What's in a Name?
by Jeff Henderson·
Back in the olden days a rite of passage was getting a check book for your bank account. I was officially a teenager and my mother wanted me to learn the official practice of writing someone a check. I could barely write in cursive and now I needed to connect my failure to my money.
When Jeanette saw me print my name she flipped out. For starters she thought I would never be able to function as an adult if I couldn’t accurately write my name in cursive. Like an adult.
That would have made sense if I hadn’t watched my brother — the doctor — sign his name in an unintelligible scribble that had no DNA to his real name.
You also have to understand that my mother’s and my grandmother’s handwriting belonged in art museums. Her cursive was from a calligraphy typewriter and every letter was perfect.
Me? Not so much.
But one day in 10th grade I spent an hour drawing my signature. I practiced and practiced until I landed on five perfect strokes. There was more of a resemblance to reality than my brother’s signature, but nothing close to my mother’s artistry.
Over the years my signature has gotten cleaner, but it’s always been meaningful to me.
My mother’s concern over my lack of cursive integrity proved unnecessary as the world turned digital, but my care for an expressive sign-off remained. I needed something in 1’s and 0’s that was original.
Thanks to BDP I learned that my initials — JAH — has a meaning. In high school I would sign my work JAH RULZ. Toward the end of college I became less brash and softened it to jah bless. I then signed off all of my Georgia Tech emails with the same combo. I even purchased the url jahbless.us for my personal email and work.
When I landed in Nike I continued the signature for seven years without anyone questioning it.
Until I landed in Japan and my new boss thought the signature was too religious to use in work email. He was right but I had a seed for my new signature.
Somewhere in my fourth year in Nike I became jaded and disenchanted about the politics of the place and frustration at my personal growth. At some point I let that bitterness out in a meeting with Tinker and he let me get it all out before smiling and saying, “It’s okay to get upset and fight for something, but no one wants to work with someone who’s always bitter.”
I took that to heart and developed two speeds at work. I was either super optimistic and positive or I was cold and heartless. No middle.
But if you ever worked in a giant corporation you know that staying positive in the depths of beaurocracy and ego is difficult some days. Mix that with the passive aggressive nature of the Pacific NW and it’s emotional calculus.
That passive aggressive nature was magnified in email form. Context and content made for uncomfortable conversations when done over email. In Running our Director attempted to institute ‘no email hours’ to improve a hostile design vs marketing relationship by forcing us to speak to each other. That didn’t actually work — a fun art project did — but his heart was in the right place.
For me, signing-off emails that artfully told folks things they didn’t want to hear with jah bless meant that I needed to close my correspondence with something positive. I had to end with a smile because either a) I actually meant the happy notes or b) the sarcasm drip was top shelf Pacific NW.
Either way, I kept the convo upbeat. That sign-off helped me rethink my words.
I needed a new sign-off and I needed something positive to keep me in line. I needed something good. Something good.
I said I’d try it out for a week and 15+ years later I’m pretty sure I’ll keep it.