Friday, May 14, 2010

What's in a Name?

Seventh Grade was a good year. I was allowed to wear a little bit of make-up (iridescent blue eye-shadow, naturally), I graduated from a plaid jumper to a plaid skirt (yes, I’m a Catholic school girl), and I had my first kiss (in the school library . . . he tasted like mustard). I also had one of the best teachers ever—Mrs. Light. She wore bright red lipstick, had a dog named Liesl (named after the character in The Sound of Music), and used long, skinny chalk-holders that looked as if they’d been plucked from the manicured fingers of elegant smoking baronesses in black-and-white films. Mrs. Light taught me something about writing I remember to this day—the importance of finding just the right name for a character. Think about it. Would Severus Snape or Lucius Malfoy seem quite as sinister, at first blush, were they named Sanford Smith and Lucas Melfry? What if Mark Twain had switched Tom Sawyer’s and Huckleberry Finn’s names? Could you relate to Bridget Jones if she had an exotic name, like Alexandria DuPont?

Kris and I took this notion regarding the importance of names to its extreme in The Pecking Order, with character monikers like the Pecker and the Blowhard. But we also spent a great deal of time considering the real names in the book. Adam, for example, was chosen as Abby’s husband because we wanted an “everyman,” and what better name than that given the first man?

You only need to attend a little league baseball game to see the significant thought given to name choice in real life. A few of the more unique names from my son’s recent game: Jasten, Cooper, Chase, Atticus, P.J., Jackson, Carson, Colton, and Houston (that’s my son). I also have nephews aptly named Drake (the dragon) and Stryder (ranger, elf-lover, and future king). I believe mothers and fathers pick names they hope will “fit” their children . . . names that sound good rolling off your tongue, maybe have personal meaning, and present well in the world. If we take the time to pick a fitting name for a child whose actions we cannot control and whose destiny we cannot determine, shouldn’t we take care to find the right name for our characters, whose very existence we hold in the tips of our pens?

1 comment:

Jen said...

Ahh, Mrs. Light! Thanks for the reminder!