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Omicron, Delta and the Institutions That Share Their Names

It’s a strange time to work for Omicron Granite & Tile in Ohio. Or the Omicron Family Restaurant in Wisconsin. Or to be a member of one of the various fraternities, sororities and honor societies whose names feature an “Omicron” — maybe more so if there’s also a “Delta” in there.

In May, the World Health Organization announced that it would start naming Covid-19’s “variants of interest” after Greek letters. The policy was meant to simplify the technical names of variants and head off confusion caused by naming diseases after geographical locations. (The Spanish Flu, for example, did not actually originate in Spain.)

“Delta” is easier to remember than “B.1.617.2.” But if your business has an Omicron in its name, you might wish more people were talking about the B.1.1529 variant.

Dr. Harshil Shah, the director of Omicron Sensing, an electrical manufacturer in Mumbai, said that news of the variant has affected the company’s web presence. “Our name used to be on the first page when you search for Omicron,” Dr. Shah wrote in an email. Now, its website is buried behind page after page of news about the coronavirus pandemic.

Omicron Sensing is one of many organizations whose name was benign a few weeks ago but now calls to mind a highly transmissible variant of concern. Now, they are grappling with marketing strategies as they find themselves at a tangent to the biggest news story of the last two years: Covid-19 and its growing list of mutations.

The question is, do they embrace the connection?

Omicron Energy, a company that sells testing equipment for electrical systems, was so named because its founder, Rainer Aberer, thought Greek letters evoked technical expertise and mathematics. Today, a statement on Omicron Energy’s website reads: “There is nothing we can do about this hopefully short-lived connotation.” (The Omicron variant is being closely monitored; early data show that it is highly contagious but may cause milder symptoms than other variants.)

The Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity, one of several fraternal organizations that share a name with two Covid variants of interest, projected similar patience and stoicism in a statement, saying its members were “bemused at the coincidence,” but that its members “do not anticipate any change to the work we do.”

Epidemics, disasters and other tragedies have been known to give previously neutral names a sudden charge. Ayds, an appetite-suppressing candy, had been sold for decades before the AIDS epidemic turned its commercials into morbid camp artifacts.

At first, the company doubled down. “Let the disease change its name,” a spokesperson for Ayds told Advertising Age in 1986. But by 1988, its chairman told The New York Times that sales of Ayds had fallen by more than 50 percent.

Hurricane Katrina had a similar impact on the popularity of the storm’s namesake. Following the 2005 storm, the number of Social Security card applications for babies named Katrina dropped precipitously, according to government data.

And the CBC reported in September that some people who share a first name with Osama bin Laden are still feeling the personal repercussions 20 years after 9/11.

In the case of Omicron, some are meeting the naming overlap with benign curiosity or humor.

Tara Singer, the president and chief executive of the Omicron Delta Kappa honors society said that she wasn’t concerned about the public relations impact of the Omicron variant on her organization. “Delta Air Lines weathered this well, so we will, too,” she said in a phone interview.

Delta Air Lines is recovering from a serious, pandemic-induced decline in business (as is the airline industry in general). Still, the Delta variant was a tricky subject at the company. A spokesperson for Delta told The Times that, internally, employees often refer to “the variant” rather than invoking the company name.

The airline also responded with a bit of humor. Henry Ting, the company’s chief health officer, wrote on Twitter: “We prefer to call it the B.1.617.2 variant since that is so much more simple to say and remember.”

Ms. Singer noted that some Omicron Delta Kappa members have been having fun with the coincidence. She recalled hearing another member say that if a Kappa variant hits, “then I’ll go get a Corona beer.”

The Omicron Family Restaurant in West Bend, Wis., is taking the double puns of Omicron and Corona one step further. Last Friday, it began offering a bottle of Corona beer with a T-shirt that reads “I Got Corona at Omicron” for $15.

John Tsiampas, the restaurant’s manager, said he has noticed an uptick in foot traffic since the variant emerged. “Some will stay and eat, some just come for a photo and then they leave,” he said in a phone interview.

Mr. Tsiampas’s father and uncle opened the restaurant in 1990 after emigrating from Greece in the 1960s, and chose the name Omicron to honor their Greek heritage and to stand out from other restaurants.

While Mr. Tsiampas acknowledges that there is some baggage to the name today, he’s grateful that it was chosen over his father’s other top name choice: the Burning Bush.

“We were like, ‘Yeah, we’re not doing the Burning Bush,’” Mr. Tsiampas said. “We’d get too many comments about that.”

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