Sparked by Words

Name, Please

 

Not much weighs less than a name. Still –

Names connote more than letters on a birth certificate. They are the blessings of our parents and the identity for our national placement. They are the curse of our enemies and the honor of those who love us. They may boost our aspirations or cost our freedom. They are our paycheck and our entry check to class reunions, our marriage bond and our legal rights, a memory of our failures and a trophy for our successes.

Think of Dwight David Eisenhower and you think of a brilliant commander. Think of Albert Einstein and you think of a brilliant physicist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a gifted African American writer, his name as unique as he is. And who doesn’t know Madonna? Not the blue-robed statue in church – the barely robed one on the stage. Princess Diana will always be remembered, her name associated with compassion, royalty, and a horrible death. Or Buddha, his calm figure seated in a temple, his singular name easy to recall. Mahatma Gandhi is always thought of as a man of peaceful civil disobedience, and Sun Tzu always as a man of war. Mother Teresa recalls a kindly nun bringing hope to the poor and disenfranchised. Think of Hannibal and you will also think of the Alps, maybe a bit of history. If you like history, you might remember Betsy Ross and the first American flag, or of Florence Nightingale who raised the profession of nursing. And who could ever forget Malala, the face of courage in the face of terror? Or Abraham Lincoln and the brief speech that makes us value the cost of freedom? Or Anne Frank whose teenage diary makes us remember the cost of bigotry?

There are more ordinary folks also, whose names carry weight for them. Renee is called Naynay because her younger sister couldn’t say the letter R. Samantha hates her name and demanded to be Manda until her friends convinced her Sammie was way better. Howard is Howie even as an adult though it’s a bit babyish now, and Leonardo was always better known as Leo, which fit well as a child and an adult. Carol and Leslie are twins, male twins, and though their names are unisex, they chose less androgynous monikers. Call them George and Arnold today, their given middle names, no mistaking them in person or print. Neither Sherry nor Brandy has a taste for alcohol, given their mum and da were drunks, so soon as they could, they chose less addictive names.

Dano’s real name is Rupert Daniel, but God forgive anyone who calls him by that first tag assigned him by his insistent great-grandfather. Since he couldn’t pronounce his own name at two, he became Dano – the way he said it, and better all around. Bertha Agnes Froog was visited at nineteen, a week after she left her parents’ home for good, by a dream spirit who divined her true name: Indigo Wave. Seriously, were I named something as awful as Bertha Agnes Froog, I’d also have run from it. Well, maybe not to Indigo Wave.

Given names (was Hero an honor or a joke played on the baby?) Inherited names (how many James Smith does the world need? OK for James Smith Jr., or the III, even the IV, maybe the V, but the VI – now we’re bored and the exclusivity has worn off.) Family names (no one on earth wants to be known as a Hitler or a Torquemada, even if the first name is Juliet or Aiden.) Baby names (don’t call anyone Pootie Pie if they are older than two.) Pseudonyms (are you hiding or running away?) Nom des plumes (so past acquaintances can’t catch up to you, or because someone else has made your real name famous, Marilyn Monroe?) Nicknames (Stinky, Button, and Ladybug were fine back in the day, but it’s no longer back in the day.)

Authors have much fun making up names. My favorites are those who create unpronounceable letter combinations but get angry when we say them incorrectly. Why shouldn’t I say Jacob if someone writes Jkb? If they want me to say it as Ickbo, it should be spelled that way, no matter that Jkb is a creature from the planet Zxqkn. That’s Zisqueen to me but Ekshozsa to the writer – they intended the final n to be silent. And if anyone chooses #*^^)(@% as a name, I will pronounce it Joe or Sue, depending on gender – if I’m able to determine gender – they may choose.

Favorite book characters include Cordelia, Ebenezer Scrooge, Holden Caulfield, Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, Kunta Kinte, Ayla, Atticus Finch, Jane Eyre, Jay Gatsby, Scarlet O’Hara, Ifemelu and Obinze, Tess, Sherlock Holmes, Sethe, Amir and Hassan, Anna Karenina, Wonder Woman and Superman, Okonkwo, Heathcliff, Hester Prynne, Celie and Shug, Inigo Montoya and Buttercup, and Hamlet – because I must begin and end with Shakespeare. You know these characters if you’ve read the books, though the titles are absent here.

I’ve chosen names for my stories according to the decade and country where a person was born. And to my whim. Elaine is an American character I like, though she is deeply flawed, Harvey is an unlikable jerk. John is strong and protective, and Junko is Japanese and wise. Rivka is a hero in the same story as Janusz, while Egon is a brute, and his name means the edge of a sword. Gittle, meaning good, is a sweet if naïve woman while Mendel’s name is changed several times.  Jocelyn, called Joey, links together generations and continents. In another story, Mama has no other name but her daughter, Kimberly, is called by different names depending upon who is talking to her. Dr. Michael Saginor pays homage to my OB-GYN, though the name is a bit different from the real physician.

