion. The claimed connections are easily checked and even get back to the affronted subject. (They weren’t even in the same high school.) Gaining access through suggestions of powerful backers has been too overused to still be effective.

The reason why anybody needs to drop names to get business is a lack of personal marketability. The name dropper may be unqualified for the position he desires, has achieved nothing to make him valuable or even interesting, or simply won’t get past the reception desk with some Valkyrie disguised as security staff — please leave your card and we’ll get back to you.

Maybe, the same few names, or initials, are dropped too often. With the acquisition of companies under fewer and fewer owners, the droppable names are also shrinking. Names of former owners of businesses, or those whose conglomerates are having meltdowns, are no longer droppable. So, the name of one who controls a third of the GDP of this country is likely to be mentioned too many times by too many people to be even taken seriously — hey, here’s another one.

Shakespeare has some insights into name-dropping as a tool for intimidation. In Henry the Fourth, Glendower claims: “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.” Hotspur dismisses his boast: “But will they come when you call them?” In the modern context, this translates into — Sure you can text her… but will she text back? (Who’s this?)

Of course, the dropped name is rarely asked to confirm if he is familiar with the name-dropper. The time of the former is too valuable to be taken up by such a mundane query. Besides, it puts the revered leader on the spot if he acknowledges that yes, he knows the person. He may then ask why the caller is asking him. Does this caller from HR think the only qualification for the job is some connection to him? Can this curious insect please give her name, rank, and direct report, please? (Do I know you?)

An upgraded and subtler version of name dropping is composed of idle chit-chat over lunch. This involves a particular icon in business or politics and an aimless narration of invitations received and turned down, weekend outings shared, gifts exchanged, foreign trips planned, and opinions casually sought. A touch of reluctance in mentioning such trivia (I didn’t even want to go but he was insistent) makes this approach even more intimidating, especially if true. No specific favor or request is even mentioned. The litany is capped by some mystifying aphorism — it’s so difficult to differentiate between mere name-droppers and close friends.

If this chat is on social media, the danger is of the post being forwarded to the subject of the conversation — the nerve of that guy, whoever he is.

Name dropping has its dangers outside of its ineffectiveness. One must be current on who’s in and who’s out of the current power structure. Dropping the wrong name (he was just asked to resign today) can have dire consequences. It reveals the losing camp that one belongs to. And a favorable impression can turn quickly into contempt for being so passé.

It is best not to mention names of powerful people, even in passing. Maybe, just plead some vague, distant connection — I don’t think he even knows me. There’s always a long line of people that want to talk to him or have selfies with him.

It’s best to just drop your own name to introduce yourself… and hope for the best.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda