Monday, May 23, 2011

What's in my name?

Recently, I’ve been reading Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing in an effort to figure out how I’m going to make sure Masks reaches the greatest possible number of eyeballs once it goes live in July. I’ve also had to go to a couple of social occasions where I’ve met new people and been asked to justify my existence. In my day jobs, I am an editor and a language-arts tutor, and since nobody really wants to hear my horror stories about comma splices gone wrong, the only interesting topic in my conversational quiver has been Masks, especially since my friends hype it so enthusiastically. This often ends with me passing out bookmarks or writing down the URL of this blog, and that of my not-up-yet-but-won’t-it-be-cool website,

At which point I get asked one question, so predictably that I can actually mouth the words along with my interlocutor:

“Where’s your name on all this? I don’t see your name anywhere.”

That’s right. You don’t see my name. My name will be on the next round of bookmarks, though not my full name—I’ve decided that, at least when I publish online, I’m going to go by R.M. Hendershot. But I’m not using that as my URL, my blog handle, or anything other than a book-cover ID, really.

Now, according to everything I’m reading in Guerrilla Marketing, I need to develop a personal brand and push it consistently. The simplest brand anyone can use is their own name—you’re the only you there’s ever been, and unless you have a really common name like Tom Smith, you can probably get pretty far on that brand without having to work too hard at associating yourself with it. And “Hendershot” is not exactly a common name, so why aren’t I using it more?

There are several reasons. In no particular order:

1. I pretty much hate my surname. It’s a bit weird, and rare, supposedly because it was originally a Middle High German word for a rear-guard unit who tended to get slaughtered when the rest of the army was in retreat. The story goes that anyone still alive who’s named Hendershot is the descendant of some of the toughest SOBs the German states could produce … but that’s why there are so few of us. I mostly know it as the name that causes total strangers to ask me if I’m a Nazi. (Only after they hear my name, though—I got my looks from my Jewish great-grandmother, and the resulting cognitive dissonance among very stupid people is often quite funny.)

2. I might change my name at some point, and having it in my URL then would be a pain in the butt. I was raised in a fairly conservative, religious family, and my father, in particular, has long waxed eloquent on the evils of feminism in all its forms, presumably including this shifty business of married women keeping their maiden names. (I think it’s perfectly reasonable, but that’s another blog entry.) I am single and have no plans to marry, but it’s not like what I plan and what happens have ever been similar. In a few years, I might well have a different last name. I don’t particularly relish the idea of picking a fight with my father—or worse, my hypothetical in-laws—over that name and why one version or another is not in my URL. This may sound absurd to people who live on the Internet, where you can call yourself Piffle the Wonder Unicorn if you want, but you would not believe the arguments I get into. If my URL is no particular form of my name, that’s one argument I can avoid. (The shouting matches about the name on my book covers, of course, are another matter—but you can’t have everything.)

3. My name is unspellable, and therefore un-Googleable. My own mother misspelled my first name on my birth certificate, and I’ve met only a few people in my life who could spell it correctly on the first try, or even the third. People consistently look at my surname and read it as “Henderson.” When my father was a boy, he was sent to the principal’s office for insisting that his teacher call him by his proper last name. (They finally settled the matter by calling his father in—from the local Army base. Captain Hendershot arrived in full uniform, with his name on his chest. The shouting match was memorable.) Now imagine trying to get teenagers all over the English-speaking world to type my name correctly into Google. I’ve had friends fail to find me online even when they had my legal, correctly spelled name to plug into a search engine. I have had trouble finding me on Google, and you’d think I could spell my name if anyone could. Give me a name people can spell, and Google, and look up on Amazon. If I must publish under my given name, I’m attaching a handle people can remember.

Which brings me to my primary reason …

4. Pocket Coyote is much easier to remember than any version of my name I’ve been able to concoct. It’s constructed of two common words that most English speakers can spell within three tries—particularly if they have any familiarity with my body of work. It’s a phrase that nobody’s using, aside from sellers of tactical vests who have a “pocket” model in “coyote brown” (note to tac-vest sellers: coyotes are mostly gray). The domain name wasn’t taken, presumably because nobody in the English-speaking world is insane enough to want to put a coyote in his or her pocket, except me. I give Pocket Coyotes away as prizes, and he’s become the mascot of this blog, so he’s obviously got more charisma than I will ever have.

And besides, he’s cute!

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