Branding: It’s Not Just for Cows Any More

Before launching into the post, a definition of terms:

brand

noun

1. kind, grade, or make, as indicated by a stamp, trademark, or the like: the best brand of coffee.
2. a mark made by burning or otherwise, to indicate kind, grade, make, ownership, etc.
3. a mark formerly put upon criminals with a hot iron.
4. any mark of disgrace; stigma.
5. branding iron.
6. a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic:
The movie was filled with slapstick—a brand of humor he did not find funny.

*****

In such moments of doubt, I look to history for reassurance. It’s always comforting to be reminded that literary whoring — I mean, self-marketing — has been practiced by the greats.

~ Tony Perrottet, “How Writers Build the Brand,” NYT Sunday Book Review

***

The Waller Brand. © MK Waller (Yes, that is a blanket used as a drape.)

When I think of brands, I think of Opal the White-faced Hereford.

She was big and sleek and fat, the only registered cow in the Waller herd, and the best escape artist in the history of cowdom.

No matter how strong the fence–heavy cedar posts, six strands of barbed wire, stretched tight, a barricade I couldn’t get through without a follow-up of iodine and gauze–she broke out. How the beast breached the barricade was a mystery and remained so for a long time.

Finally she slipped up, as bovines sometimes do, and busted out while my father was watching. He said she just lay down beside the wire and rolled under. A regular Hairy Houdini.

To her credit, she never fled, nor did she meander into the neighbor’s maize, but grazed beside the narrow lane between the fence and the property line.

Nevertheless, since cows are capricious, my father bought a brand. In my honor–and because technically Opal was mine–he chose a K.

“chisholm trail 2” by S. J. Driscoll is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I hasten to say the branding was nothing like you see on Rawhide. He did not restrain Opal, stick the iron into a blazing fire, and sear her hide. After repeatedly shooing her back through the gate, he probably wanted to, but he didn’t.* He merely dipped the iron into an acid designed for the purpose, walked up to her, patted her on the back, and pressed it against her hip. The acid ate the hair and killed the follicles, so she was left wearing the initial. Maybe she itched a for a few days, but that was nothing compared to what the barbs must have felt like.

The K didn’t keep her confined, of course, but it made her easier to spot if she ever decided to widen her social circle.**

Well, anyway, when I think of brands, I think of Opal, or did until the writing thing came along–and I learned I must have a brand so readers can identify me.

The prospect wasn’t pleasant. I felt like a box of Kleenex.™

But it had to be done, so finally I’m designing my brand.

Unfortunately, the K won’t do. I mean, it really won’t do. When I put MURDER ON WHEELS (see sidebar) on Goodreads, I was immediately confused with a different Kathy Waller. That required some straightening out. Googling Kathy Waller brings up a multitude of people I’m not, including the EVP and CFO of the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO). (I wouldn’t mind being the EVP of Coca-Cola, but the company would.)

Officially, I’m a Mary Katherine, so I have options. Mary Katherine isn’t one of them. In the early years, I liked it just fine, but lately I’ve heard, “Are you a nun?” often enough not to want it hanging around.

“Lone Star Attitude – DFW” by kathywd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

People who don’t know me well, and some who do, call me Mary, so when I hear that name shouted out in a doctor’s waiting room, I answer, but it’s still a little foreign. I sign Mary K., a name I’ve come to despise, in part because it’s sometimes confused with Mary Kaye and I have to get that untangled, but mainly because Mary Kay makes lipstick and I don’t.

Once again, Google proves its worth. M. K. Waller brings up only one other person with my initials. That’s good.

When I search for MK, Google thinks I mean MK Wallet and pulls up only Michael Kors, which appears to be more of a business (jet set luxury: designer handbags, watches, shoes, clothing & more. Receive free shipping and returns on your purchase). That’s even better. But I don’t like the way it looks on the page.

So I’ve settled on M. K. 

The name chosen, I changed the theme–appearance–of the blog. I wanted to change it anyway, because I was tired of the previous one, and it seemed best to make one smooth transition rather than two bumpy ones. I’m not sure about the new theme. I may change it again, but M. K. will remain.

There’s one more aspect of branding I’m still ruminating** over, so I’ll leave it for another time.

I’ll add, however, that I first ran across the word ruminate in a line from James Thomson’s “Winter”:

The Cattle, from th’untasted Fields, return,
And ask, with Meaning low, their wonted Stalls;
Or ruminate in the contiguous Shade . . . 

In the context of the poem, ruminate means “to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed :  chew the cud.”

And I complete this post by circling back to the beginning, starting with cows and ending with cows, and thus preserve the unities, as every writer, duke, and scoundrel knows is proper.

*

P. S. What do you think of the new design? Both positive and negative comments are welcome. I need to know. The page I’d like feedback on is here: http://kathywaller1.com

***

* If he’d threatened to brand her the old-fashioned way, I would have cried and that would have been the end of that. (Maybe.)

“Cows at the County Fair 1” by Laura Ritchie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

**In fairness, I add that Opal wasn’t the only one who*** got over the wall. Clyde Barrow escaped a couple of times. But he was a Holstein and flew over the fence, as Holsteins are often wont to do, so there was no mystery. We would have been surprised if he hadn’t.

The animals in the photograph are cows, not steers, and they might not be Holsteins, but they’re black and white, and they’re sweet, and I have poetic license, so I ask you to suspend disbelief for the moment.

*** My animals are who, not that

6 thoughts on “Branding: It’s Not Just for Cows Any More

  1. I went through a similar process when thinking about how to identify my ‘brand’ self as a writer. Like you, my first name was reminiscent of the religious order, and my mother claimed to have named me after a certain Sister Mary Ellen. Needless to say, that was out. So M.E. it was. I think the MK is great, and love the design!

    Like

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