Trying to name a business can be tricky. It’s got to be pithy, memorable and easy to market, while at the same time summing up everything that your brand stands for. Entrepreneurs have lived and died by what they’ve decided to call their plan. The stakes are seriously high. Get it right, and you could have a multinational, multi-million dollar lottery ticket on your hands. Get it wrong, and you could end up on the front page for all the wrong reasons.
There’s no better example of what can happen when naming goes badly than the fate that recently befell a chip shop in Australia. Forced to close this week because of a mixture of negative press, backlash from locals and harassment from a non-profit campaign group, this particular business proves that, whatever your intentions may have been, it’s more important than ever to consider every possible interpretation of what’s on the sign outside your door.
Set up by Queenslander Carolyn Kerr in the small town of Innisfail, “The Battered Wife Fish and Chips” was contentious from the moment it first opened its doors. Created after Kerr herself had left an abusive relationship in 2017, the eyebrow raising name was chosen to “raise awareness” of the issues surrounding domestic violence, according to an interview that Kerr herself gave to ABC.
However, whatever her original intentions may have been, coverage and criticism soon focused almost entirely on the contentious epithet that preceded the business’ raison d’etre. The Attorney General of Queensland made a damning declaration, proclaiming the restaurant to be completely “out of step with what the community and its expectations are”. Similarly, opposition leader Deborah Frecklington was quoted as saying the name was "completely unacceptable".
Ever since the business first opened, Kerr has been angrily asserting that the name is as far removed from offensive as it is possible to get. An ex-policewoman herself, she spent much of her career dealing with domestic violence cases, and in one instance posted a photo of herself with a black eye, received protecting a victim from an abusive partner, as a rebuttal to the reaction. In 2017, Kerr penned another post clarifying her position further, writing, "REALLY!!? Domestic violence is not a joke!! Not even close… I've sat on many sides of that fence but y'all presume I'm endorsing it with the name because someone posted something to something (sic)."
Despite her assertions, Kerr was finally forced to close the shop doors for good this week after allegedly receiving a threat video from an unnamed non-profit. In a video posted to Facebook, Kerr revealed, "With deep deep sadness, I inform you that we will cease trading next week. As many of you know, I've been the subject of an abusive witch hunt, by a not-for-profit organisation. They threatened to throw bricks at our window, complained to have our business name revoked… complained to industrial relations and child protection services, anonymously of course, saying that I was employing kids and participating in child exploitation."
Whether or not the name was insensitive or acceptable is a debate that doesn’t show signs of being resolved anytime soon. Other organisations, such as the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Australia have also weighed in on the issue, pointing out that the argument emphasises the need for wider political and social conversation and “indicates the scope of things that need to change in Australia for us to really see societal and cultural change and a reduction in violence against women and children." Wherever you stand on the issue, this is clearly a conversation worth having.