So now for my own name: I was born Sharon Lynne Bonin. I found it an awkward  mouthful for a kid who liked pink ruffles and wanted to be a flower girl more than anything in the world. My last name was changed to Pratt when I married, and friends call me Shari though there’s nothing documented to show it as a legal attribute. Look up a number of combinations on Google and you’ll find more than one Sharon Pratt or Shari Pratt. But there is only one Sharon Bonin-Pratt. Me. And this is my chosen nom de plume.

Names lug meaning and history along with the letters. Noble, debased, inventive, ethnic, silly, dependable, criminal, undependable, powerful, romantic. Reputations tip the scale. Not much weighs less than a name. Or more. Choose carefully.

 

 

 

Painting A Young Man Reading at Candlelight by Matthias Stom, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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Comments on: "Name, Please" (27)

  1. Sharon, Shari, a wonderful celebration of names…I hadn’t realised how poetic many names are and reading your post was a lyrical feast. Names are so important, whether in real life or our written work. I love ones in your stories, Rivka and Gittle particularly stand out and I want to learn more about them. As for your own name, it’s lovely and just perfect and how wonderful to be unique! 😀❤️

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    • Rivka is the Yiddish version of Rebecca, and the Biblical person is recalled in my book. Gittle means “good,” and she tries to be good despite having an unsavory background.

      I’m so glad you like my name – as a kid it felt like a mouthful of stones rolling around my tongue. I couldn’t even pronounce my last name sometimes – Bonin runs off as one syllable but is meant to be two.

      I’ve always loved your name, Annika – it’s unique and sounds playful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John, as ordinary as it is, is my favorite man name for the very definition you give it. I love this post.

    If God knew who we were before time, he knew our names as well. It’s funny to think we were fated to have our names. One of my aunts when she found out that she was the product of an affair and sent to live with a family (until they unceremoniously returned her) changed her last name to match theirs. It’s sad to think she had more a connection with the people who loved her even less than my grandmother did.

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    • Adrienne, the story of your aunt is heartbreaking. How unjust that an innocent child should suffer so greatly because of the impulsive behavior of adults. Kids imprint to the person they identify as parents, even when they are abused – as you know. Each of wants that one person to call “mom.” Changing your aunt’s name didn’t change her affections. I hope her adult life brought her genuine love.

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  3. Wonderful analysis of names. Some names almost seem to assume their own identity. I sometimes struggle finding names for my characters, but I try to make them fit the character and sometimes even have a deeper meaning.

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    • Thank you, Carrie. I choose names carefully, considering the time and place where a character was born and often looking up its meaning. I also keep a list of names that I like, separated by identifying sections, and sometimes consult my list for a name. I want the most important character names to stick with my readers so I keep that in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post. I find it fascinating when a name evokes a literary character before anything else. Those are the books everyone should read.

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  5. Jenna Barwin said:

    A lovely essay, Sharon. And names can change with time. Say “Hannibal” and I think “Hannibal Lecter,” and not the Alps. 🙂

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    • Yes of course, and I can’t imagine anyone naming their new son Hannibal – awful suggestions either way. But then I remember how shocked I was when a friend named their newborn son “Elvis.” I thought there was only supposed to be one Elvis in the world.

      I can’t imagine anyone naming their new daughter Hannibal either!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m told that my maternal great grandmother named her children after characters in books. Have never been able to find the source books for the names Zula or Leola Eulalie. Anyone know them?

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    • I always enjoy reading info like this about how folks name their kids. I have no idea where Zula or Leola Eulalie came from, though Eulalie sounds familiar to me. Eulalie MacKechnie Shinn was the wife of the mayor in The Music Man, based on a story by Meredith Wilson who then wrote the musical. She would be a rather odd character to name a child after as she is a gossip in the musical. Fun stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve always loved names. I used to read name books and learn about the meanings of those I liked. Sadly, none of my favorites made it on baby day, so I’ll use them in my stories. I’ve always found unique names much more challenging to create or find. You’re a delight to read from beginning to end, Shari.

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  8. I wasn’t too fond of my name as a child. Invariable, someone would think I was saying my name wrong and call me Gladys. I didn’t much like it until my twenties, when there were enough people who knew who the mother was in the movie, Mary Poppins. Yep, I was named after her when she was acting in murder mysteries and thrillers.

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  9. I saw that many other bloggers addressed you as Shari, so I did the same! I think women have it harder (traditionally) when we change our names to our married name and back again, like I did. Amazing how names forge identity. A fun read, with all those names you described 🙂

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  10. I always thank my parents for their realization in 1958 that in the 21st century their second son would appreciate a name that is easy to find and stands out on the Internet! 🙂

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  11. Wonderful post Sharon. Names are one of the things I most like about writing fiction. Unlike memoir you get to choose a name. I love researching meanings of names, finding names that have an emotion attached to them. I have not the creative power of Charles Dickens who must be one of the best name inventors in writing. Some like Scrooge have come into language. I wonder at the names some parents give their children and some not realising what the combination of first and surname will come up with. An example I saw on the television was a skier whose name was Fanny Chmeler. It probably doesn’t have the same meaning in her country of origin but …. This is the link to the youtube https://youtu.be/StAozUpSnSQ
    I don’t think your name is a mouthful at all and as I am now used to calling you Sharon I’ll probably struggle to change but as a friend I will try Shari.

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