What’s in a (candidate’s) name?

Every campaign season, I become a bit fixated on all of the lawn signs (bumper stickers, etc.) proudly broadcasting candidates’ names. Not their accomplishments, not their credentials, just their names. And maybe even a schnazzy design!

Sometimes it’s because they’re hilarious: a personal favorite from Columbus, OH in 2008 said simply “Serritt [Sherrit?] has Merit.” For whatever reason, that cracked me up; it seemed to say simply, “S/He’s okay. Worth considering, anyway.” Then again, I just checked “merit” the Oxford English Dictionary, and it turns out s/he was actually making a pretty good claim to excellence, entitlement to gratitude or reward… and/or “quality (in actions or persons) of being entitled to reward from God.” Impressive. I take back my mockery.

But still (and apologies for the Seinfeld-ism): What is the deal with all of these names plastered all over every neighborhood? Has anyone ever seen one of these signs and thought, “You know, that’s really persuasive. I’m going to vote for that guy.” or “That name sounds trustworthy and intelligent — and look at that innovative use of red, white, and blue! She’s got my vote.” or even “Well, if all of these strangers who live around here think that’s the right choice…”?

I guess there’s some hope that familiarity breeds comfort or that perceptions of popularity breed actual popularity. In theory, that makes sense… though I remain skeptical. Especially when opposing candidates’ names appear alongside each other’s…

But then again, name recognition might backfire when people are fed up with all of the campaign materials — someone’s name plastered all around town can seem pretty invasive and obnoxious. While waiting (for hours) to vote early this morning, I chatted with other voters about whether the campaign supporters waving signs and shouting their candidates’ names would actually alienate people right before they step into the polls. If I’m standing online (for hours) to vote, chances are I’ve already made up my mind. And that you’re annoying me.

I’m genuinely curious: Does anyone know whether this name-inundation “works”? And at accomplishing what, exactly? Generating awareness and conversation? Accumulating actual votes?

It’s probably very lucrative for sign-makers. Otherwise, it just seems wasteful in so many ways.