Names, a Scottish poet once said, cannot make heather bloom on bare, bald hills. That, of course, is not the sort of dour common sense that today's marketing wizards want to hear. Tweak the title, dream up a logo and, hey presto, an organ-isation can reinvent itself overnight. Never mind the flora of the Scottish Highlands, the new and exciting culture ushered in by a name switch will sweep the old aside.

Despite the intrinsic lack of logic, this marketing concept received a thorough workout from the last Government. There was the tinkering around the edges which saw the Statistics Department become Statistics New Zealand. We had the Museum of New Zealand test-driving 13 names before settling on Te Papa. Something along the lines of the British Museum would have been far too staid.

Then there were the dazzling exponents of the art of rebranding. At the start of last year, the Children, Young Persons and their Families Agency was born; nine months later, it metamorphosed into the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. The cost of the latest switch was $116,000, attributable to the likes of logo redesign, signage and new business cards. That, however, was a drop in the bucket compared with the $1.3 million spent by Work and Income New Zealand on advertising its new name and station.

And for what? This spending could not be a response to competitive pressures. Winz and the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services have no rivals; they are public services charged with welfare and employment roles. Regular instances of bungling suggest that a new name has done nothing to overcome the shortcomings of each department. It could not, for example, paper over the cracks in strategy which have helped to make Winz such a flawed agency.

The strength of logic and the evidence of experience have not, however, stopped this Government from indulging in yet more name changing. Thus, the Ministry of Maori Development is to become the Ministry of Maori Economic and Social Development. Will a new title really reflect the ministry's strengthened muscle and wider role in monitoring Maori projects?

A greater act of wishful thinking must be that which sees the Ministry of Commerce transformed into the Ministry of Economic Development. The new name - cost to the taxpayer $96,000 - is said by the Government to indicate the ministry's new activist role. And creating a whole new ministry would have cost far more. Never mind that the Ministry of Commerce would logically take on the task. This, however, is a ministry peopled by bureaucrats who have spent the past 15 years upholding the view that market forces should hold sway. It will take more than a new moniker to alter that mindset.

John Wayne, of course, did his movie career no harm at all when he switched from being Marion Morrison. But he did not suddenly develop a more manly character. He simply negated the advantage held by the Clints and Rocks of the movie world. Government departments are not driven by the same need. The public have to patronise their theatres of operation what-ever the name.