A Name We Can Trust

We have been following the Sun-Times’s search for a new Miss Lonelyhearts, and the other day we thought we met the one. Her name was Emily True, and as soon as we heard it we wanted to pour our heart out. “Dear Miss True, all is confusion and turmoil. Please advise.”

As it happens, Ms. True is studying to be an astronaut. Her next move should be to trademark her name and sell it to the Sun-Times for the money to continue her education.

What the Sun-Times’s quest boils down to, of course, is finding the right trademark. As a wise woman said recently as she was walking out the door, “Wake up and smell the coffee!” Ann Landers’s successor can’t bolt for greener pastures if the name she’s famous by is the property of Chicago Sun-Times Inc.

Not that the talent hunt itself isn’t important! Will they choose a busybody from the mold of Ann Landers and Dear Abby, sisters who see human woe in terms of problems to be solved and “experts” who can solve them? Or will they strike a postmodern note, choosing someone who, like the authors of “Tales From the Front” and the original sob sisters, will simply parade human folly in all its pathos?

It’s a major marketing decision. What do the people want? What will they pay to read?

We read Chicago as an old-fashioned town with a get-up-and-go philosophy. We think it wants someone who wants to help. We think it wants “Emily True.”

As the bona fide Ms. True intends to become the first Emily in space, the Sun-Times must look elsewhere. It’s a search we are eager to assist in and we have asked far and wide for suggestions. A colleague observed that names with a lot of “X”es in them get remembered. Yes, we said, but do people trust Exxon? Would Chicago accept “Ask Trixie Fox”?

We think not.

But we have always been partial to “Tell It to Wendy.” And “Dearest Cordelia” would grace the page,

We took our quest to adman Bob Aurin, who’d proved his worth by christening Two Fingers tequila and Twin Sisters vodka. Aurin worked up his proposals under “four basic strategies.”

The “tell people what you expect of them” approach — “Talk to Brenda.”

The “Charming old favorite aunt” approach — “Mrs. Brendle.”

“Young but mysterious”- “Greta Bailey.”

“Masculine; aloof but approachable” — “Austin P. Bradley.”

Aurin allowed that there was “nothing fabulous” about his nominees, and our inclination is to agree. A male nom de plume is appropriate, given that at least one man made the last cut (down from 11,000 to 22 — and to 6 by the end of this week). But we prefer the suggestion of the woman across the aisle: just plain “Bill.”

Like Aurin, we recognize that naming an advice columnist is as much a science as an art. It’s our opinion the new name should say “wise”; it should say “caring”; and by all means it should say “accepting.” It should also say “hip,” “with-it,” and “struts its stuff.” Although the Sun-Times probably wants to stay ethnically vague, we encountered a serious body of opinion that thinks the time is ripe for a sassy black lady with a name like “Ruby Slippers.”

It was beyond our means, but the proper next step is to call in a panel of common folk for a “name benefit association test.” It’s a two-step process, explained one of Chicago’s top market researchers: (1) find out the panel’s perceptions and associations when they think of advice columnists; (2) find out what feelings they associate with the specific names up for consideration. “If it’s done with the right amount of introspection and quality probing, you get some pretty good poop,” said the marketing whiz.

We contacted the New York firm of Lippincott & Margulies for further insights. Lippincott & Margulies is preeminent in the name game. They named Humana, Amtrak, and Duracell, just for starters.

“We don’t make up names,” stated company chairman Clive Chajet with hauteur. “We create whole communications programs of which names are a part.”

We asked him to set his mind to that facet of a Sun-Times communications program represented by the name of the counselor to the lovelorn.

“Mother,” proposed Chajet.

We mulled all of these suggestions. And a name occurred to us that is the best we know. It is a fine, caring name that simply has been languishing in the wrong field.

“Helen Reddy.”

(“Dear Helen, my man left me and I am so goddamned blue. Please advise.”)

“Helen Reddy” has the same sturdy ring as “Betty Crocker.” It is wise and forgiving and it knows what suffering means.

“Ask Helen Reddy.” When all else fails, she’ll sing you to sleep

Picks of ’86: The Baseball Accuracy Test

As we announce Hot Type’s sixth annual BAT Awards, we concede it is no great shame to be wrong when it is so unimportant to be right. The BAT Awards hail the ability to spot baseball’s winners at the start of the season, a negligible gift that Chicago’s sportswriters exercise with appropriately negligible skill.

We read the prognostications avidly. When they favor our chosen team, hope pounds in our heart. When they consign it to fifth or sixth place (as 10 of 11 sportswriters at the two dailies did to the Boston Red Sox a year ago), a delicious sneer crosses our face. In short, it makes no difference what the experts tell us as long as they tell us something.

The envelope please.

This was one of the most exciting competitions in the history of the BAT — for Baseball Accuracy Test — Awards, and a tiebreaker was required to resolve it. To begin with, last spring all 12 entrants (11 from the dailies plus our own Ted Cox) picked the New York Mets to prevail in the NL East. This was an astonishing consensus: did it clasp an extra burden onto the broad backs of the Metropolitans, or had it a buoying effect — as evidence of destiny? We do not know.

At any rate, in the other races the experts were terrible.

Ten of the 12 missed all of them. The Sun-Times crew was particularly abject, with Joe Goddard and Terry Boers fixing bayonets to fight over rock bottom. Boers and Goddard each saw the Astros finishing fifth in the NL West, with Boers forecasting a fifth-place Red Sox finish in the AL East and a seventh-place finish by the Angels in the AL West, while Goddard had the Sox and Angels each winding up sixth. But while Goddard projected the Mets losing the World Series to a Yankee team that was, at least, decent, Boers earned the coveted Cracked BAT with his prediction, that the Mets would fall to an Orioles squad that — came October — finished dead last.

So we’re down to two. Two scribes who peered into the crystal ball and saw a little more light, a little less mud. For some mysterious reason, Bernie Lincicome and defending BAT champion Dave van Dyck both picked the Angels to cop honors in their division.

How to choose between them? The obvious tiebreakers were inconclusive. Van Dyck saw the Mets going all the way, while Lincicome had them losing the world championship to the woeful Dodgers. On the other hand, van Dyck hadn’t a clue as to the other two divisions, while Lincicome picked the Astros to finish second.

In the end we went with the sportswriter who had humiliated himself least lately.

“Marvin Hagler, legally marvelous, is going to do something awful to Leonard, something sickening, something unnecessary. Possibly something permanent” — Bernie Lincicome, Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1987.

The winner and still champion, Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Sun-Times.

We called van Dyck to make sure he hadn’t picked Hagler on radio or something but we had missed it.

“No, I picked Leonard,” he assured us. “That was a given. It was ABC.”

If he wins next year, too, he gets to retire the trophy. We’d have to scrape something up.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/R.B. Leffingwell, Chicago Sun-Times.