I grew up in a family where no one was called by their real name. Unless you were in trouble, in which case your first name was crisply pronounced and your middle name was thrown in for good measure. And, of course, if you were found responsible for some irreparable damage your last name was tacked on, but you usually couldn’t hear it above the steely sounds of a long kitchen knife being sharpened.
No, instead of our real names, we were all given nicknames.
And I think this might have been fun if the names were those that described some of our perceived awesomeness. But none of them did.
I actually liked the name my folks assigned to me—my real one that is. But rare was the day when someone just called me Shelley rather than Shelley Belly. Or worse, Shelbert Bellus. Or even Shelbert Bellus the Third.
I remained befuddled as a child as to why anyone would make the mistake of naming someone something so dreadful the first time around, and then repeat it for two further generations.
Even the cat and the dog could not opt out in my childhood home. The cat was called Die Spitten de Scratchin’
and the dog Die Arfen Barker.
It must be explained that these are names my dad labeled the animals whilst we, his kids, were all studying German in school, and he felt like participating in our nightly lessons so he’d not be left out.
I love the study of names—am truly fascinated by it—which is somewhat unusual in the fact that I can never remember anybody’s. I have tried all types of games and mnemonics, including word association, drilling in that one thing that is most likely to allow the person’s name to spring back into my head from the mere thought of that crucial clue. But I often forget ‘the crucial clue,’ or when seeing this person’s face again I’m at a total loss as the only thing that comes to mind is the word spatula or the phrase just like the disease.
Not terribly helpful. And in many cases, offensive if I make the wrong guess.
As a writer of fiction, I am given the opportunity to name as many people as I want to invent. It is one of the most joyful parts of writing stories next to cashing in the abundant checks that nearly freeflow from your publisher’s bank account to your mailbox.
Or so I’m told.
I noticed recently while working on two of my books, that both my main characters take issue with their names. Here’s an excerpt from one:
Sophie—it is so not the right name for me. And it does nothing to inspire the coolness of my clan—or breed—or whatever you want to call my people. It should have been something like Zaharasta or Valentina. Something that took a couple of years to learn how to spell.
And an excerpt from the other:
My name is Opal, but I don’t spell it that way. It now looks like this: OPL. I kicked out the A. I figure if Mom wants me to lose weight, maybe she’d perk up if at least my name shrunk by twenty-five percent.
See what I mean?
To be frank, I’m pretty sure I spent more time deliberating over the names of all the characters in my books than I did deciding on those of my children.
But seeing as I didn’t get into novel writing until just after having my second child, it might not hold as much weight.
OR … it might indicate some latent unhappiness with my impetuous and perfunctory labeling of the two human beings I birthed.
See? This whole author thing might only be a physical manifestation of a deep, rueful regret I’ve ignored and carried around for years and have been unconsciously wrestling with until I feel I’ve sorted out the perfect name for both my kids.
I wonder how they’re going to react when in a year or two I approach them with an amended birth certificate and the announcement that I have legally changed their names to that which I find more befitting of who they truly are?
(Note to self: check with therapist to see if there exists any disorder that points toward birth name buyer’s remorse.)
Currently, I’m struggling with the title for one of my finished books. Nothing feels right. Nothing sounds right. And I think we all know how critical one’s novel title is, right? It’s the first thing you see, the first thing you read. It has to hit you right between the eyes with this come hither look.
I emailed my agent a list of potentials from a thick notebook I’ve been carrying around and filling up. She wrote back and intimated I might have just killed a small tree for nothing—only in much nicer English.
I’m rethinking the whole title thing though. I’m thinking of pitching the publisher an idea that maybe instead of a title, we just go with a scent. I write about food and whisky and history. Why not make the books give off an aroma of chocolate and scotch and mothballs?
It might be the newest thing in publishing.
Or I may receive a curt reply back from my editor asking me to stop sending him emails and to just find a damn title we’re all happy with.
So seeing how my name is beginning to accrue more than my fair share of black marks against it, I’d best get back to work. Or soon my name is mud.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.