What’s in a name?

People take great care in naming things: pets, buildings, inventions, discoveries, babies, characters in novels, and so on. Think about the care that went into the things you, yourself, have named. I wanted to name my daughter Elizabeth, but my husband nixed it. He said that by the time she printed “Elizabeth Dougherty” on her papers, she’d be worn out! We named her “Amy” instead, much shorter.

Sometimes a person’s name seems to fit his/her personality—or does the personality fit the name? What would you expect from someone named Winthrop Alexander Childress Freemont III? How would that differ from your expectations for Tom Joad or Dewey Dell Bundren? Names sometimes define or limit who we are or who we become. A person may have to “live up to” or “live down” a name.

Authors have free reign in choosing character names. What character names do you find particularly apt? Which have been posers for you? To budding fiction authors, this question might start an interesting discussion.

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12 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I am always intrigued by names and the stories behind them and I’m shocked when others aren’t. For example, one night while I was watching a rerun of The West Wing, it struck me that one of my students might have been named after Ainsley Hayes. When I asked her the next day if it was a family name, she brushed me off. “Oh, I’m named after a character on some TV show.” She never had any desire to find out which one or to learn more about the one I told her about.
    Good thing she wasn’t named Curiosity.

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  2. Hi, Diane. I have always been fascinated with names or nicknames like Fudge in the Judy Blume stories or Maniac Magee in Jerry Spinnelli’s famous tale. In real life, nicknames can stay with someone fro childhood to adulthood – sometimes, it’s great, and sometimes – not so much! My husband’s given name is Ralph, but so was his father’s. So his father decided the family would call him by his middle name, Laird. They still do. As a teenager, he decided to use “Larry” as a name for ham radio – his favorite hobby. As an educator, he used his given name, Ralph. I call him that, too. But I am still startled when the phone rings and someone asks for Laird or Larry!

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  3. I am so intrigued by names! I always talk to kids about why they are named what they are–so many kids have no idea what their parents were thinking when they named them. Also intriguing to me is the spelling of names. There must be 14 ways to spell Madison! One year I had 3 Madison’s in my class and all 3 were spelled differently.

    Book and movie characters can ruin a name for me. For example, I have always liked the name Olivia. But after having watched the TV show Scandal, I associate the name Olivia with that character and I am over my infatuation with the name Olivia. Olivia from Scandal is a manipulative you-know-what in my opinion!

    I know, I know. I watch too much TV. I should probably get a life.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I love thinking about names. When I was pregnant with my first child Allan and I wanted to name him Brian if he was a boy (which he was). We both liked that name. The problem came when I had a rambunctious (to say the least) Brian in my class that year. I didn’t want to be reminded of the class” Brian every time I said his name. We named him Brian anyway and it all worked out.

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  5. I love your post, it got me thinking! We named our daughter Jamie, knowing it was a casual sounding name, but gave her Rachel as a middle name, thinking that would be a more formal name if she ever wanted to use it. Sure enough, she complained to me about her casual name. And no, she doesn’t want to use Rachel. She was named as a tribute to someone my husband and I both admired, and she knows the story.
    It sometimes seems that parents today are making up new names. Like the comment above, about the multiple spellings of Madison. I wonder if Madison became popular because of the movie Splash?

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