Like the pine trees lining the winding road. I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name. Like the singing bird and the croaking toad. I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name. – Jim Croce
Humans have an innate desire to name and categorize things. But does what we name something really matter? No less an authority on language than William Shakespeare argues against the idea. In Romeo and Juliet he has Juliet say, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Bari Tessler, in her book The Art of Money, takes the opposing view, arguing that the names we give our financial accounts can make a big difference in our relationship with money. Tessler recommends changing the default names that come with personal finance software to something meaningful to you. While acknowledging that simply changing account names won’t change your financial reality, Tessler believes it can change your attitude, and a change in attitude can ultimately change everything.
I have written elsewhere that I am a big fan of Quicken personal finance software, and that I have used it for well over 30 years. In fact, I consider my first version of Quicken, run on a Mac Plus, to be my wisest purchase ever.
Over the years I have changed many of the default account names in Quicken but my changes fall under the “geeky accountant” type of change. Tessler is after more of a creative, emotional, touchy-feely type of name change. I was skeptical that this could really make a difference but intrigued enough to try an experiment, so I scanned our chart of accounts looking for one to try Tessler’s theory on.
Trial or Blessing?
As I scanned our chart of accounts I kept returning to one which was practically begging for a name change. Allow me to explain.
Just over two years ago my wonderful wife, Alice, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. It was discovered in the first mammogram she ever had. Following several surgeries and chemo therapy Alice has a clean bill of health but it was a difficult couple of years for her and our family.
We had health insurance but cancer treatment is expensive and it didn’t take long for us to exhaust our emergency savings. To pay our portion we had to borrow on a home equity line of credit which, as part of our effort to get out of debt, previously had a zero balance.
Alice has not only regained her health but has bounced back stronger spiritually, emotionally, and physically than she was before her illness. She has always been compassionate and service oriented but she has become even more so. She claims she sometimes used to serve out of duty but now she serves joyfully out of the simple desire to ease suffering and lighten someone’s burden. She is always on the lookout for people who need a helping hand and she has really stepped up her level of service.
She is stronger physically than she has ever been. In fact, she has become somewhat of a legend at our local recreation center because of how hard she works. I can’t keep up with her. The other day while I was exercising someone came up to me and asked how come I don’t work out as hard as my wife. Having lost her health for a time she is determined to do everything she can to preserve it.
She is also stronger emotionally. Forced to fight through a serious illness she found strength within her she didn’t know she had before. She knows she can do difficult things which has given her the confidence to take on new challenges, leading to incredible personal growth. Finally, our family has grown closer as we were forced to pull together to help her through her illness.
So was Alice’s illness a trial or a blessing? The obvious answer is both. It was a difficult thing to go through but she gained a lot out of it, and I have heard her say many times that she wouldn’t change anything.
You have no doubt heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Psychologists have also documented something called post-traumatic growth syndrome. Some people, following a traumatic situation, experience a period of accelerated growth. This describes Alice’s experience with cancer perfectly.
The Power of a Name
We are all thrilled to have Alice back better than ever but there is still the small matter of that home equity loan. Every month when I paid the bill I felt a little bit sorry for myself, as I was reminded what a tough break it was for Alice to get sick.
While her illness was both a trial and a blessing, the name of the account (Home Equity Line of Credit) led me to think only of the trial. I focused only on a loan balance that wasn’t there before. I was only considering one side of the equation.
As I contemplated new names I could give the account I came up with “Life-Saving Medical Miracle.” Now when I pay the bill each month pity is replaced with gratitude. Instead of thinking of the trial I think of the blessing of having a healthy wife and of all the good that came out of her struggle.
I look at the relatively small amount we owe and think that it is without a doubt the best investment we have ever made. The reality of the debt didn’t change but my attitude towards it did. And all that due to the power of a name.
You don’t need to change all your account names to benefit. I have only changed a couple of ours. I recommend going over your chart of accounts to see if there are any you have a troubled relationship with. If so, a name change could be in order. Here are a few guidelines for changing the names of your accounts:
- Be creative
- Pick a name that is meaningful to you
- Pick a name that forces you to look at the account from a different perspective
As for the power of a name, with all due respect to William Shakespeare I am going to have to side with Tessler on this one. A rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet, and what we name things does matter, even when it comes to financial accounts.
Since her illness Alice takes every chance she has to remind women to get a yearly mammogram. Doing so saved her life, for which we are very grateful. So in her behalf, please get a mammogram or make sure the women in your life do. It really could be a matter of life or death.