What’s in a name?

Peter Bohlin
Glenn Murcutt
Renzo Piano
Samuel Mockbee
Michael Graves
Fay Jones
Philip Johnson
Richard Neutra
Alvar Aalto
Walter Gropius

What do these people have in common? Yes they have all been awarded the AIA Gold Medal “in recognition of a significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture” – but I’m not interested in that and it’s not what I am talking about. No, the correct answer is that none of them are named ‘Bob’.

Should I be worried? No disrespect to all the other Bob’s that are out there but can you really be that good of an architect when your first name is Bob? A certain amount of evidence exists that is not in our favor. Dating back to 1907, there has never been a Gold Medal winner whose name was Bob. What about the architectural equivalent to the Nobel Prize, The Pritzker? Nope – not a Bob to be found. We did get Robert Venturi in 1991 but he’s a Robert and not a Bob. From what I understand, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used to call him Bob but they didn’t like each other and I think it might have been meant as an insult. (I’d ask Mies if he were alive and I could …. but he probably wouldn’t have accepted a phone call from a ‘Bob’)

Richard Meier
Hans Hollein
Kenzo Tange
Fumihiko Maki
Tadao Ando

These guys have all won a Pritzker Prize…seriously? Fumihiko?? You would think the law of averages – considering the number of Bob’s walking around compared to Fumihiko’s – that there is one great architect out there that actually goes by Bob. Robert A.M Stern doesn’t count – as soon as I see Bob A.M. Stern turn up in a Google search or it gets printed on a book jacket can we add him as inaugural member #1 to the “Architect Bob” list. Until then? Hrmmph.

To a certain degree I think there are no Bob’s that are taken seriously because Bob is such a casual sort of name – reserved for comedians and uncles. If I were to ask for a show of hands on how many Bob comedians you knew or how many of you have an Uncle Bob somewhere in your family, the percentages I’m sure would be quite high. I’ve never had a nickname in my life that didn’t include Bob in it – Dr. Bob, Captain Bob, Oh Crap Here Comes Bob, etc. It would have been cool to have a nickname (suitable for public use that is – Big Daddy doesn’t count) *sad face*

Is my name holding me back? Should I go by Robert instead? If I do some mental role playing (something that happens a little to much) and do a compare and contrast, maybe you’ll understand what I mean:

Quick! Get Bob on the phone – the toilet’s leaking!

Quick! Get Robert on the phone – the stock market is crashing!


This is serious, we’re almost out of beer … get Bob to deal with this

This is serious, we’re almost out of money … get Robert to deal with this


Hey Bob, would  ’ya you gimme the mustard?

Pardon me Robert but could you pass me the Grey Poupon?

See what I mean?

The main problem might be that I see myself as a Bob and not a Robert. I don’t think the quality of my work is affected based on how I sign my name but …wait a minute … I actually sign my name Robert, not Bob. The name on my architectural seal is Robert and not Bob.

Crap. Identity crisis in 3 … 2 … 1 …

From now on, let it be known that I shall be known as El Presidente or Captain Awesome – (your choice). And if we are really good friends you can even call me Big Daddy in public. When things get serious and I become elected as President or appointed as the Ambassador to Norway, I will start calling myself Robert and everyone else can just call me Sir.

Original article: What’s in a name?

Cite: Borson, Bob. "What’s in a name?" 09 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=168023>
  • Vito M

    hard hitting architecture journalism this is… :/

    • brb001

      Yep, another piece of navel gazing schlock.

      ArchDaily does some things well…but they really need to tighten up their editorial vision or they’ll become the biggest joke in the profession. That is, if they are not already there.

  • Erik

    You need to add Bob Berkebile to your list of Great Bobs in Architecture.

  • Anthony

    I’m an Anthony, and I’ve always envied those with a straight-up name that works well at the pub, but I guess if you want to look at the artistic merit in the name bob, you could look to Bob Dylan (once Robert Zimmerman) or Bob Marley. Go forth Bob. Be the first. And it might help with your humility once you’re shamefully famous….as famous as an architect can be anyway.

  • godryk

    This article reminded me of my school days when some architect would call some famous colleague with such a nickname (like ‘Nacho’ instead of ‘Ignacio’ or ‘Paco’ instead of ‘Francisco’). They just wanted to show familiarity with these bigger names, but I remember that it sounded sacrilegious to my young ears.

    I’m pretty sure some of them were called by nicknames in familiar circles, but none of them used those nicknames in magazines, books and lectures.

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  • joe

    Bob Venturi.

  • ethan

    bobby venturi indeed

  • danez

    Bob the Builder :)

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