Sunday, May 03, 2009

What’s In a Name?

By Ali Cross

Shakespeare said “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But I disagree.

Any parent who has tried to name their newborn child understands. There are so many factors to consider. Can this name be shortened into something offensive or embarrassing? Will granting a newborn the moniker of their famous ancestor be a curse rather than a blessing? And then there is the intangible—will this name reflect who this child is to the world around him? 

My parents got it all wrong when they named me. At the recent LDStorymaker conference, I had many discussions with people about how I never should have been named Sandra, but Alexandra and as soon as I could, I adopted the name change. I’ve been Alexandra since I was nineteen years old and began life on my own. 

I love my name—the name I gave myself—because it allows me to be everything that I am:  Alexandra when I’m performing opera. Alex for when I worked in business. Ali for my daily life, my friends, and for my writing. Even Al to some of my very closest friends. I am all of these people. I am so not a Sandy. If you’ve met me, you’ll probably agree.

It’s the same thing for us writers—except we have many, many children to name. 
We need to consider several elements when choosing names for our characters: What is the genre? Time period? Place? Who is this character and what do we want to have known about them before we’ve actually said anything about them.

For instance, Harry Potter is a very ordinary name. Even if you knew the etymology of the name, you’d figure out that Harry’s ancestors were at one time potters. Hardly royalty. And yet, Harry goes on to be a prince of sorts, the inheritor of a grand legacy of magic. So his name, benign as it is, is a herald of what is to come.

A name says so much about a person, and about a fictional character. Whenever I hear or see a name that I think is unique or I just like, I add it to my database of names. I also love Name a site that lists the names and their meanings from several cultures. 

So, with all due respect to Mr. Shakespeare, I think the rose is perfectly named and should it be named something else, like daisy, I think it should smell entirely different—like a daisy.


David J. West said...

I heartily agree, but having such a common name myself I had to give my children different names, even though my daughter has a relatively common name; I had to give here 4 to break up the pattern a little bit, so that someday when she is a writer she can go by M.R.R. West if she wants.

As for books I try to find titles and character names that are intriguing. And the meanings, I always have to know what every name means, no matter how hard that is to find out. IF you have a weird one and can't find it, ask me.

Ali said...

LOL David, good to know! It's good to have a name-guru for a friend ;)

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I love names - I think they are interesting. Bad names are a favorite collection of mine

My friend used to live next door to the Rottencrotch family (that's probably not how it was spelled, but that's how it was pronounced)

I met a girl named Tragedy. Her mother explained (in front of her) that she already had five children, and her feeling on finding out she was preggers with number six resulted in her daughters name. (that's just mean!)

I met a girl at girls camp one year whose parents named all their children adjectives, with One as their middle names. My friends name was Likely.

Yeah, it's a morbid fascination, I know... but it does come in handy when you need to name a villain! LOL

Jenn Wilks said...

I was in Relief Society one day when someone was talking about names that come through the temple. She told us how wonderful it felt to give someone a new name whose given name in life was terrible, like the ones Weston mentioned. She said one name she saw was "Uglyface." Can't get worse than that. My mom also knew someone whose last name was Pigg, and they named their daughters Ima and Youra.

Yes, I have to agree, naming our characters is extremely important. A name can convey so much about a person. Stacy Whitman told me that I needed to change all the names of the people in my futuristic book. They sounded too right-now.

I get what Romeo was saying--that he and Juliet shouldn't be kept apart just because of their name. But I wonder how many women have shied away from dating or marrying someone with a terrible last name? :o)

BTW, you know my fascination with word verification words ever since Elana got me on it. Well, my word for today is "dearget". I wonder if that's similar to a "honeydo" list. Dearget this, and dearget that. :-D