Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Name Game

Thought for the day:  It was a matter of destiny: the streaker's name was Seymour Cheeks.

Gildersleeve, Gildersleeve, wherefore art thou, Gildersleeve?

The fair Juliet declared, What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Easy for her to say. Do you think she would've been half as cavalier about the irrelevance of a name if she'd been saddled with an onerous moniker like Bertha or Broomhilda? And I ask you, could even the great Shakespeare himself have waxed poetic about a damsel in distress if her name were Boobs Galore? (Sincere apologies to any readers named Bertha, Broomhilda, or Boobs.)

Gertrude Stein said, A rose is a rose is a rose, and even good ol' Popeye said, I yam what I yam. If things ARE what they ARE, does it really matter a rat's derriere what you choose to CALL them?

Well, yeah. I think so.

Would a bouquet of roses bestow the same romantic connotation if they were called ... fartflowers? Or suppose that lovely bunch of Mums your beloved gave you were called ...  Ugly Mamas?

Ahhhh ... Smell the Fartflowers!
True, the name or description of an object can't actually alter its essential substance, but it can ... and does ... alter our perception of it. Intellectually, we may adhere to the adage, "Never judge a book by its cover," but in reality, we tend to do just that.

Consider this:

You're exhausted, and judging by the crowd in the doctor's anteroom, a long wait stretches in front of you. Standing on your aching feet is not an attractive option, and there are only two empty seats in the room. One is beside a shabbily-dressed old gentleman with shaggy hair and scruffy beard, who is slumped in his chair, muttering to himself. The other is next to a clean-cut, GQ-looking young man, who looks right at you and smiles. (Or for you men, a shapely young woman with a sexy smile.) Where would you sit? Not gonna pull any made-up statistics out of my (ahem) ear, but where do you think most people would sit?

It's human nature. And understanding that tidbit of human nature puts potential power into our hot little pen-holding hands. When a writer (or speaker) understands the basic concept of perception, he can use it to his advantage and manipulate the crap out of it. 

Take the example of the waiting room. Before a writer brings that poor unsuspecting foot-sore patient into that room, suppose he fleshes out the people sitting beside those empty chairs. Suppose the shabby-looking fellow is a sweet, gentle, lonely soul who's grieving deeply for his wife, and Mr. G.Q. (or Ms. Luscious) is an evil Jeffrey Daumer wannabe. How's that going to change the reader's response when the innocent newcomer considers sitting beside the Daumer copycat?

Titles, names, and appearances DO matter. All of them evoke involuntary psychological  responses, and when we have an active awareness and anticipation of those responses, we wield some control over them through the power of our words. A great book title has the potential to attract a casual browser. Ditto a great-looking cover. Character names carry a certain weight. Names can be perceived as weak, strong, silly, or whatever. Descriptions can be used to reinforce a stereotype, or to mask something shocking and unexpected. Subtle nuances of word choice evoke a huge difference in both perception and reaction.  

Or not. On one hand, I think word choice and title choice can make a big difference. But on the other, if the following book titles have been published (and they have!) maybe titles don't matter at all. Consider:

Beats exploding, I suppose.
Okeydoke, then.

About a master debater?

The only game our cats play is hide and go sleep.

the perfect gift for the grandkids?

guess you have to be Catholic first, right?

  The author's name should be Lucy Bowels.


there's a reason it's a lost art

um, why bother?

stool softener helps

no comment

not cuddly anymore, huh?

And here's some more actual book titles to consider:
  • The Pop-Up Book of Phobias
  • Scouts in Bondage
  • Be Bold With Bananas
  • 101 Uses for Tampon Applicators
  • Suture Self   (Now, I LIKE this one!)
  • How to Make Love While Conscious
  • Up Sh*t Creek: a collection of horrifying true wilderness toilet misadventures
  • The History of Sh*t
  • First You Take a Leek
  • The Romance of Proctology
  • Heave Ho: My Little Green Book of Seasickness
  • More Balls Than Hands  (ahem ... about juggling)
  • Postmortem Collectibles
  • Knitting With Dog Hair
  • Last Chance at Love: Terminal Romances
  • The Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
  • Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank and Other Words of Delicate Southern Wisdom
And finally, my own personal favorite:
  • Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Good-Bye

How about you? Do you think titles matter? Come across any doozies lately?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. That's quite the collection.

    your letters were...tormated...tormented by tomatoes?

  2. Well, I was looking for some summer reading. I have a long plane ride ahead of me next month; wonder what reaction I would get if I left one of these books on my lap for all to see. Possibly the person next to me would get up and change seats, then I would have more room.

  3. ROF,L! Oh, my. It's going to take me a while to stop giggling. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Susan, here's another whole set from Huffington Post. I laughed so hard I cried. Creepiest children's books ever:

  5. Hey, I like towel origami. Seriously.

    Question. Speaking of judging a book by its cover...if the library has two copies of a book, one with a boring cover and one with a glossy beautiful cover, am I the only one who chooses the book with the pretty cover?

  6. I SO want the "Pop up Book of Phobias" - that is going on my Christmas wish list.

    I laughed so hard. MUST HAVE. So useless, but so, so much fun.

    As for titles - try having Skippy as your nickname and being in a bad mood once in a while. It doesn't work out so well. People don't understand.

  7. I once heard a BBC radio play entitled 'I can't be ill, I'm a hypochondriac'. Nifty title.

  8. Hi, All. Thank you so much for your comments.

    Karla- Yeah, it seems there's a book on just about every subject imaginable. (You shoulda seen the books I DIDN'T include!)

    Starting Over- Hey, now THERE'S a plan!

    Linda- My pleasure. I live to make you guys giggle.

    Dianne- Thanks so much for that URL ... it provides good fodder for another post. Found some "great" Sarah Palin quotes on that website, too! You're my hero.

    Connie- Very cool on you doing towel origami. You should take some pics and post them on your blog sometime. As for selecting a book by its cover? All other things being equal, I'd pick the book with the nicer looking cover. (And the better title.)

    Skippy- In my next post, I'll include info so you (or anyone else) can order those books. As for not always feeling like living up to your nickname, I can understand. Being an optimist is the only way I'd want to be, but we optimists have crappy days, too.

    Cro- Love that title!

  9. Very clever! I especially liked the caption under Winnie The Pooh for stool softener! When I wrote about being trapped in the car, my first image was of getting stuck in the window like Pooh! Julie

  10. Hi, Susan, Just had to laugh my way through those titles! Too funny and very inventive of someone... Thanks for your continuing support...I have left a couple of blogger awards for you on my post for today. I received them from another blogger and am passing them on.
    Love, Ruby

  11. Hi! (I'm back from my trip). Those titles are hilarious!!!! One day, (if I'm really, really, really drunk), I may just share the original title of my book with the world and you can add it to your collection ;-)

  12. Hi, Julie. Glad you enjoyed it. Once those images of Pooh being stuck in a window get into your head, there's no getting 'em out. When ya least expect it ...

    Hi, Ruby. Glad to put a laugh into your day, dear lady. And I'll be by your blog to check out those awards asap. Thank you, dear lady. I do appreciate it.

    Hi, Sam. Hope you had a fantabulous trip. Oh now you've got me intrigues. Care for a glass of chianti ...???