What’s in a Name?

Names are used for identification. Names can be a definition. To name a thing is to place an identity, even an ownership over it. Names are memorable.

As a writer I take great pains in choosing names because I know their importance, their longevity.

Lizzie Bennet
Aslan
Stanley Yelnats
Madeliene
Romeo and Juliet
Lestat
Sherlock Holmes

The list of literary names that stick with a reader is endless.

Names remind us of someone. Names hold power. In a name are countless memories and experiences all wound into the roll of an ‘r’ or the slide of the ‘s’.

Naming a character is a delicate decision.

What’s the meaning of the name? Is there meaning? Was the name lovingly picked for the character or slung at it like a curse?

Name a Queen Isabella and recall the monarch with eyes for conquering new lands of gold in the name of Spain.

Will my character live up to his name or live contrary to it? Perhaps I’ll give a cowardly boy  the bold name of Alexander and watch the letters beat him into the shadows. On the other hand, I could name a character with great compassion and a strong moral code Michael meaning gift from God.

For our characters, names are permanent.

In our lives names can be changed, sure, but the stamp they place on our backs from birth is irreplaceable.

Oftentimes, the thought of finally being able to change my last name from Peacock has delighted me.

When I was an elementary school kid and everyone realized what two words made up my last name my colorful last name became that much more colorful. I wanted to hide from it. I began to say ‘Peacock’ with the kind of paintball ammunition popping ‘p’ and the ‘c’s’ with a kind of crass contempt of a crow screaming in the night. Peacock became an angry fowl with the intent of wounding me.

The identity that our name places upon is an identity decided by our peers, our society, and ultimately, a third party.

When I think about names I no longer think of words on a page. Each name calls me back to a person or place.

For instance, I will never name anything Claire unless I intend for that person, place, or thing to be evil. Every Claire I have met has been evil. She was the new girl that stole my friends’ attention and talked about me behind my back. She was the girl that beat me out of first chair Clarinet. She’s that girl on The Bachelor with teeth that are just too agonizingly straight! If your name is Claire, I apologize for being the one that has to inform you, but you are either currently being evil or you’re destined to become evil. It’s irrefutable. Every Claire is evil.

The name will now be forever reserved for a character that I decide will be the arch nemesis of my heroine in some Young Adult novel I write one day.

Beyond the page, names are carefully bestowed upon our children.

I was originally inspired to write this post by the growing number of my pregnant friends. With each birth announcement I hold my breath until the baby is dubbed ‘Adam’ or ‘Eve’. More and more I am interested by the originality of names. Families that go outside of family names to name their child intrigue me.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal of originality. I love the baby Apple as much as the next person and I can’t wait for my normal, well adjusted child to make fun of that kid. (only joking)

Maybe it’s just the writer in me, but there is something about having a name that beckons to a previous era. I’ll use my name as an example.

My name is Lauren Kathleen. Lauren was my mother’s best friend in High School. Kathleen was my grandmother’s name. Both women are admired by my mom, loved. I know that when she named me she was thinking of two people with a great influence in her life. The name was bestowed upon me in memory of two people she loves the most. I like to think that when she says my name she is reminded up them or, perhaps, when I do something particularly reminiscent of my namesakes she immediately thinks of them.

In a way, we are living memorials to the past of our namesakes.

My name also has another meaning. Lauren is derived from the word ‘Laurel’ and specifically means the crown of laurels that victors would wear in parades and competition. The laurel represents honor. Thus, being named Lauren means to be crowned by honor. Kathleen means pure. To think of my name in such respects is certainly lofty.

It sounds like a hefty responsibility to live up to, but I think of it as an opportunity. These names belonged to someone else. They represent another life. With this name I have the opportunity of giving it a new life. I can inspire the naming of a new Lauren, a new Kathleen. This is the kind of reincarnation I believe in.

Being without children at this point in my life, I transfer this great care of naming to my characters. I think; if my characters are to be memorable then their names must define them.  Not all characters are given names steeped in meaning or carefully crafted thought, but I never let the moment of their birth slip by with the clumsy clack of a keyboard to decide on an unshakable identity.

Think about the weight of a name. The memory of it.

What names stick out to you? Good or bad? Do you give your character’s name as much deliberation as a child or is that just me? Perhaps I’m just melodramatic like that.

Any memorable, silly, or amazing names you’ve encountered let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

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4 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Great post and very true. A name can be a major thing, especially in writing. Most of the times names come to me quite quickly, and if they pop into my head whilst planning or writing a character, I go with it, because it’s good to go with instinct.

    Other times, I can struggle! I want a name that shows the character straight away but can think of nothing 😀

  2. I just had to read this post as I have an unusual name which was a huge burden as a shy child, that day you had a new teacher and they full-named me on the register was hell. When it came to naming my children I wanted a name that they didn’t share with half the class but not one so unusual it caused them the problems I had with my name. In fact I’d vowed to change it by deed poll but when I was old enough to do so I couldn’t think of another one 😆 so I stuck with it!

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