Susan Underscore


UPDATE: April 24

For those with a bent for linguistic tidyness (rather than mere keyboard simplification) check this out.


From time to time one must consider changing one’s name. When I think about all the things you could change in order from “change most frequently” (say facial expression, posture, location) to “change least frequently” (say eye colour, leg length, laugh), I think name changing is down the “change least frequently” end. But, as a citizen of the modern world, that does not absolve one of the responsibility to consider the issue from time to time.

There are, of course, plenty of brightly-lit places you can go online to find out your Jedi name, your prison bitch name (clearly a highlight of the modern internet), your hip hop name, a hindu name you might like, your ninja name, or a random name from the United States census.

First name basis

But I think first, for some reason, of Blackadder. As Lord Melchett has it, “I say you are a weedy pigeon and you can call me Susan if it isn’t so.” Leaving aside the weedy pigeon part, and the fact that Melchett, admittedly while intoxicated, thought that being called “Susan” was a punishment, I think there are several good reasons to call oneself Susan:

  • It reportedly comes from some really old words that mean “lotus” or “lily”. Everyone likes a good flower reference.
  • It has a star-studded history and present. Not only is there Susan Boyle, of course, but also the absurdly foxy Susan Sarandon. Who could ever forget the Rocky Horror Picture Show? But don’t look at the the picture on her Wikipedia entry because it is not her best.
  • And Shel Silverstein wrote a song about a boy called Sue that Johnny Cash made extremely famous.

Wrap up

I assume you agree that we should dispense entirely with the middle-class pretension of a second name and instead leap to the nom.

As is well known, including by the sage people behind “neuroscience for kids“, it is hard to name the colour a word is printed in if that word itself is a different colour. So it is tough to name the colour of BLUE (and not say “blue”).

This, of course, makes me think about how much easier it is to recognise some symbols that to say what they are. Amongst them must be all those occasionally extremely-helpful keys on your keyboard, viz: forward and back slash (\ /), greater and less than signs (> <), the two forms of colon (; :), hyphen (-), and the three types of brackets ({}[](). So tiny in themselves. Just one little byte. But so long to describe.

And out beyond those, there are the keys whose names are more mysterious, and whose reason for even being on the keyboard is uncertain: carat (^), tilde (~), pipe (|), and back quote (`), although I am sure each has their own enthusiastic, if modestly sized, group of adherents.

I predict the keyboard will be gradually rationalised. And when the revolution comes, some keys will be just immediately chopped, some will be on the bubble (perhaps left on for another few years to prove their worth), and the rest will be retained until the next linguistic revolution.

Some keys (notably @, ., :, and /) have got a new lease of life from the internet. Lucky fellows indeed. The web has also helped boost ), -, : and ; with emoticons (which raises the question of whether emoticons are universal and I could have an emoticon “conversation” with someone in China without a common traditional language, but that is a digression for another day)

The French also do a good job of helping along the comma since they use it instead of a decimal place in their numbers, but its place was secure in any case.

I reckon the four truly odd ones (`~|\) are not long for this world. We can probably also dump {, }, [ and ] without any trouble. On my keyboard they have foolishly grouped themselves in pairs onto four keys – they would have done better to split up and share space with a more popular key. ^ shares the 6 on my computer, which means that its future is probably secure. Plus the fact that we would have to find another symbol for “to the power of”, which would be a hassle.

On the bubble for inclusion or otherwise is my actual favourite, and therefore my proposed last name, _. The underscore:

  • It is creative, as in musical score.
  • It is well-supported, as in underwire.
  • It relates to a band that a friend of mine plays with from time to time, the Underscore Orkestra
  • It is important for emphasis in text, as in underline.
  • It is under-utilised, under-appreciated and misunderstood. So it needs all the support it can get.

PS There are also odd things like elipsis that aren’t on the keyboard as a single key, and must find themselves sorely under-used as a result, but that is for another day. I note in passing that Jane Amazon Ellipsis would also be a Very Good Name.