what's in a name?
It’s that time again…time to pick character names. And just so you know, it’s pretty much the same process as choosing a baby name, and almost as important. After all, can you imagine if Shakespeare had gone with his orginal title of, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter? Romeo and Ethel isn’t nearly as romantic…no offense to the Ethels of the world.
So here I am, going back and forth on the merits of character names with my friend and editor Laura, one of my daughters and my husband.
Coming up with the perfect name is hard work…
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
I think Shakespeare missed the target with that line. Names ARE important. A rose by another name might smell the same, but it wouldn’t be a rose anymore, would it? No, it would be a daisy, or a petunia, or a gardenia….or it might just be stinky cheese. And, who wants to get stinky cheese on Valentine ’s Day? Some of us might end up getting little more than that anyway, but it wouldn’t exactly be on our wish lists, now would it? Seriously…a name can define who you are. It says a lot about you. It could even steer your path in life. How many lawyers do you know named Taffy?
There are just certain names that go with certain positions. I doubt we’ll be hearing stories about President Billy Bob anytime soon. A person’s name should be able to carry them from infancy to old age with a seamless transition. Some names just don’t do that. Baby Ethel isn’t going to be the center of the sandbox social club with a name like that (pirate’s daughter or not). And there are a lot of Brittany’s out there who made cute little girls, but how well will that name carry them into old age? Someday, someone will be referring to that formerly cute baby as Grandma Brittany.
When I was pregnant with my children, I spent every day of each nine months, laboring (no pun intended) over what name I would bestow upon my unborn child. I tried to imagine every stage of their lives with that name, every possible nickname that could be created from their proper given names, and how the name would roll off the tongue when combined with the middle and last name. And one can’t forget about the initials. I had to be sure their initials didn’t accidentally spell out something horrible, like ASS (which wasn’t likely as their last name started with an L). But you just can’t be too careful. My father’s initials are PU.
Sometimes people just don’t think about the consequences of their choices. As for my name, my father picked it out. As the story goes, he met a girl named Erica while he was stationed in Germany back before he met my mother. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the whole story. How my mother let that one slide I’ll never know. But it does make for an interesting story to tell. “Oh yeah, I was named after some German chick my dad slept with when he was in the Army.” Or not. There are some things I just don’t want to know.
But despite its origins, I had issues with my name from the beginning. It was unusual back then. When I was little, no one had heard of my name, so no one knew how to pronounce it. I had teachers that called me Ureka…Ursula…Ahreeka. My grandmother decided to just call me Rikki, which was fine and dandy except that it was a boy’s name. I asked my mother once why they called me Rikki, and she told me it was because they thought I was a boy at first. To a six year old that seems like an actual possibility. And it suddenly made perfect sense why I had a toy tractor. As I got older, I began to grow into my name. Not right away mind you. I had a very awkward start. I was 17 before I could actually fit into the sexy category that the name demanded. There’s a certain pressure that comes with having a sexy name, and the minute I broke free of my mother’s fashion chains, I was able to live up to those expectations. I learned how to suppress the crazy hot pink sweater inside of me and channel the outward power of the name. I have run across a few Ericas in the course of my life, but never in my immediate circle. so, I have always felt unique. I was always one of a kind. So I was excited a few years back when I saw the newest trend on Facebook. It was the chain letter du jour. A cut and paste status experiment, if you will. The instructions were to go to Urbandictionary.com and do a search on your first name and take the first definition and make that your status.
Hey, I was up for that challenge. I had a distinctive name. I had looked it up before. It means Eternal ruler in its Norse origins. It was a powerful name. And I had seen the other definitions on the statuses of my friends and family. Julie was fair-haired and loved by all, Louise was popular, and June was hot like a summer day. I would be something wonderful too. How could I not be? I was an “Erica”. And “Erica” means something grand. So I opened a new browser window with an air of vanity…ready to show them all. I typed in my name and hit enter with a jolt of sudden pride. And then I just sat there…dumbfounded for a minute or two. I couldn’t post this on my Facebook status. First of all, who would believe me? Who would believe I had actually discovered this without any interference on my part? After all…they all know me too well. And I couldn’t have aspired to have a definition as unique as this. It was priceless. It summed up in one short line what I would have taken several paragraphs to convey. “Erica: the term used for the exact moment a penis enters the vagina.”
I think the definition has changed since then, and I hope it’s not worse. I’m a little afraid to look.
As for my characters, I did finally name them and now I can begin their story.
Until next time…I’ll be creating the perfect characters to go with the perfect names.