Here’s another example of the power of a small message—of what my colleague Christopher Johnson calls Microstyle. It’s the story of how a blog name has evolved over time.
Nancy Davis Kho is a journalist and blogger whom I got to know on Twitter last year and then—because we discovered that we live near each other in Oakland—in real life, too. At the time, her blog was called Nancy’s Notes—a default name, Nancy acknowledged, because she hadn’t thought of anything better. She’d started the blog in 2007 as “a catchall,” she told me in a recent email, “with posts related to the novel I was writing, my tech reporting, Oakland news ... whatevuh.” “Nancy’s Notes” had alliteration going for it but not much else: it was a blank slate that communicated none of Nancy’s wit, energy, and writing skill.
By the time we first met face to face last year, Nancy had decided to give the blog a single focus: humorous personal essays. She was still stumped for a name, so I sent her a list of 14 brainstorming suggestions. The names of personal blogs can be idiosyncratic, even quirky, and my suggestions took full advantage. A sampling: Repurpose the title of a blog post (“How to Wake Up Early” was one that sounded promising to me). Lift a phrase from one of the search-engine terms that brought someone to your blog. (I offered a search term from my own blog: “Another Word for Nom Nom.” Hey, it could work.) Adopt an “endangered” word from Save The Words. (That’s how Divinipotent Daily got its name.) Play with your surname. (Kho-Conspirator? Bi-Khostal?)
One of my suggestions centered on “normal,” which is how Nancy often described her life, wryly but not inaccurately. She does fit a certain picture of normality: husband, two kids, dog, satisfying work, happy childhood. That’s the suggestion that clicked with Nancy, and she turned it into her new blog name: Normalarkey. As she put it in a September 2010 post (“Normal? Malarkey!”):
[A] single definition of “normal” is just malarkey. Cell phone use in a symphony hall, pitching coaches for 8 year olds, someone getting laid off with no severance after 17 years with his employer…the new normal is the old nutty, to me. Thank goodness for friends who react by saying, “Are you and I the only ones who aren’t crazy?”
“Normalarkey” was playful and inventive, like Nancy herself. It was pronounceable—the portmanteau’s two elements meshed effortlessly—and appropriate. Nancy’s Notes was retired; Normalarkey was installed.
There was just one problem, as Nancy discovered over the months that followed: Normalarkey may have been appropriate and pronounceable, but it wasn’t memorable. Nornalarkey? Nonalarkey? Norma Larky? Malarkey? Nancy found herself doing way too much spelling and explaining.
So a few months ago Nancy did something brave: she changed the blog’s name again. And this time she scored an unequivocal win.
Here’s how Nancy introduced Midlife Mixtape in June:
[T]his blog that I thought would be an ode to the absurd in everyday life (hence the amalgam of “normal” and “malarkey,” in case you wondered) has evolved into something more. It’s become a music blog, a parenting blog, a blog about working, a blog about modern life, a blog about my childhood family. In short, it’s a mixtape of what life looks like for a lot of us here at the midpoint, a blending of the demands of family, marriage, work, memories, with those things for which we’re still got some righteous passion – in my case, music in all its guises.
The meaning is right on target, but the name works for other reasons, too:
- Alliteration. In the name and also in the blog’s subject headings: Motherhood, Music, Making a Living, Modern Life, Memories, and Miscellany.
- Rhythm: “Midlife” and “mixtape” are both trochees (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable).
- Sonic balance: “Midlife” and “mixtape” both contain short /i/ vowels in their first syllables and long vowels in their second syllables.
- Positive incongruity: Midlife suggests gray hair and backaches. A mixtape is a collection of pop songs. The combination is just quirky enough to make you smile and pay attention. (Mixtape is incongruous for another reason—it’s a slight anachronism, having been replaced by the more digital “playlist.”)
Take a look, too, at the blog’s subtitle, an apt and witty complement to Midlife Mixtape: “The next one is my favorite…”
And here, from Nancy herself, is the best thing about Midlife Mixtape:
Whenever I uttered it at BlogHer last week, everyone got it right away, no further explanation needed.
Nicely named, Nancy!
Read about how my own blog’s name evolved from Away With Words to Fritinancy.