Monday, July 23, 2012

What's in a Name?

Time for a re-run. This post was first published as The Name Game in June of 2011, and I felt like being a lazy slob today think it'd be the perfect lead-in for my next planned post. Hope y'all find something here to make you smile.

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 or names matter?  Come across any doozies lately? Would you feel comfortable visiting a proctologist named Benjamin... Ben for short... Dover? 

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


  1. Names definitely matter. We are our names. That's why I'm so happy that you used my middle name in your post -- Boobs. I just wish my last name were Galore.


  2. An oldie but definitely a goodie. Fun to read again.

  3. Oh, Susan, these are classic. Where did you find these jewels? Each one is a blog post. This is great.

  4. A young English magician recently wrote a book called 'Cunning Stunts'.

  5. Oh, my gawd. I'm laughing so hard I can barely type. Thanks for the Monday morning pick-me-up! :)

  6. This was great. Pooh Gets Stuck is my daughter's favorite book. She always thought he should fart to get out.

    Can't wait to see what this has to do with Wednesday. *Ahem*

  7. Oh awesome!!

    Character names and book titles do make a difference. Although once your book lands in the hands of an editorial team at the publisher, your carefully selected title may end up on the scrap heap!

  8. '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.'

    I'm going to go out on a limb, here, and say that your perception of something
    actually changes its substance.

  9. Janie- Hey, you can always change your name. But I must warn you, with a name like that, I believe one is irrevocably locked into certain lines of work ...

    Arleen- Glad ya liked it. (And remembered it!)

    Cro- Not a bad title, actually.

    Linda- Nothing like starting the day off with a laugh. Well, there is, but this is a G-rated blog.

    Anne- HA! I promise, you'll come out smelling much better than a fartflower.

    Dianne- Ya kinda have to wonder where the editor was when some of the book titles in this post got the go-ahead.

    Suze- Interesting premise, and while I welcome the thought of having the ability to turn a turd into a piece of art by merely perceiving it thus, I cling to my old-fashioned notion that no matter how much you polish a turd, in the end, it remains a turd. (Although it's highly likely that I will continue to view said lump through the veil of positive, maybe even wishful, thinking.)

  10. That was a beauty... I had missed it before, so perfect. Gives me lots to think about. I must say, I was happy to change my last name when I got married from Balding to Martin. I don't think the Balding was doing me justice. :D

  11. Carrie- Ah, yes, I can see how that might be the case. Balding rarely does anyone justice.

  12. Barb- Ooops, somehow I missed your comment in the first read-through. Sorry about that. Let's see, where did I find these jewels? On my bookshelf, of course. Just kidding. I don't remember exactly where I found them, but it started with a simple Google search looking for something entirely different. (Ain't that the way?)

  13. LOL, good one. Reminds me of Monte Python's Biggus Dickus

  14. What a fabulous post, Susan! Thanks for the laugh. The book title/cover syndrome is similar to the wine name/label syndrome. Through careful and extensive research, I have found that if the label on a bottle of wine is pretty and the name sounds poetic, it will be a particularly nasty bottle of wine. On the other hand, ugly names and labels can be quite nice. A recent, pleasant discovery: Old Road Merlot.

  15. Delightful post, Susan. Good humor at a good time. Thanks!

  16. These titles are disgusting! And hilarious. Can't believe publishers went w/ these names. They are eye-grabbing though...I guess it was a marketing bonue. There is a kid's book called "Everybody Poops." I thought that was a bit icky, but these are worse. :-)

  17. I laughed out loud at The Pop-Up Book of Phobias.

    And yes, I think titles are sooo important.

  18. Mr. C- Always happy to make you LOL. (It's good for ya!)

    Fiona- You may have a point about the wine labels. Our daughter drinks some mighty strange ones. Seems to me one of them is called Fat Bastard. (cheeky stuff!)

    Geo- Thanks. Glad ya liked it.

    Mare- I did another post last year about some weird children's book titles, and some of them have a pretty high ick factor. My favorite was one called "Mister Poop"... or "Senor Caca" in its original version. The cover shows a "brown character" clad in golf clothes. Hilarious!

    Lynda- Glad to hear that title tickled your funny bone. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment.

    Y'all take care!

  19. Ha! loved pooh gets stuck - I think I even read that one!

  20. Marcy- I hope it wasn't too recently... (HA!)