Archive for September, 2006

How to Name Your Blog

Since I just joined the teeming masses who think that their personal musings are somehow worthy of being recorded for all the world to see, I thought it would be an opportune time to go all “meta” and tell you, in blog form, of how I came to name this blog.

Of course, I don’t think anyone really cares about the history of the name of this particular blog (such an interest would qualify a person as a ninth-level etymology weirdo), but in the process of naming my blog I had the chance to study a number of other blogs, and surveying the names of those blogs led me to discern a few principles that seem to be followed by lots of bloggers.

Please bear in mind that the principles I describe below are intended to apply to personal blogs of the “I’m Joe Schmoe and I have something to say” variety. Such blogs, much like this blog, have their author as their unifying theme, and are usually a collection of anecdotes, observations, rants and the like. When a blog has a consistent them or topic (e.g., “The Life and Times of the Patagonian Cavy”), it generally moves outside of the realm of the personal blog and into the realm of information resource in blog form.

Be Clever / Memorable

I have maintained elsewhere that your blog is not for you. If we accept this principle, it follows closely that you want your blog to be appealing to others, and there’s no better start to an appealing blog than a clever, memorable name. You want your name to show that you have imagination, depth, wit, pizzazz, humanity, and just a dash of flash, as this will clue potential visitors into the lurking avalanche of prescient content tucked beneath the title. (Too late – the name “imagizzazaniwitty” is already taken. Bummer.)

A unique, memorable name establishes street cred for a budding blogger no less than it does for a DJ or wrestler. (Yes, you will be in elite company.) Do you find “Joe’s Blog” tantalizing? (Umm, maybe I should edit that.) Probably not. Unless you boast some pretty serious name recognition (or a really, really cool name like “Spider”), a blog name based mostly on your name will be the start of an uphill battle. On the other hand, it’s tough to come across The Chronicles of Yarnia and not get a hankering for the clickety-click of knitting needles.

So, try to come up with a name that is both unusual and memorable. (Mister Mxyzptlk has an unusual name, but his name is so difficult to spell that it’s tough to find info about him even if you’re looking for him – I think he’s from eastern Europe somewhere.) Bonus points accrue if the name is somehow evocative of the content to be found in your blog, but for a personal blog this can be a tall order. The best bet is probably to focus on whatever is unique and unusual about you, and if you’re just a humdrum, run-of-the-mill schmuck like me, just make up some crazy crap like “Psychedelic Staplers” and go from there.

Project a Humble Nonchalance

It is of utmost importance not to come across as uppity, snobby, self-important, or anything else that would rankle the hoi polloi – er, valued guests – who will visit your blog. Your blog ain’t Shakespeare, and people don’t want to have to dress up to go there, forsooth. So, your blog name shouldn’t come across as too grave or weighty. For example, “The Mind of God as Relayed by Me” wouldn’t set the right tone. Keep it light – perhaps self-effacing or even slightly apologetic – making it clear that you don’t take yourself too seriously, and that you’re just dabbling in this blog stuff for fun. This will make your work seem friendly and approachable, and will also amp up the sweet irony when your incomparable wordcraft ultimately saves the world. (You knew it all along, you cagey dog, but you had to show us, for even had we been told we would not have understood.)

A good way to achieve a humble, endearingly scattered image is to affect a mild form of schizophrenia, and make it seem as though your blog is a just a happenstance collection of things that your mind threw up after eating a bad banana. Names like “Random Thoughts” achieve the right tone, as do amalgams that incorporate words like “Cacophony” and “Miscellanea.” The key here is to portray your blog as largely incoherent and unintentional, something that comes from you in pieces but isn’t quite your doing when considered as a whole – kind of like a mental sneezing fit.

Be Unique

Once you come up with an impossibly clever, spiffy name that perfectly crystallizes the essence of your blog and also offers rare insight into the very nature of blogging, humanity, and the universe, you will promptly find that numerous other people have thought of it first. Furthermore, at least one of these people will be so commonplace and/or disturbing as to make you reel in disbelief that both of you should have settled upon “Sledding with Sisyphus” as the heading under which to pour out your innermost thoughts. (You: “What does a Chechen cricket breeder know about Sisyphus?!!!”)

This isn’t good. Name collision invites confusion, and it would be disastrous to share your blog name with somebody else. To stand out and survive, you need a name that requires no qualification. Classical music aficionados know that an overmatched Mozart was repeatedly defeated in maestro battles by the ethereally gifted “Fred,” but only one of the combatant’s names has continued to be recognized throughout the centuries.

