The announcement was so made so quietly that one might even call it stealthy – or perhaps covert. Over the long Presidents’ Day weekend, when people were distracted, busy with Valentine’s Day, and generally thinking about whether they would have jobs to come back to, the military contractor Blackwater officially changed its name to Xe. In a note to employees, president Gary Jackson said the name change reflects the company’s new focus, and he indicated Xe would not actively pursue new security business. One wonders how far away from the security business Xe would need to get in order to escape its reputation for lawlessness, arrogance, and needless violence. Perhaps they plan on opening a rescue center for really cute animals, like pandas and polar bears.

According to the AP report, “Xe” is supposed to be pronounced “zee”; an op-ed in the LA Times suggests is might be named for the element xenon, one of the noble gases. Do they mean to suggest that they are colorless, odorless, and heavy? That they are generally unreactive? That they have 54 protons? That they make a really bright light? Honestly, I can’t imagine why they chose this name, since xenon, while quite useful for lasers, ion propulsion engines, and medical imaging, isn’t much to write home about. And if they’re trying to interpret the word “noble” in a non-chemical way, they are dreaming. Blackwater = noble? NOT.

It’s likely they were just trying to pick something meaningless and kinda cool, a name that had no relationship at all to security, wars, and, er, murder. It’s short and distinctive, for sure, but unfortunately they don’t own the exact .com domain (xe.com is a handy currency exchange site – I have it bookmarked). Unfortunately, I think they chose something so distinctive that no one will ever forget that they are the Outfit Formerly Known As Blackwater.

I personally got a big laugh out of this name because in science fiction/internet circles, “xe” is often used an a gender-neutral pronoun, as in “Xe laughed” or “I wonder if xe can join us for the chat” – a necessity when communicating online where gender is often (deliberately) blurred or hidden. Maybe by choosing Xe, the Blackwater fellows are really trying to tell us that they’re transsexual Star Trek fans. (I hope that’s not true – it would give a bad name to transsexual Star Trek fans everywhere!)

Name Grade: D+