Time for a re-run. This post was first published as The Name Game in June of 2011, and I
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.
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.|
|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|
|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.