As I set off for school with my older sister, Cindy, I heard the neighborhood kids shouting, “There’s Cindy Big Meadow!” and chanting, “Jean Big Meadow!” I shrunk away, confused and embarrassed, while Cindy went off to figure out what was up. She came back to explain that our neighbors’ Norwegian grandma was visiting. Their grandma had told them that “stör” means “big,” and “li” is a valley or meadow. I learned that in Norway, the oldest son would inherit the family farm and the younger sons would be sent off to find a new home. Often, they would take the name of the new land they settled.This new understanding about my name transformed children’s taunts into pleasant images of my ancestors’ pastoral homeland.
I struggled about whether I would change my name when I got married. For a month or so after our wedding, I used Storlie in my professional world and my husband’s name in personal circles. But my two worlds were blurred, and soon it became evident that I needed to choose. After a colleague used my married name in a communication she sent to a large distribution list, I felt my Storlie identity slipping – that was when I decided that my name would continue to be Jean Storlie.
The day I got laid off from a corporate job, I started brainstorming names for the new business I planned to launch. I wanted a simple, clever name – yet, something that evokes who I am. My husband, a patent attorney, joined my brainstorming and searched the web to determine if our ideas were available. Everything I liked was taken. This process continued for several weeks as my friends and colleagues offered their ideas. One colleague’s feedback was that she views me as a builder/connector. Liz Gerlach, my friend in Brand Design, urged me to play off of Storlie, but I shrank away from her suggestion, thinking that she meant for me to put my last name in front of “consulting,” “strategies,” or “associates,” which I thought was too ordinary.
Anxious to make a decision, so I could move on with the business start-up, I was pondering my naming challenge as my husband and I gathered with some friends for an evening boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka. I shared my challenge with our good friend and creative thinker, Doug Benson, while we carried gear onto the boat. He set his cooler down, looked at me, and asked, “Have you thought of something really simple, like ‘Storlietelling?’” In a flash, Doug had nailed it.
So let’s explore some bigger truths these stories might reveal about names, identity, and purpose.
- Meaning in a Name – Since I was a young girl, I’ve imagined that my ancestors lived in a beautiful, big meadow surrounded with wooded hillsides. The adventurous journey of a young man finding his place in the world also intrigued me. I imagined that my Storlie ancestors, who immigrated to America in the 1800s, brought their “stor li” spirit of adventure to find peace and prosperity in new meadows and valleys in Minnesota and Wisconsin. My childhood fairytale omits the hardship, struggle, and loss that these stalwart settlers surely faced. But maybe that’s ok … because starry-eyed optimism propels us to face the unknown. Aspirational sentiments like this are the seeds of a moving brand story. When naming a business, a brand, a project, (or even your boat), explore the stories behind family names and perhaps you’ll find some inspiration.
- Who You Are – In my three name crises, I learned the value of having clarity around my personal identity: Starting when the kids chanted “Jean Big Meadow” to my decision to keep my maiden name and, eventually, to finding my business name. When I embraced my name and my roots, I found resolution, insight, and purpose. According to Annette Simmons, a “who I am” story is one of six stories that can build your credibility and trust. Personal identity is often intertwined with your name … did you experience a moment of truth when your name and identity clicked?
- Don’t Overthink It – Doug’s wise words, “Have you thought about something really simple, like …” laid out the solution that had been eluding me for weeks. I had taken Liz’s advice too literally. As I look back on the notes from our brainstorm, I see that she was connecting “Storlie” to “story” and the spirit of my brand. I didn’t see it because I was looking at my challenge too analytically. The right brain needs playfulness and freedom. Sometimes we need to go watch a sunset on the lake to find our answers.
Somewhere in the start-up of Storlietelling, I started my journey into storytelling: a course that has transformed my consulting work and taken my passion for stories to a new level. Finding the right company name gave me a new compass and meaning for my work.