Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Dilemma of a Name

Names are tricky, and to be given the responsibility of naming something, I think that's the closest I've come to having godlike powers. There's so much personality in a name, and I believe that a person's name can dictate a lot of their life. For instance, were I named Roberta rather than Rebecca, I most likely would have gone by the cute nickname Bert throughout elementary school, and at some point in puberty changed it to Bobbie (because I have a strange fondness for boy nicknames for girls). Now, imagine if you were reading a blog by Bobbie Chastain. You'd have totally different expectations at first, right? And I don't think a Bobbie thinks the same as a Rebecca.

I ran into my naming dilemma with our cats. Our cats' official names are Fu Man Chu and Zen. Almost immediately, Fu Man Chu became Mack Fu, which has been the name that's stuck with other family members, though I call him Fu, Fuber, My Delicate Fu, and most recently, Le Fu (depending on how he's acting). Zen, on the other hand, was never zenlike except that first moment when she stood, cupped in my hands after I'd pulled her from a cage (a cage which had been tossed in a Dumpster!). There was nothing in her demeanor since that has ever fit the word zen. It was a struggle for a while, until I realized that she's more muppetlike than Buddhist, and she became Zenzo. She doesn't have any other nicknames, and she doesn't need any others. It fits--she's a little spazy and really cute. But it fit only after I'd known her almost a year.

I've had similar problems with characters. I've named them, only to find out halfway through a story or at the end of a novel that the name simply doesn't work. In Areia, I think I'm going to change the name of the main male figure. And his name is probably only mentioned a thousand times. That'll be a fun day of find/replace for me.

In Conventional Demon, I originally named my main character Bridget. Bridget Fox, which was cute, had a nice ring to it, fit a curly redhead with Anne of Green Gables optimism. But it didn't work. I got to the end of the first draft and realized that a "Bridget" wasn't going to make it through the sequel. Bridget, however, had a friend named Madison Clark, and I liked "Madison" a lot more than "Bridget" for the main character. That find/replace session was only a few hours long, but it had a far-reaching impact on the story. Bridget Fox became Madison Fox, and Madison Clark became Bridget Clark, but I found that a "Madison" makes different decisions than a Bridget would, looks different, reacts different, etc. It changed the novel in a plethora of subtle ways, and it's had a greater impact on the next novel.

And this is only pets and characters I've had to name. Imagine if I were to name a child! (Fortunately I don't plan on having children, but let's say some silly friend were to request I name their child...) I would have to wait until the child was old enough to talk and have a personality before I could settle on a name. And until then, what would it be called. "The Baby"? (Nobody puts Baby in the corner!) "Little one"? There's always the fear that those nicknames will stick, too. When I was a child, we had a cat named New Cat because she was wild and we weren't going to name her--she was just the new cat hanging around. She hung around a long, long time. How do you parents do it? How do you pick a name, child unseen, unknown, and stick with it through their whole life? Do the children grow into the name? Have you ever been tempted to change your child's name?


TikiBird said...

As you know from my anxiety about naming a person, it's a lot of pressure! I think what people name their children says a lot more about them than their child's actual personality.

I also think that with all the thought that (hopefully) goes into a name, the kid's personality will mean a lot more than their name, anyway. I'm sure you know many people who share a name--but I bet you almost think of their names differently if they're very different kinds of people.

Also, although the name "Henry" seemed just right to me and Brad instantly, I still used a whole lot!

Bridget Fox said...

I am a real life Bridget Fox and was red-headed as a child, though never curly.

Madison seems a much more exotic name to me!

Rebecca Chastain said...

TikiBird, you bring up a good point. I know at least four Johns, but I think of their names differently for each. In fact, I've given them all nicknames, whether they know it or not.

Bridget Fox! A real Bridget Fox! I think it's fabulous that you had red hair when you were a kid, too! I really was fond of "Bridget" when I started the story, which is why I kept the name for a secondary character, but it didn't work for the main character. Maybe you have a cousin or sister named Madison? LOL