What’s in a (nick)name?

posted by Edward Jones


The consequences of the loss of £2bn by JPMorgan Chase’s London office have continued to ramify. The US Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission have both announced that they intend to investigate the debacle which has inevitably led to calls for tougher regulation. The loss has also claimed its first victim in the form of the company’s Chief Investment Officer, Ina Drew, while serious questions have been raised about chief executive Jamie Dimon.

Meanwhile, eyes have also focused on the single trader regarded  responsible for the investments in unsafe credit default swaps. French trader Bruno Iksil, who worked in JP Morgan’s Chief Investment Office under Drew’s leadership, reportedly returned to his Paris residence on Friday while his employers struggled to deal with the financial, corporate and public relations storm he has created.

However, what truly captured the attention of the media was the epithet attached to Mr Iksil by fellow traders for the size of the deals which he carried out. The metaphorical ‘London Whale’ appeared to capture the imagination of the media much like his literal namesake did more than six years ago. Most of the major broadsheets pounced eagerly on the cetacean imagery, while the tabloids preferred Iksil’s other, more sinister nickname – ‘Voldermort’. Even the normally sober and reserved Financial Times couldn’t help but help but get involved by making a few distinctly fishy puns.

This certainly isn’t the first time nicknames in the financial services sector have captured the media’s attention. It wouldn’t be surprising if a significant proportion of the public were under the impression that the former head of RBS was called Mr The Shred given the media’s obsession with the epithet Fred Goodwin gained for his savage cost cutting. Figures with less notorious but equally amusing nicknames include Choc Finger, Chainsaw Al, The Gorilla. By contrast, the names of Jérôme Kerviel (whose rather boring ‘Five Billion Euro Man’ simply didn’t pass muster) or Kweku Adeboli (who failed on the nickname front altogether) haven’t lasted long in the public imagination despite the eye-watering sums they were responsible for losing.

Why do the media jump on these monikers with such gusto? Nicknames certainly add a splash of colour to what are rather complicated and dry stories involving incomprehensibly large amounts of money. Furthermore, the personalisation of such stories allows for an element of tangible understanding of a group of people whose lives are far abstracted from those of ordinary people but whose actions can have the most profound consequences.



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