Since middle school, most of us have hesitated to let other people give us names. Name-calling is a basic tool in the toolbox of bullies and leaders of cliques. And even though our parents mostly gave us nice, socially-acceptable names, we still tried on a few nicknames as teenagers. Going to college often means that, for once in your life, you get to shed your previous identity and form a new one, often with a different name than you were called at home or in high school. There’s no feeling quite like the realization that you are suddenly free to choose your own name.
As an English professor, I spend a lot of time thinking about names–what they communicate to others, how they shape our identity, and even how they can conceal things about us. And as a writer of articles and blog posts, I have also had to face the fact that I am singularly bad at coming up with good titles for what I’m writing. In other words, I struggle to give my work a name that is both accurate and evocative.
When I first started selling wooden spoons at local craft markets, I struggled to come up with a name for my little enterprise. I already had “The Literary Workshop” attached to this blog, but that would have been misleading for a one-man outfit that sells handmade kitchenware. (In retrospect, “Literary Workshop” sounds more like a creative writing group than a woodworking blog, but that doesn’t really bother me. Much.) I sketched out a few different titles for the business, and I eventually settled on “Schuler Woodenware.”
As a name, “Schuler Woodenware” worked okay. My last name was there, and I thought “woodenware” (which is not actually a recognized word in most dictionaries) described the kinds of things I made to sell. I owe the word to Whetstone Woodenware, a small, commercial maker of wooden spoons in northern Indiana near where I went to college.
I’ve used the name for the last nine years, yet I am sometimes slow to see (or hear) the obvious. When I pull up my van at a market, I never hear “Oh, there’s Schuler Woodenware!” Nope. The name has not stuck. Do you know what everyone calls me? “The Spoon Guy.”
“Oh, The Spoon Guy is here!” says every market organizer. “I was hoping The Spoon Guy” would be here,” says the happy, repeat customer. I should have given in and adopted the name officially years ago.
“The Spoon Guy.” It’s not a fancy name, but it sure is descriptive. It communicates exactly what I make to sell.
So after several years of being known informally as “The Spoon Guy,” I’ve decided to accept the name. I’m not doing away with Schuler Woodenware entirely, but I’ve decided to make “The Spoon Guy” a part of my signage. It’s now on my display table sign, and on my business cards.
The larger lesson in all this, I think, is that it really is okay to let others give you a name–provided that the name communicates something good and true. A good name is often earned, but it’s also a kind of gift. A good name comes from people recognizing who you are. And hopefully, in receiving a good name, you come to recognize yourself in it, too.
“The Spoon Guy.”
Yep, that’s me.
I don’t know whether it’s been considered but I think the term, treenware, can make your items stand apart from those of the bandsaw boxmakers and the guys who spray lacquer on western red cedar
I’ve seen the term “treen” and “treenware” tossed around on the blogs and social media groups. It’s a descriptive name for sure, but I think it’s one of those words that’s a little more common in the UK than in the US. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a customer refer to my work as “treen.”