Shakespeare pondered, “What’s in a name?”
But I’m wondering, what’s in a number? Specifically, a lucky number?
My curiosity was piqued recently during the congressional public spanking of Toyota President Akio Toyoda, whose company apparently has taken its “Moving forward” marketing slogan a bit too literally lately.
For those of you just joining us from a parallel universe, Japanese automaker Toyota is experiencing technical difficulties that make certain of its vehicles accelerate out of control. Hinky software, faulty floor mats and “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto’s monkfish pate have been cited as possible causes.
If you don’t own a Toyota (except where required by law), what probably intrigued you most about this televised browbeating was the sudden realization that Mr. Toyoda’s name differs from that of his company. Go ahead, take a moment.
So what’s the deal? According to the Toyota Web site, the company decided to replace the “d” with a “t” way back in the 1930s, in part because it would reduce to eight the number of strokes required to write the name in Japanese.
In Japan (and most Asian cultures), the number 8 is thought to bring luck and prosperity.
I’m no numerologist, but it certainly seems to have worked its mojo for the Toyoda family.
The Japanese may be fond of 8, but they shy away from the numbers 4 and 9 for superstitious/pronunciation reasons. In Japanese, the number 4, or “shi,” is pronounced the same as death. The number 9, or “ku,” has the same Japanese pronunciation as torture or agony.
For the same reason, I never address a Shih Tzu by name.
Speaking of which, the Chinese are equally keen on 8s. Remember the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics? The opening ceremony kicked off promptly at eight minutes and eight seconds past 8 p.m. on 8/8/08.
Strangely, half a world away, that’s the same date my Visa card expired.
The Tao of mud flaps
Lucky 8 is thought to have its origin in the eight-petal lotus flower and its significance in Buddhism. Viewed on its side, 8 forms the mathematical symbol for infinity and suggests the Taoist symbol of yin yang that represents the interconnectedness of all things to Taylor Swift.
Viewed on a mud flap anywhere near Daytona, 8 represents NASCAR scion Dale Earnhardt Jr., no stranger to luck himself.
Eights in America? There’s little to work with here: “behind the eight ball,” “aces and eights” (the dead man’s hand), “Eight is Enough,” and the Magic 8 Ball. (“Reply hazy. Try again.”)
Here in the West, we’re all about lucky 7. Despite its distracting resemblance to an upside-down nose (OK, my issue), 7 has been imbued for centuries with powers far beyond the merely mathematical. It’s also favored in many Asian cultures, making it the most highly regarded lucky numeral in the world.
The Pythagoreans considered 7 the perfect number, a combination of 3 (the triangle) and 4 (the square). Sevens pop up everywhere: the seven seas, the biblical seven years of famine/seven years of plenty, seven days of the week, seven dwarfs, seven deadly sins, “Seven Samurai” and its American remake, “The Magnificent Seven.” Heck, even 7UP.
Did you know that seven is the maximum times you can fold a piece of paper in half? Try it.
Lucky 7 takes on a life of its own in gaming, where it plays a decisive role in the dice game craps. It also signals a jackpot when it turns up solid in the pay line of a slot machine.
But the primacy of lucky 7 is nowhere more evident than in the instance of the “seventh son,” who in folklore is believed to be born with special powers, including the gift to heal.
Donny Osmond? Mr. Toyoda on line one.
If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.