The Mayday Experiment: What's in a Name?

I have never been good at naming things. I usually tend towards a one-word solution; my former shop, Pod, and gallery, Capsule, were prime examples of this propensity. It takes me hours to name a work of art, googling and reading etymology of words as I overthink. When it came time to name The Mayday Experiment, though, I was at a complete loss, and reached out to my friend Kimberly MacArthur Graham of Layer Cake Creative, for some branding-strategist help.

Every name we googled, thumb-tapping furiously into our phones as we brainstormed over coffee, every word, was already taken. References to Monarch butterflies and bees were thick in our searches; anything to do with nature or climate had already been combined with every other possible word for myriad non-profits. And even in August 2014, every possible tiny-house pun was branding yet another tiny-house blog.

But I kept coming back in my mind to Mayday…Mayday…perhaps as a metaphor for the alarm that kick-started me in this direction, or perhaps as a reference to the hope of spring…or the labor movement. It had so many possibilities.

Kimberly sipped her coffee and, staring over the rim said, “You know, you will have to take off on your journey on May 1 if you use 'Mayday' in your title. It will give you a deadline.” 

“Oh, yes, that doesn’t scare me,” I lied, mentally calculating the months left until takeoff. Of course, at that point, we were still welding tabs to the side of the trailer, preparing to build the platform and insulate the bed. We’d be done in three months, right?

We continued tapping out combinations of words on our phones, brainstorming combinations. “The Mayday Project,” which seemed natural, was already taken. I finally narrowed it down to three: The Mayday Proposition, The Mayday Effect and the Mayday Experiment, with “experiment” a heavy favorite, simply because that so perfectly described what this project was: simply an attempt to break free from the grid and spread the gospel of sustainability, not knowing the outcome. An experiment.

Thumbs still flying, I texted my friend  Bob, also a writer: “what do you think of The Mayday Experiment”? He responded, “it sounds kind of scary or sinister…I don’t know…”

But it was too late. It already felt right. Just like when you test out names on a new dog and wait for their ears to twitch and their head to cock in approval, my ears had latched to this name, and it was hard to change my mind.

Kimberly cautioned me again: ”Are you sure? Because you’ll HAVE to take off on May Day…”

We just passed the second May Day since I committed to this name. As experiments go, this one was perhaps double blind…or maybe that only describes me. I didn’t know what I was in for. At the time, I thought the tiny house would be done within three months, never envisioning that it would drag out so long, worked on between jobs and on weekends as I scrimped and saved for each new step. I was thoroughly unrealistic. However, as I have said before: If doing this were easy, we wouldn’t be in the bind as a species that we are — unable to break free from the habits that potentially doom us. Though I was unrealistic at the start, the process has become as meaningful as the destination, and I continue to slog forward bit by bit.

Despite the lack of consistency for branding’s sake, the name still works on multiple levels, and suggests meanings that resonate. First, “Mayday” is the international distress signal and call to alarm used by mariners and aviators, the vocal version of the Morse Code’s SOS. Since “alarm” is what so many of us feel about the impending climate issues we face, it seemed appropriate that a project focused on this issue would attempt to jolt people to attention.

But lest that seem too negative…the meaning of “Mayday” is softened by the other way we know May Day: as May 1, the Gaelic May Day festival also known as “Beltane.” Signaling the fertility of the coming year, Beltane celebrates abundance and was historically focused on the community’s needs and desires. It marks the end of winter, and coming hope…something we all need in order to face the fears of climate change head-on and still attempt to mitigate the damage we’ve caused to the planet.

And finally, Mayday is also International Workers’ Day, commemorating the struggles of working people and the fight for the eight-hour work day; it is a day of solidarity and unity, the real “labor day.” Given my own struggles to work and build at the same time, it feels fitting.

I may not be hitting the road yet, but the experiment rolls on, with plans for electrical being drawn up and solar load being calculated. May Day may come but once a year, but the Experiment continues every day.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at
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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy