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Sarah tastes of grease, Donalds are rubber ducks dipped in vinegar... Julie McDowall has an unusual form of synaesthesia, which means that she can taste names. Want to know what yours tastes like? Now you can find out.

We were in the greasy café when I made the greasy comment. I was only eight, but can still remember it so clearly. My aunt was pregnant. She was delighted. She was blooming! She was overjoyed! And so she treated me to chips and Coke at the Cross Café. Over the blue plastic table she suggested baby names, saying her favourite was Sarah. I screwed up my face. “Yuck!” I told her. “Sarah tastes of grease!” I was only a nipper, but I knew from her expression I had either said something silly or baffling – and now I know it was both.

As a wise and weary 30-something, I’m now aware that not everyone can taste the name, Sarah. Or the name Amanda, Walter, John and Alice or, indeed, any name. Only a tiny fraction of the population have my weird neurological quirk which allows me to “taste” a person’s name.  Its scientific name is lexical-gustatory synaesthesia although my friends just call it “that weird taste thing you have.”

I’ve come to realise that young mothers-to-be don’t want to learn their little darlings might taste of grease. Neither do Duncans want to know they reek of a smoky bacon burp, nor Donalds appreciate they are rubber ducks dipped in vinegar, but once they’re over the initial shock and confusion, they tend to laugh, tell their friends, then come back me with a gigantic list of requests. What does Susie taste like? What’s Colin? Rebecca? Alison?  Soon I’m backed into a corner, dishing out tastes, getting deliciously overwhelmed with sensations, images and odours which are often spectacularly weird. Long ago, I abandoned reserve and politesse, and can freely tell people they are little clapping hands made of wafer, edible kaleidoscopes, or garden gnomes filled with strawberry fondant. It’s the ultimate party trick. I’ve also found it’s a good way, on a first date, to make a man reach for his coat.

My name is Julie McDowall and I’m a nuclear journalist. I spend my working life dealing with the Cold War and the dreadful threat of thermonuclear war, and my writing is often grim, serious and unsettling. I may spend a day in some nuclear archives emerging with dusty hands and a horrified expression, so what a delight it is to climb on Twitter every now and then, and abandon all nuclear nightmares by saying, “Hey everyone, I can taste your name!” I can then spend a lovely half hour fielding questions from Debbies and Lauras and Josephs and Craigs, dishing out raw rubbery meat, sherbet, leather and shortbread, and enjoying their horror and hilarity. Great way to recover your spirits!

Now I want to take my weird skill beyond a Twitter hobby, and share it with you. If you’ve ever wondered what your name tastes like, if you’ve ever lain awake at 4am, staring at the ceiling and wondering you’re actually a gnome filled with cream, then have I got something for you!

 

I am using Unbound as a way to channel the many requests I've been receiving for name tastings. If you would like me to tell you, a friend, a dear family member or perhaps your entire office, what a name tastes like, simply pledge for it here and I will get back to you within a week.

Julie (in case you were wondering, my own name reminds me of eyes watering when you have hayfever)

What you need to know

  • Once you have pledged, you will receive a form from Unbound requesting details related to the pledge.
  • If you have pledged for one or multiple names, these will be delivered to you via email within approximately one week of you responding to the Unbound name-request form.
  • If you have pledged for the Skype consultation, you will receive an email from Julie to arrange a convenient time for this appointment.
  • If you have pledged for an audio recording of her saying your name or multiple names, this will be sent to you via email within approx one week of you submitting the Unbound name-request form.
  • If you have opted for the Skype consultation levels for an event, you should fill in the Unbound name-request form and enter that information in the "Other" section so that Julie can get in touch with you to arrange a convenient time and date.
  • Julie usually "tastes" first names but would also be happy to taste last ones, you Tinder date's, geographical locations, companies, pets' names...
  • You can pledge multiple times.

My name is Julie McDowall and I am obsessed with nuclear war. Born in Glasgow, I studied History there and graduated to a long and dismal career of call-centre work. I was bitterly unhappy, so my sister forced me to try online dating as way of getting me to dress up, go out, and maybe force a smile on my face. My dating stories were so strange that I began blogging about them and this led to a dating diary in a newspaper thanks to a generous editor with a wicked sense of humour. This then transformed into a career as a TV critic, which led me into book reviewing and finally opened a door into my obsession: writing about the nuclear threat. I have been lucky but maybe my good luck is tempered by never being able to say simple names without being assaulted by ducks, gnomes and little wafer hands.

You can find me on Twitter @JulieAMcDowall or via my website at www.juliemcdowall.com

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