When I was trying to name this blog, I walked a similar path. As I labored to come up with names that seemed clever, memorable, and not too self-absorbed, I met with a number of failures on the uniqueness test. My frustrations are chronicled below.

Attempt 1: COSI – Cacophony of Self-Indulgence
Good idea: Demonstrates my recognition of the vanity and narcissism associated with blogging, while also incorporating a humble portrayal of my thoughts as discordant, and tying all of this up in a neat little acronym.

Bad idea: This name wasn’t taken, but I ultimately realized that it was a stupid, formulaic name with no soul. ‘Nuff said.

Attempt 2: MillionMonkeys
Good idea: You know – a reference most people would recognize, along with implications of random writing.

Bad idea: I quickly discovered that the world is positively lousy with blogs having similar names.

Atttempt 3: CleverName
Good idea: Here I go for an abstract approach – if you’re looking for a clever name and can’t come up with one, why not just be ultra-clever and name your blog “CleverName”? This would be all nice and multi-layered, kind of like a play within a play.

Bad idea: Alas, this parking space had already been taken many times over.

Attempt 4: Something with “Desultory” in the Title
Good idea: This could work – it would project the right kind of meandering aura, and I think people might unwittingly perceive it as sexy based on its phonetic resemblance to “sultry.”

Bad idea: This approach also turned out to be less original than any part of Joan Rivers’ façade.

Attempt 5: Stray Text
Good idea: References writing, and suggests a random disconnectedness that provides top-cover for freedom and exploratory whimsy. Also, arguably clever and not obviously used as a blog name before. Google reveals a few previous uses of the combination, but these aren’t really suggestive of any serious branding. The matching domain name is also available (which surprises me a little), and said domain name would also be appropriate for some future projects that I am planning. Okay, that’s the one.

Just Pick One, Already

Ultimately, I just went with Stray Text because it seemed to be good enough and I was tired of hunting around trying to out-clever myself. While your blog name is important, it isn’t everything, and ultimately people will judge your blog by its content. A good name can help you off to a good start, and a bad name could get you out of the blocks slowly, but in either case a good blog is a distance race, and your performance will be most influenced by what you put into it over time.

Your Blog is Not for You

I would like to dispense with a persistent pretension / fiction that circulates in blogworld – the “my blog is for me” myth. Believers of this myth will typically say something like the following:

My blog is for me – a space to explore my feelings, to work through my life and make sense of it. It is an exercise in self-discovery. I write what I want to write about, and if other people read it and get something from it, that’s great, but that’s not why I’m doing it.

Your blog isn’t mainly for you. The act of writing may be for you, and may bring you perspective / clarity / catharsis / whatever, but when you take your words and heave them up onto the Internet instead of keeping them in a private journal or scrawling them on your cell wall, you are doing that because your blog itself is a social device by which you hope to affect or interact with others. People’s motivations for blogging vary, but whatever their reasons, it’s not as though bloggers just happen to be keeping a collection of personal writings and couldn’t care one way or another if anybody else stumbles across those writings. They are leaving their writings out so that somebody else has a chance to pass by, leaf through them, and possibly develop an interest in them. Much like the neighbors who leave their shades up at night, bloggers want people to notice them.

People maintain the “my blog is for me” stance because they don’t want to deal with the pressure that would come from acknowledging to themselves and to others that they are in fact publishing for an audience when they push content into a globally accessible forum. If you believe that your blog is mainly for you and that you are largely indifferent to how it is received by others, this is probably because you want some emotional cushion in case people seem to dislike what you write, or worse yet, don’t notice it at all. If recognition and affect aren’t part of your recognized goals, then you’ll have no reason to feel badly if these aren’t achieved. If these do happen to come your way, you can nonchalantly say that you’re glad if somebody else likes your work, and then quietly savor your real feelings, both for the sake of decorum and as a hedge against the dreaded day when people might stop finding you interesting.

I’m starting this blog because I want to be interesting, and I will judge its success by the kind of interest it generates. (I’ll save the self-analysis of why I want to be interesting for another time.) I don’t really expect to be interesting, because there are lots of people out there doing this kind of thing and many of them seem more interesting than me, but I want to give it a shot, and I am prepared to fail if that’s in the cards. If I do fail to be interesting, then at least I’ll get a little practice writing, which is something I haven’t been able to do for a while.

Let’s see how it goes . . .