March 10, 1992
A certain Irishman, whose name I could not find, came up with a get-rich-quick scheme back in the depression days. A man with vision, he predicted that large corporations would soon be expanding from North America to Europe, companies that sold everything from automobiles to soda pop. Motivated by that inner conviction, he quietly traveled to every country and registered all the well-known trademarks in his own name.
His investment paid off. When incoming companies tried to register their famous trademarks, they discovered the names already owned by this man. Of course he was quite happy to sell his rights to them. In the course of a few short years, this Irishman made seven million dollars — all perfectly legal.
Before you rush off to the third world to try the same trick, it won’t work now. The International Trademark Convention has been established to protect major companies from losing rights to their famous names. However, for one time, one man used trade names to gain great personal wealth.
The Irishman wasn’t the first person to realize names have value. Solomon, who wrote the book of Proverbs, said, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches . . . ”
Of course he was not talking about commercial trademarks. Solomon meant the reputation that comes to a person with sound character. It is recognized by the response people make when they hear that person’s name. There are no disparaging remarks, no expressions of distrust, no abusive or slanderous comments. When a person (or even an organization) has a good name, people respect it because they respect the person (or people) behind it.
Obviously a good name is earned. Being born to an upstanding family might help for a while but eventually a person is known for what they themselves are, not for what their father or mother did. So it is not like the inheritance a person receives when someone dies nor is it like a treasure someone can stumble across. Rather a good name is more like wages — it has to be earned by effort. An exemplary life is not automatic and should any stain ever mar a person’s good name, a double-effort is required to restore it.
Solomon also adds that a good name is a matter of choice. While the story about the Irishman did not include information about his reputation, according to Solomon, if he had a choice between his good name and the $7 million — and he picked the money, he made a foolish choice.
Two other proverbs explain Solomon’s reasoning. One says “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot . . . ” In other words, those with a good name are remembered with blessing, just as already mentioned. I think I would rather have people think of me and raise a toast, than remember me with disgust and distaste.
Solomon also says, “He who walks with integrity walks securely but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” Choosing perverted behavior will, of course, earn a bad reputation. But more than that, the person who chooses that route will not be able to hide his deeds. He will also will feel insecure because eventually the wrong done will be known and he will have to bear the humiliation of detection. Again, living with a clear conscience and no fear of being “found out” is far better than looking over one’s shoulder in fear.
Sometimes it seems few people care about having pride in their name. They may want the blessing of others, popularity, and a sense of security but somehow fail to connect the fact that these things are a product of personal choice and like anything else of great value, must be earned.
We may not be able to buy trade names to make millions, but when money competes with a good name, an honorable reputation is the wiser choice.