watching, reading, and writing stories

What’s in a name?

on June 11, 2013

So I know I’ve been a little distracted lately and I haven’t gotten to post in awhile. I’m sorry about that. I know I could make all sorts of excuses, but that won’t change anything, so on to the blogging part.

Names. I’ve been thinking about names off and on for the past few weeks and ever since Alicia wrote her first post about coming up with good names for characters, I’ve been wanting to add my own opinion to the subject. Names are very important, not just in books or movies, but in everyday life. Our names almost define us. We become so connected with a name that eventually to think of the name is to think of the person connected with it automatically.

I remember one time some of my friends were trying to think of a baby name and found it really difficult. They were both teachers and between the two of them, it seemed like every name in the book was already connected to a student that they had taught. It took quite awhile, but they finally found a name that stuck and didn’t remind them of some previous relationship.

Names also change, or can change. I know several people that have started going by a nick name or their middle name instead of their first name. In new situations or around different kinds of people we sometimes adjust who we are, including our name. Sometimes I wonder how people can change their name. Like, I understand that you can legally change it, or ask people to start calling you something else, but it sounds so hard. How do you teach your brain to start reacting to a new name the way you’ve always reacted to your old one. I’ve heard that if you hear your name whispered even if it’s hardly noticeable, your brain will notice. I remember seeing this one commercial for a fire alarm that calls a child’s name instead of just beeping because even though a person might sleep through loud noises, when your brain hears your name, it responds. I think that’s so cool. And makes me more amazed that people can change their names and somehow connect with their new name, even more so than with their old one. It’s like you can literally become a new person.

But in some sense we don’t have control over our name, or at least not completely. Our parents choose a name for us in the first place. And even if we legally change it, that doesn’t mean people will call us what we want to be called. The bully calling a kid “Four Eyes” has “named”  or “labeled” that kid without the kid’s permission. And even when it’s not intended for sport or mockery, other people can still decide to call us what they want. For example, just recently one of my friends said I’m going to call you “Lyds” instead of “Lydia.” But I think this works well, at least in some cases. I think when we hear what others call us, we can get a better sense of who we are. I remember when I was growing up, that my younger brother had several nicknames, he was “JD” or “Jonny 5” or “Jonny Boy” or just plain “Jonny” but we rarely called him by his real name: Jonathan. It just didn’t seem to fit his personality. Jonathan was too formal and long, and my brother was so fun-loving and energetic that a shorter name just seemed to fit. Now that he’s older, he tells people to call him “Jonny.” It’s just who he is.

And characters, just like people have a personality that connects with a certain name. When I’m writing, I often start with a generic name and have to change it later, after I’ve explored the character more deeply. There was one time I thought long and hard about a good name for a character, but I hadn’t thought of the character’s personality. I started using the name “Calvin” for about 3 paragraphs and then by accident started writing “Caleb” instead. I didn’t even notice. I used this name till the end of the book and even started a sequel with the same name. When I finally went back to edit, I found the first few intro paragraphs about this character and realized his name had changed. Part of me wondered if I should go back and change all the places where I had called him “Caleb” and return it to the original “Calvin.” After all, I had intended for his name to be “Calvin.” But almost instantly I thought “No! This character is Caleb! I can’t separate the name from the person, it’s who he is, there’s no going back.”

So, in conclusion, names are part of us. We may not think about it that much, but they are important. They help tell us who we are and they stick with us, even if we don’t want them to.

Well that’s my thoughts on names, it might be a little scatterbrained but I’ll blame that on not blogging for two weeks.

Let me know what you think about names.


3 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. Cymbria Wood says:

    Your unconscious knew Calvin was born to be Caleb! And we all know what happens when we try to argue with, let alone deny, the motivations of our deeper brain. Cajoling can work, but it’s a dangerous game to play 😉 Excellent post!

    With a name like Cymbria, I’ve spent a lifetime pondering ‘what’s in a name’. My name comes from a little town on PEI, Canada. My mother (a poet – go figure) saw it on a signpost when she was 12, and low and behold… here I am. But here’s a confession for you: I’ve had all my naughtiest adventures under an alias (lest a quick google track the path of debauchery), whose name I must never reveal in print… except to say that some nights it included an ‘h’, and some nights it didn’t – depending on how sophisticated I was feeling~wink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: