In India, if you meet someone for the first time

you are more than likely to be asked a question that roughly translates to, “What is your good name?”

Despite the merriment this phrase could sometimes induce when we heard it in English – we Indians are a wicked lot, we make fun of almost everyone, including ourselves and our myriad accents – it’s a charming question.

First, because the questioner wants to know what your “real” name is, as opposed to your nickname.

The name your parents bestowed upon you at birth, signifying their hopes and aspirations for you.

And people want to do you the courtesy of addressing you by that name.

Second, because the inclusion of “good” in that sentence implies that your name is, indeed, good.

That you are blessed to have it, as opposed to just having a name instead of a number.

It seems to me that in public relations, everything we do for our organizations and/or clients is in pursuit of just that: a good name.

When we pursue relationship-building with our stakeholders, we’re trying to build goodwill through our outreach campaigns and programs.

We want people to feel good about supporting an organization, or doing business with a brand, or sharing information that might not have any direct benefit to them.

Because they believe in the overall “goodness” of that organization. It’s a name they feel comfortable being associated with.

And now, with social media, we’re extending that quest to the social Web.

After all, who wants to do business with a company that has a “bad” name? Or with a person whose reputation is dodgy? Who even wants to talk to someone like that?

When I woke up this morning

the headline that jumped off my screen was about a man who has been focused on redefining how we feel about the United States and its “good name,”among others.

Or, as the L.A. Times put it, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange arrested in sex case.

Regardless of whether you think Assange was right or wrong as far as Wikileaks goes, there is one thing that I don’t think can be questioned: he doesn’t have a universally “good name” any more.

Maybe you’ll associate his name with the underdog, the vigilante, righteousness.

But you might also associate his name with irresponsibility, self-righteousness, fanaticism.

I am not opining on whether or not what Assange did – as far as Wikileaks goes – was right or wrong. Enough people have already done that.

But I think it will be very, very hard for Assange to recover any significant amount of goodness to his name, at least in the short term.

If he hasn’t already taught us lessons on being prepared for the unthinkable, he’s teaching us all a very important lesson today, particularly those of us who work in the public relations business.

We only have one good name.

We need to treat it with respect.

Live up to – or exceed – it.

Because once it’s damaged, it’s so much harder to build back up to what it was, than if the damage hadn’t occurred, or been contained, in the first place.

Image: Heart Industry via Flickr, Creative Commons