I’ve been fielding (pun intended) a lot of questions recently about why cows feature so much in my Tweets and visual identity. People seem genuinely baffled by it, until I refer them to my surname, which is Metcalfe. You know, Met -CALF-e? See what I did there? This blog post is a musing on visual identity and whether you can be too subtle, plus the origins of my surname.
In my previous blog post, Twop Twitter Twips for Tweeps, I said that:
Everyone needs a “gimmick” to stand out from the Twitter crowd (or should that be herd). My gimmick is the cow theme that runs through my Twitter and other social media channels, both visually and through puns and emojis. My surname is Metcalfe. Geddit?
Whilst this might not be to everyone’s taste, feedback given so far has been positive, and it gives another dimension to my Tweets and acts as a visual shorthand for brand recognition.
Whilst it seems obvious to me why I have cows as my visual identity – my logo is a stylised, minimalistic, almost tribal, cow graphic (which would make a cracking tattoo):
and I pepper my Tweets with pictures of and visual references to cows – the number of people who’ve asked me why recently has led me to think on.
Am I being too subtle with it? Am I being too obvious? Am I overdoing the cow references? Does it help or hinder my business? Do people like it or hate it? Is it me, or them?
Being prone to excoriating self-analysis, this sort of thing keeps me awake at night.
Feedback I’ve received so far has been positive though:
- People like cows
- People like the fact that I use cow imagery
- People like me and my business
- People say keep doing what you’re doing
All good. Validation from people really helps. Everyone needs some encouragement every now and then.
When individuals engage me in face-to-face conversation about it, I explain where the name “Metcalfe” comes from and the cow/calf connection. The story may be apocryphal, but it goes a little something like this. I quote at length from a great article on the legends and traditions of Yorkshire:
Take, for example, the story which explains the meaning of the name of Metcalf*, one of the oldest families of Yorkshire, of whose more ancient members it is recorded that one was High Forester of Wensleydale in the time of Richard I., that another fought at Agincourt, and that a third, when High Sheriff in the time of Queen Mary, met her judges at York with a cavalcade of three hundred attendants of his own name all mounted upon white horses of the Wensleydale breed.
In the Saxon time, when Wensleydale was a large forest, the dales- men of Rydale were thrown into a perfect panic by the hearing of strange sounds in a wood not far off, and the seeing of what seemed to be strange animals in the twilight.
In this emergency, a meeting of dalesmen was held, when the sug- gestion was made that two of their number should proceed to the wood and unravel the mystery. Oswald, an unmarried man of some position, volunteered for the service, and after a little hesitation, Wilfrid, another landowner, consented to join him.
Armed with boar-spears, the two men started on what seemed a perilous mission. By-and-by a sound was heard, which Wilfrid affirmed to be the roar of a lion, and finally an animal was seen moving slowly towards them.
Exclaiming ” It is a lion ! ” Wilfrid threw down his hunting-spear, fled through the wood, and on reaching the village, informed his fellow- dalesmen that he had seen an enormous lion, which was doubtless devouring Oswald by that time.
Oswald, however, proceeded cautiously forward, spear in position. ” e went on—it came on—and he met—what ! a calf ! a black, or, as some authorities say, a red calf !
From that time the courageous Oswald was known as Oswald Met-Calf, and the harmless animal, so boldly met, was given a place upon his armorial shield ; and, in like manner, the cowardly Wilfrid ever after bore about with him the token of his ignominious flight, in the name of Wilfrid Lightfoot.”
It would obviously be a great pity to disturb so delightfully childish a story as this,—to suggest that the name accounts for the story, and not the story for the name.
Indeed so. Always print the legend (you can read the article in full here).
*NB. The “e” at the end of Metcalf is interchangeable, and Medcalf, Medcalfe, Midcalfe, Midcalf and Mitcalf are also variants, depending on the spelling, the mood and the hearing of whoever wrote out the birth certificates.
My family directly descends from those original Yorkshire Metcalfs, and my ancestor is Jack Metcalf – ‘Blind Jack of Knaresborough‘, who was a notable Civil Engineer. He constructed roads all across the North of England, not just in Yorkshire, and was famed for the straightness of them and his mastery of Quantity Surveying, despite being blind.
There is a Barbara Asquith statue of him sitting on a bench in Knaresborough Market Place, across from the Blind Jack pub.
The aforementioned Metcalf/Metcalfe coat of arms shows three black cows, and – though it’s been enhanced over the years – looks like this.
So there you have it. Still confused as to why I use cows? It really is as simple and basic as the fact that my surname is Metcalfe, I like them, and it makes me stand out. It’s become almost like visual shorthand.
Bart Simpson says “Don’t have a cow, man!” I disagree. I say have as many as you want.
Please tweet me at @ with your thoughts on this, and feel free to use the hashtag “#cowarmy”. Hopefully we’ll get it trending. I’d be really interested to get your opinion on the points raised here. Thank you.