Field Note January 29, 2014

What’s in a Name?


For months after deciding to start an organization to bring health care to rural Madagascar, Michael, Matt, Jim and I felt like things were moving forward well. We were coming up with plans, figuring out who to meet, and even who to hire. However, one dark cloud seemed to hang over our heads… constantly looming over every discussion and any question by outsiders… the dreaded NAME! So much is in a name, and we wanted the name of our organization to capture something of who we are and what we do. We went through rather technical names that sounded like a list of letters typed by my 18-month-old. And while those placeholders were descriptive, we all new that we would have to tackle the “name problem” eventually.

Fast forward to May 2013. Jim, Michael, Matt and I (along with our 7-yr old son also named Michael) had traveled to Centre Val Bio in Madagascar to spend some serious time working on our new NGO. Not only was this a great opportunity for the four of us to work on the NGO without distractions, but CVB had also arranged for a number of scientists as well as Malagasy officials from the Ministry of Health to participate in an Infectious Disease Workshop during our visit. As Jim departed out of JFK to head to Tana (I was arriving a few days later with our son), I gave him one final text message and told him to share it with Matt and Michael: “Nobody is going to board a plane home until we have a name!”

Once in Madagascar, we were all busy with meetings and rainforest hikes and late night brain-storming sessions. The end of our trip was rapidly approaching and the “name problem” hadn’t come close to being solved. So, the last night before Jim and Matt headed home, we had an idea. There was no better way to come up with a name than to gather together with the head Malagasy staff from CVB, throw in some THB (Three Horses Beer… basically the only beer in Madagascar), and figure it out.

I will never forget that evening, sitting on the veranda of NamanaBe Hall at CVB discussing cultures, ideas, and the goals of our NGO. In the end, we came down to two finalists, of which PIVOT was one. As a name, we liked PIVOT because it had the feeling of motion, a feeling that something was changing. We hoped that our NGO would come in and work with the community to break cycles and change the direction of health care in the area. PIVOT also translated nicely into French, and was easy to say in Malagasy. After a final vote in Benjamin’s hat we breathed a deep sigh of relief… we had a name!

I would like to thank Benjamin, Florent, Pascal, and Pat for a wonderful evening and also for their careful and insightful comments on names. And I look forward to all of the exchanges, discussions, and laughter that will come in the future!