Sometimes in GCSE English you would get to the point where you would sit there and think, despite what Mr/Mrs XYZ has told you, “I’m pretty bloody sure this author didn’t actually decide to make that chair red so it would make us think oooh, red chair… red = blood and blood = violence so this suggests that someone’s going to have a bit of a physical row in a few pages time. Maybe they just really like red.”
But you’d go along with it anyway because whacking in a sentence in your exam about the connotations of colour would undoubtedly score you a couple of extra marks. Dead perceptive and that.
Despite this being a solid 90% of my attitude towards GSCE and degree-level English Literature (“Sprinkle in a bit of something about how effective it is that those two words start with the same letter… That’ll go down a storm!”) I think it is true that we take in so much of the meaning or inferences of language subconsciously. It’s just when it’s forcibly pointed out to someone that it feels a bit prescriptive – like every single person who reads this sentence or word will have the same thought, or be reminded of the same event, or take the same thing away from it.
In reality I think different people take different things from words, and even when an overall meaning seems pretty obvious (and it’s a good job that we all seem to understand basic, generic meanings – life would be a bit difficult otherwise), our subconscious can bring other ideas or emotions to the surface. We might not even realise that these words make us think of these other things – it just happens quietly, in the background of your brain. It’s like when you play word association – someone might come up with a word that you’d never think to relate to another. That’s just how our brains and different experiences cause us to link different things together. A nice example – here’s John Lennon playing a little word association game back in 1976. Looks like he struggled with “Elvis”.
When we think about this idea that single words have other associations for us, we can see how in relation to brands (specifically when it comes to brand names or straplines) they might affect how we feel about a business.
This happened to me fairly recently when I stumbled across a bakery while doing my usual stalk of food pictures on Instagram. I loved the name and in turn felt pretty good things about the bakery themselves, considering I’d never heard of them before – but I wasn’t really sure why. I just thought it was a really cool name, and in turn that the bakery must be pretty cool.
Image: The Dusty Knuckle Bakery
It kind of floated to the back of my brain for a while until I thought that I should maybe try and do a blog post about writing since that makes up approximately 50% of my job, but didn’t want to do something boring. It’s hard when you can’t shove in a load of nice pictures and call it a day.
So, in the English lesson tradition of over-analysing phrases, I had a think about why The Dusty Knuckle Bakery grabbed my attention the way it did – and had a go at working out at those little references my brain picked up just from four relatively short words.
I’m going to kick off with the way the words sound. Even though I wasn’t sat there reading my phone aloud, when you read you obviously pronounce the phrase in your head. And ‘dusty knuckle’ has a nice ring to it. I think this is probably due to the way the ‘du-‘ and ‘knu-‘ sounds repeat themselves – two little ‘uh’ noises. To name-drop a good old GCSE term, I’m pretty sure that’s called assonance. It’s quite a pleasing, almost sing-song kind of pronunciation that rolls nicely off your tongue, probably without you even really realising.
Now to the actual words themselves. Avoiding any Urban Dictionary type associations for everyone’s sake, “knuckle” feels a bit gritty, maybe even a bit scrappy. Like the old ‘knuckle sandwich’ idea. (If they don’t offer this as a special item on their menu, that’s a trick they’ve definitely missed). And then it made me think a bit of those classic ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed knuckles, which makes me think of trendy, creative (possibly slightly hipster) tattoos. All of this flows back to the business – they seem down to earth, genuine and creative. And “dusty” is soft and floaty, to calm down any of those more scrappy connotations.
And when you think about the two words together, it conjures up a classic bakery feeling of flour flying about. And the idea of one of their employees' actual dusty knuckles thanks to kneading the bread by hand is a lovely, genuine image – not all reliant on machines and mass-production. You think of hard-work, a labour of love – actual artisan, proper bread rather than a slice of Warby’s. In just a couple of words you get a snapshot of a behind the scenes moment from the business, that tells their whole story. It’s personal and relatable and not poncey or pretentious. It reflects the real people and hard work and appreciation of baking that all help to keep the bakery going. It’s a wholesome name that makes you feel warm inside and warm towards their business.
Even if absolutely none of this came to the mind of whoever named The Dusty Knuckle Bakery, it doesn’t really matter. Because that’s one of the interesting things about words – they make people think and feel things that a lot of the time they don’t even realise. But luckily, for me, it seemed to hit the nail on the head for what I would want from the name of a bakery. Even though I do think there’s a time and place for a bit of supermarket sliced white (mainly a bacon butty) I’d rather go The Dusty Knuckle.